Hong Kong will not be sending rubbish to landfills by 2035, the environment minister pledged on Monday, but green groups questioned the feasibility of the goal.
Speaking at the release of the updated Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing also confirmed earlier reports of a proposal to build a second waste incinerator, but said details would be announced later.
“This blueprint will show all sectors of Hong Kong and legislators the different policies we need if we want to follow global trends and strengthen our waste reduction policies,” Wong said.
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“We have looked at the past blueprint and the progress from there, as well as how the global situation is affecting waste reduction efforts in Hong Kong,” he added.
Wong said new targets set out in the 2035 blueprint would see the per capita waste disposal rate reduced by 40 to 45 per cent, while the recycling rate would be increased to 55 per cent in the “medium-term”, but he did not reveal an exact year. The reduction would be based on the disposal rates in 2020, which were yet to be released, he said.
By around 2035, Hong Kong would no longer need to rely on landfills by developing adequate waste-to-energy facilities, he added.
However, local green groups raised doubts over the feasibility of the targets set out in the updated blueprint.
“There is very little hope the government can achieve these goals,” Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director of The Green Earth, said. “It would seem the government wants to rely on this second incinerator to achieve that goal, but the first incinerator is not even complete and there are no results to show yet. Not a single green group in the city would agree to building it,” he said.
Paul Zimmerman, chairman of the Drink Without Waste initiative and a district councillor, said he had hoped to see a more integrated waste management system in the updated blueprint, which would help to increase residents’ trust in the city’s recycling systems.
“To address the scepticism out there in the community we need to be aggressive in the way we manage our waste and recycling, we need a waste authority,” he said.
Current waste management and recycling systems, which were often contracted out to different parties, had led to Hongkongers not having faith their trash was actually being recycled, he added.
The previous blueprint, in 2013, was meant to set waste reduction targets for the city until 2022, which included reducing the per capita waste disposal rate by 40 per cent from 2011 levels, at 1.27kg per person.
Officials had hoped a long-delayed municipal solid waste charging scheme would help achieve that goal. Under the scheme, residents would have to dispose of their trash in government-mandated bags, which cost HK$1.1 for each 10-litre bag.
But the legislation, proposed nearly two decades ago, stalled in the Legislative Council after the anti-government protests in 2019, with lawmakers across the aisle accusing each other of holding up the process.
Although the bill was revived last November, there has yet to be a timeline for the approval of the legislation.
The amount of rubbish Hong Kong produces has only increased in the meantime, hitting the highest level since 1991 in 2018, when each resident sent 1.53kg of trash to landfills. While the number declined in 2019 to 1.47kg, green groups had raised concerns 2020 would see a rebound, particularly in waste plastics such as single-use plastic tableware because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The recycling rate has also been decreasing in recent years, hovering at just 29 per cent last year, declining from the peak of 52 per cent in 2010.
Lau pointed out that the per capita waste disposal reduction was a step backwards if the government were to use 2020 rates as a baseline.
“This is just simple maths, the actual waste reduction effect is weakened compared to before,” he said.
Asked how the government intended on hitting the targets without a clear timeline for the implementation of the waste charging scheme, Wong said he hoped legislators could quickly pass the bill.
“The timeline for this is not written very clearly in the blueprint as we understand there are difficulties, but we will communicate with legislators on the importance of this scheme,” he said.
Wong hinted a new incinerator would be built by 2030, but declined to reveal the location for it, adding that existing landfills in the New Territories West would be expanded as a transitional measure.
While Hong Kong had shut down municipal waste incinerators by the mid-1990s, the government is in the process of building a HK$31 billion waste incinerator that would also generate electricity on Shek Kwu Chau, south of Lantau Island.
The Shek Kwu Chau incinerator was initially scheduled for completion in 2022, but was later delayed to 2024, which the government said had been because of a lawsuit filed against it by a Cheung Chau resident in 2013 due to the potential environmental impacts it could pose.
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