【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.
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