The Council for Sustainable Development emphasises that the ultimate goal to municipal solid waste charging is to establish behavioural changes in people’s daily garbage disposal through economic incentives.
I do not doubt the council’s good faith in trying to introduce policies to battle the current waste crisis.
Nevertheless, I could hardly find any justification on how charging for this waste could serve as an economic incentive to help reduce waste.
First, most municipalities across the world introduced charging for this waste not for the purpose of behavioural changes, but to find extra income to pay for rising waste treatment costs and collection fees and compensation in the face of widespread community opposition.
With the government aggressively trying to expand landfills and the huge price tag associated with such an expansion, it would be naive not to associate fees collected from municipal solid waste charging with landfill expansion expenses and compensation to communities affected by such expansion programmes, both of which have nothing to do with reducing our overall waste.
Second, even if coercive measures are enforced, there are still many ways for people to get around waste charging in a legitimate manner. The infamous Seattle Stomp invented by the citizens of Seattle is a perfect example, where people stomp as much garbage as possible into a single bag in order to avoid hefty waste charging.
This means that the waste-charing scheme remains in force, but with regard to the volume of waste generated, the status quo is maintained.
Finally, the true cost of waste charging is understated, as any programme will involve administrative expenses.
Ultimately, any administrative expenses will have to be paid by everyone in society.
Assuming these expenses bring about a 20 per cent increase in a building’s management fees, a household of three living in a 500 sq ft apartment and currently paying a management fee of HK$1.6 per square feet will well be paying HK$200 a month for municipal solid waste charging and not the HK$30-60 a month as the council claims.
That obviously creates an economic burden rather than incentive.
With Hong Kong on a brink of a waste crisis, we surely want to try every policy tools that could help reduce our waste. But when policy like the waste charging is full of loopholes, it’s very hard to imagine how it could get anyone to reduce waste.
<This article appeared in South China Morning Post on 10/10/2013 Letters column as “Waste charging proposal is flawed” and print edition as “Proposal for waste charging in HK is full of loopholes”>