Why Municipal Solid Waste Charging Fails

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”>

8 thoughts on “Why Municipal Solid Waste Charging Fails

  1. I agree.
    And how are they intending to enforce it? The same charge for every household sounds unfair. Some people have very little waste and others a lot. And what about people in outlying areas who have to take their waste to the bins themselves? Is there to be a little man standing at every bin, weighing the bags we throw in and then giving us a bill? No, I didn’t think so.

    I also agree that HK is having a waste crisis already. It is all over our beaches and in the sea. On this Sunday, a charity environment group in Lamma Island picked up 520 drink bottles on one beach on one clean up day. Not to mention the other 50bags of rubbish washed upon the beach. This is a shockingly bad statistic for a so called developed city but it is normal.

    The LCSD gazetted beaches of which there are 41 in HK, throw away un sorted rubbish, i.e. all mixed up together rubbish, every day about 30- 40bags per beach. Thats a lot of Govt generated rubbish which could be being controlled by separation at source and isn’t. Rubbish collection areas all over HK are a mess and have not been designed with recycling and separation in mind and currently the plastics recycling industry is in crisis in HK as there are no incentives or subsidies for companies to operate properly and staff have been laid off.

    This is a huge potential industry for HK and could create many jobs and keep much waste out of land fill.

    The EPD Environmental Protection department wants to build a huge incinerator on a beautiful island on the South coast of Hk`s most popular recreational island, Lantau where more than 300 local protesters told them what they thought in a recent protest. None of them are listened to or consulted.

    Govt has buried its head in the sand for 20 years about recycling and separation when other world cities have done a great job of developing recycling industries and reducing their waste.

    This waste charge is a total waste of time and effort and will achieve nothing except a lot of people throwing their rubbish into the bushes instead of paying the Govt to take away their rubbish to the land fills.

    I hope there are some sensible ideas for waste management in HK soon. Thanks for your post.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting my article, Mrs. Keep. I too agree that there is a huge market potential for the waste management industry in Hong Kong. In fact, I am currently writing a counter suggestion to the government’s MSW charging scheme that would involve incentives and job creations. I hope to post that up in the week or next. Feel free to read and comment about it. -Tim

  2. Reblogged this on BioEnergy Consult Blog and commented:
    Most municipalities across the world introduce MSW charging NOT for the purpose of behavioral changes, but for the purpose of finding extra income to pay for rising waste treatment cost, collection fees and compensation of widespread community opposition.

  3. Pingback: How I Think Waste Charging Should Be Implemented | 永續・生活 Sustainable Living

  4. I think that these issues are very right to discuss. However apart from the need to separate the items that can be recycled readily the remaining organic material can be easily converted to road transport fuels – we call them biofuels – and these can be resold within the market blended with gasoline (ethanol) or sold directly as a point-of-saie – or at the pump use – for well below the current fuel prices in Hong Kong or the remaining areas of Provinces in China. As I understand it from developments we are seeing in the EU (European Union) there are major programmes being developed in Italy Malta Holland Greece Cyprus and now Turkey and Israel and in to Morocco and Tunisia where such a policy is being rolled out. The processes are very simple and use the oldest technology known (also used in China) that dates back to the early 19th Century and does not use Genetically-Modified or SPeciality-Enzymes that are known to destroy food crops which we do not want in China.

    • I forgot to add that this programme does not need Treatment Fees and fully meets the aims of the Circular Economy.
      The company I read about working on this in Malta is Applied Biofuels Limited and it is to start producing biofuels in Malta from 2015/2016. That project is to convert up to 300,000 tonnes of raw organic materials derived from waste sources (including animal manures) to make 100 million liters of ethanol at full output. Although the figures are not necessarily comparable with China the Capital costs are shown as €uro 100 million. In China they will be less. Land requirements are minimal and there is no smell as all the processing is enclosed and within water. No smells, no smoke or dioxins and total conversion.

  5. Mr. Lo,
    I am a F.5 student at Maryknoll Convent School and I’m currently conducting a research on the feasibility of the proposed municipal solid waste charging scheme, which is part of my Independent Enquiry Study. This article of yours is very inspiring. Would it be possible to meet with you for an interview? Your insights would be extremely helpful.

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