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Editorial : Proper ancillary measures for waste disposal charging plan are needed

【明報專訊】HAVING procrastinated over the proposal to levy a charge on municipal solid waste for 14 years, the government has finally announced that it will submit a draft bill to the Legislative Council this month in the hope that the proposal will be implemented by 2020 at the earliest. The government has been talking about a waste disposal charge and "polluter pays principle" for years, but it has been empty talk and a classic case of deliberation without decision. Although the government has finally introduced a draft bill officially, it does not seem that the government is fully prepared. It is unclear what ancillary measures there will be to support waste reduction at source, and one doubts how the law will be implemented after the waste disposal charge scheme is implemented. Introducing a waste levy scheme has a political cost. What political parties and politicians care about most is how many votes they get. There are, therefore, a lot of uncertainties concerning whether the bill will be passed. Even government officials are not optimistic. There is actually no guarantee that the policy will be implemented in 2020, and one doubts that the government is determined to introduce the waste disposal charge scheme.

If we look at neighbouring countries, South Korea and Singapore implemented a waste disposal charge scheme as early as the 1990s while Taiwan introduced the policy in 2000. Such policies have been in place for years in these countries and have been very effective. Yet in Hong Kong we have been wasting our time. The SAR government first proposed introducing a waste disposal charge in 2004 as an incentive to encourage citizens to reduce waste, but the plan has been put off by consultation after consultation and study after study. Over the years, we have had three administrations, but the waste disposal charge scheme has still not been implemented.

Government officials often emphasise the difficulties in promoting waste reduction at source, such as insufficient locations for waste collection and difficulties in changing customs and habits of society. But they rarely come up with practical measures to tackle these problems. Even though the government has now decided to introduce a draft bill on waste disposal charge, government officials are still unable to explain in detail the ancillary measures on reducing waste and ways to implement the law.

The government has emphasised that money from waste disposal charge will be spent on reducing and recycling waste, which includes introducing "reverse vending machines", free collection of food waste generated by the industrial and commercial sector and outreach teams to help citizens around Hong Kong to reduce and recycle waste. It is doubtful that these measures are sufficient to tackle the current bottleneck on reducing and recycling waste. Take for example the collection of food waste generated by the industrial and commercial sector. The government admits that the success of the measure will be determined by the progress in building food waste management facilities and whether there are proper ways to collect food waste in every district around Hong Kong. Whether the food waste management facilities will be overloaded is another determining factor. The government does not seem to be 100% confident about these measures. Neither has it provided any clear explanations on how to implement the law in every building and how to combat fly-tipping.

A waste disposal charge which involves citizens digging into their pockets may easily meet with resistance from some people. Many parties and politicians often enthuse about environmental protection, but they will readily "do a beautiful U-turn" when it comes to ballots. Insufficient ancillary measures to support the waste reduction policy will be the best excuse for them to block and oppose the bill. There will be District Council and Legislative Council elections over the next two years. If the government is not able to put forth proper ancillary measures, the bill on waste disposal charge may never see the light because it may not be passed at the Legislative Council. Waste disposal affects the everyday life of Hong Kong citizens. If anything goes wrong, people's livelihood will be seriously affected. The government must put forth a strong and feasible plan as soon as possible if it is determined to levy a waste disposal charge.

明報社評2018.11.01:垃圾徵費配套須周全 豈能船到橋頭自然直

都市固體廢物徵費建議拖拉14年,政府終宣布本月向立法會提交條例草案,最快2020年底落實。垃圾徵費用者自付空談多年,堪稱議而不決經典例子,今次政府正式提出草案,也不見得有充分準備,源頭減廢配套安排不清不楚,落實徵費後如何執法亦有疑問。垃圾徵費有政治成本,政黨政客最關心的是選票,草案能否通過充滿變數,就連政府官員也不敢樂觀,所謂「2020年落實」根本全無保證,政府落實徵費的決心令人懷疑。

放眼鄰近地區,韓國和新加坡早於上世紀90年代實施垃圾徵費,台灣亦於2000年引入相關措施,執行多年卓有成效,反觀香港蹉跎歲月。早在2004年,特區政府已提出透過垃圾徵費,製造誘因推動市民減廢,然而諮詢復諮詢、研究復研究,政府一換再換,垃圾徵費仍然未有着落。

官員經常強調推動源頭減廢的難處,諸如垃圾回收點不足、移風易俗並不容易,可是多年來卻不見有多少實質應對措施。即使現在政府決定提出徵費草案,官員對於減廢配套和執法安排,仍是語焉不詳。

政府強調徵費收入將用於減廢回收工作,包括引入「逆向自動售賣機」、免費收集工商業界廚餘、設立外展隊協助全港市民減廢回收等。這些措施是否足以處理目前減廢回收瓶頸,仍屬疑問。以收集工商業界廚餘為例,政府承認要視乎發展廚餘處理回收中心的進展,如何在各區妥善收集廚餘、回收中心會否不勝負荷,看不出當局有十足把握。垃圾徵費後,當局如何在各幢大廈執法,打擊非法棄置垃圾,亦未有清晰說法。

垃圾徵費牽涉市民「荷包」,容易惹來部分人抗拒,不少政黨政客平日高談環保,可是一考慮到選票,隨時「華麗轉身」,政府減廢配套不周,正是阻撓反對的最佳口實。未來兩年先後有區議會及立法會選舉,倘若政府未能提出妥善配套安排,垃圾徵費草案可能胎死腹中,無法在立法會通過。棄置垃圾關乎市民日常生活,任何亂子都會嚴重影響民生,政府若有心落實垃圾徵費,必須盡快提出一套強而有力、清晰可行的減廢回收藍圖。

■Glossary

fly-tipping : the practice of leaving waste somewhere illegally

dig into sb's pockets : to spend sb's own money

enthuse : to talk in an enthusiastic way

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