Waste man­age­ment pol­icy will take time

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - KEN DAVIES

This is the first of a se­ries of ar­ti­cles ex­plor­ing poli­cies to ad­dress Hong Kong’s waste man­age­ment chal­lenges.

Peo­ple in Hong Kong are im­pa­tient with the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy on waste man­age­ment. This, as Chris­tine Loh, un­der sec­re­tary for the en­vi­ron­ment, re­cently ex­plained to me, is be­cause they ex­pect ev­ery­thing to hap­pen at once, while the var­i­ous ini­tia­tives taken by the gov­ern­ment will take time to im­ple­ment.

She com­pares Hong Kong’s ex­pe­ri­ence with those of its de­vel­oped neigh­bors, Ja­pan, Tai­wan and South Korea, which are well ahead — even of Europe — in re­cy­cling and other waste dis­posal meth­ods. By con­trast, Hong Kong, she says, in ear­lier decades only used land­fill, so it is now striv­ing hard to catch up.

The re­sult is a multi-faceted en­deavor by Hong Kong to tackle waste of all kinds, us­ing the most prac­ti­cal meth­ods avail­able, whether tra­di­tional or in­no­va­tive high-tech. Some HK$39 bil­lion (al­most $4 bil­lion) is be­ing spent on build­ing waste-han­dling in­fra­struc­ture up to 2021. Some ef­forts are al­ready bear­ing fruit, and oth­ers, like the pro­posed in­cin­er­a­tor, will take sev­eral years to con­struct and put into op­er­a­tion.

As well as dis­pos­ing of waste by land­fill ex­pan­sion and in­cin­er­a­tion, waste is to be re­duced at the source, and var­i­ous forms of re­cy­cling are to be added to those that al­ready ex­ist as part of a mod­ern strat­egy of treat­ing waste as a re­source, rather than merely as some­thing to dis­pose of.

Ex­pe­ri­ence is be­ing shared: for in­stance, our of­fi­cials vis­ited Seoul ear­lier this year to learn from what the city is do­ing to re­duce and re­cy­cle waste and del­e­ga­tions come here from main­land cities to learn from Hong Kong.

All in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing economies have ex­pe­ri­enced en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters, of­ten linked to care­less waste dis­posal. When th­ese have proved par­tic­u­larly bad, gov­ern­ments have taken mea­sures to pre­vent their re­cur­rence.

Liv­ing stan­dards in Ja­pan, South Korea and Tai­wan have risen tremen­dously since the Sec­ond World War, as of course they have also done in Hong Kong. The growth of in­dus­try and con­sumerism has gen­er­ated in­creas­ing quan­ti­ties of waste at the same time that cit­i­zens are de­mand­ing a bet­ter qual­ity of life. In par­tic­u­lar, stud­ies have shown that mu­nic­i­pal solid waste in­creases ev­ery­where with in­come and pop­u­la­tion.

Ja­pan’s post­war in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion was marred by the Mi­na­mata in­ci­dent, when or­ganic mer­cury dis­charged into the sea off Mi­na­mata, in Kyushu Is­land, in the 1950s caused tremor fits lead­ing to dis­abil­ity and death in many peo­ple who had eaten lo­cal seafood. Mi­na­mata had the un­en­vi­able mis­for­tune to have a disease — and an in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion to pre­vent such dis­as­ters hap­pen­ing again — named af­ter it.

Ja­pan passed a Waste Man­age­ment and Pub­lic Cleansing Law as early as 1970 and has fre­quently up­dated it. The pur­pose is to pre­serve the liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment and im­prove pub­lic health by re­strict­ing waste dis­charge and by sort­ing and re­cy­cling waste on a large scale.

South Korea’s mo­ment of truth came much later, in 1991, when toxic phe­nol that had leaked from an elec­tron­ics plant found its way into drink­ing wa­ter used by 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in Daegu, South Korea’s third largest city, mak­ing many peo­ple vi­o­lently ill.

Over the past two decades, South Korea has be­come a lead­ing pro­po­nent of “green growth”, a slo­gan which it has in re­cent years per­suaded OECD mem­ber coun­tries to adopt as the ba­sis for eco­nomic pol­icy de­vel­op­ment.

South Korea has ini­ti­ated sev­eral in­no­va­tive poli­cies, such as its cam­paign to cut food waste, ne­ces­si­tated by its 2005 land­fill ban. This in­cludes send­ing sur­plus food to food banks, con­vinc­ing peo­ple not to waste food at meals (through an “empty bowl project” and a “no food left­over pledge”) and other mea­sures.

Though noth­ing as bad as Mi­na­mata has oc­curred in Tai­wan, there have been nu­mer­ous chem­i­cal ac­ci­dents recorded over re­cent decades as a byprod­uct of rapid in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. The “green” move­ment has been par­tic­u­larly ac­tive in Tai­wan over a long pe­riod, no­tice­ably af­fect­ing the ex­pan­sion of the chem­i­cal and nu­clear power in­dus­tries.

Tai­wan passed a Waste Dis­posal Act in 1974 which was up­dated in 1988 to fo­cus on the “ex­tended pro­ducer re­spon­si­bil­ity” con­cept to make man­u­fac­tur­ers and im­porters fi­nan­cially re­spon­si­ble for re­cy­cling by form­ing as­so­ci­a­tions to fund re­cy­cling. In 1997 the Act was re­vised to make im­porters of­fer to col­lect waste for re­cy­cling from con­sumers and pay a re­cy­cling fee to Tai­wan’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion.

How does Hong Kong com­pare? I’ll go into more de­tail in the next ar­ti­cle. As Head of Global Re­la­tions in the OECD’s In­vest­ment Di­vi­sion up to 2010, the au­thor wrote and pub­lished ma­jor pol­icy re­views for the gov­ern­ments of China, In­dia, In­done­sia and the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.

Ken Davies

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.