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Bags of trouble for rubbish cheats

Top News | Sophie Hui Mar 21, 2017
A family of three will have to pay about HK$36 to HK$52 a month when the government's waste charging scheme kicks off in the second half of 2019 at the earliest.

And there will be a penalty of HK$1,500 for those who use the wrong bags.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said the scheme will charge differently for residential and commercial users.

Residential buildings and village houses will use the "by bag" mechanism, where residents will be charged based on the number of used pre-paid garbage bags.

Wong said: "In setting the charging level, the government has considered different factors including the effectiveness of waste reduction, public acceptability and affordability."

Households will be required to buy any of the nine designated bags for packing the rubbish.

The smallest bag is three liters and the largest 100 liters costing 11 cents per liter, meaning the price of a 10-liter bag will be HK$1.1.

Trash which cannot fit in the largest bags will be labeled as "over-sized" waste. Residents can buy the bags and over-sized waste labels at 4,000 selling points, including supermarkets, post offices, drug stores and vending machines.

The government will rely on property management companies to enforce compliance.

They will report to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Environmental Protection Department those residents found dumping waste in unqualified bags to evade the fee.

Enforcement staff from the two departments will patrol buildings and conduct spot checks at refuse collection vehicles and refuse collection points. Offenders would be fined $1,500, the same amount as the littering fixed penalty.

Wong said they will hire more enforcement staff but did not provide details.

He acknowledged the "loophole" in enforcement.

"The focus should be on education and publicity because this is a scheme for all citizens and people should understand the meaning of legislation, and we should take up our social responsibility to reduce waste for Hong Kong and the Earth," Wong said.

For buildings where a lot of residents fail to pack their rubbish in designated bags, the hygiene department would refuse to collect the rubbish.

Suggestions from the Council for Sustainable Development and other Asian cities' waste charging schemes, including Seoul and Taipei, were considered when setting the price level. Seoul charges the equivalent of 11 HK cents per liter and Taipei charges nine HK cents per liter.

World Green Organization chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping believes that the charging level is reasonable but education is important.

"Public awareness of recycling and reducing waste is not enough," he said. "We always find non-recyclable waste in the recycling bins," Yu said.

A "by-weight" mechanism will be applied for shopping malls and commercial buildings which hire private waste collectors to dispose of waste directly at landfills or refuse transfer stations.

There will be a "gate fee" of $365 per tonne at the refuse transfer stations and landfills, or $395 per tonne at four urban refuse transfer stations and the Northwest New Territories Transfer Station.

The waste charging scheme will affect restaurants greatly, said Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades.

"Many restaurants in Hong Kong are small and medium enterprises. An estimated waste charge of HK$6,000 a year will increase their pressure."

Lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the price level is too high for grassroots, who should be exempted from the scheme.

The bill will be tabled in the Legislative Council before the government term ends in June.



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