25 Mar 2014

Hong Kong: Waste-Disposal Charge Ineffective Alone, Educating the Public Brings Result

Christina Lam writes:*

Garbage is a significant issue that influences environment. After garbage trucks pick up and drive away with the garbage that we produce, most of us feel that our garbage is gone and has somehow disappeared. Often, people have no idea about how garbage can affect the environment.

In my hometown Hong Kong, garbage has become an issue. Hong Kong is a tiny city with more than 7 million people. Can you imagine there are only three landfills and some of them are close to residents? As garbage decomposition takes many years, especially non-recyclable garbage, the Hong Kong government is prompted to act to reduce the volume of household garbage.

Hong Kong government was planning on charging families for waste disposal in an attempt to reduce the volume of household garbage. Although Taipei and Seoul have implemented this policy, I do not feel that it will work for Hong Kong. As Hong Kong has a wide wealth disparity, this policy does not solve the problem effectively. The cost of waste disposal may cost too much for the poor, but the rich may feel nothing at all.

There is no real solution to the problem of garbage. In my opinion, one way to reduce the quantity of garbage in Hong Kong is to provide a good education on garbage classification. Countries like Canada and Japan are particularly successful with this type of education. Although Hong Kong has implemented garbage classification, people are not attentive enough nor care to actually sort their garbage. By educating the people in Hong Kong, they would have a better understanding on the advantages of sorting their garbage and recyclables. Moreover, the Hong Kong government can encourage countries to use recycled products, such as providing subsidies. These recommendations in addition to the fees can boost garbage reduction as imposing garbage charge alone is not effective enough for a substantial change.

Bottom Line: Charging garbage fee alone is ineffective in substantially reducing garbage in Hong Kong, but education and encourage policies are tools in to help encourage the reduction of garbage in Hong Kong.

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.


6816 said...

You made a very good point with your blog post. With wealth being unevenly distributed across the city, raising the cost of waste management does not seem to be the most effective solution to the waste problem in Hong Kong. Yet, I don't believe that providing subsidies will help the matter significantly.

Hong Kong is my home town as well. From my recollection, during the 1997- the early 2000's the city was (in my eyes) a landfill. Garbage was spread all over the streets, cigarette butts and spit can be seen at every intersection. During the recent years, the city has changed dramatically after the implementation of fining litterers (including spitters) and relegating smokers to certain areas. My recent trip to Hong Kong, shows a completely different city; new recycling programs are built and advertised, more city workers collecting garbage, and the air seems to be less polluted.
This experience has lead me to believe that the culture in Hong Kong is extremely correlated to pricing/taxing mechanisms. This combined with encouraged government programs and advertising can turn the city around on it's waste management problems.

I absolutely agree with you when you say that charging citizens on a single tax or fee for waste disposal will be more or less ineffective, but it would be more effective and make more sense if fees are household income based and based on per unit of garbage produced.


#3127 said...

It is always attracting to hear news from my hometown, and I do agree with Christina that garbage disposal is a huge issue in Hong Kong. Especially for those who lives in communities that within miles from the landfill sites. Nonetheless, sadly to speak, I am one of them who have been affect from the landfill. Garbage trucks that traveling across Tseung Kwan O (a suburb in Hong Kong) day and night have already rises attention within the community, and the community hopes that the garbage fee would change the current situation.

I have to say that it is a very good point that “[t]he cost of waste disposal may cost too much for the poor, but the rich may feel nothing at all” and it is a point that I have never thought of. On the other hand, I do think that the government had somehow did some (but not effective) education to the general public, such as TV ads, roadshows, or within or elementary or primary schools. As a residence that have been impacted from the landfill for years, I do think that education combined with a waste disposal fee would provide incentives to the general public to do their recycling.

#7460 said...

I find your post interesting. As you mentioned, I cannot agree more on the importance of public education on how to sort garbage and recyclables, especially considering that it can lead to one short-term solution for garbage issue in Hong Kong: burning garbage to generate heat and electricity. Though the idea is controversial given its long-term effect on the environment, across Northern Europe cities including Oslo has been accepted one method, garbage-burning plant, to kill two birds simultaneously: generating heat and electricity, and saving landfill costs. According to this article, there’s even a market for waste in Europe. Maybe if it is hard or impossible to cut the total waste output in one day, it’s better to find a way to utilize wastes. Like you point out, Hong Kong has only three dedicated landfills and maybe there is a good reason for it: the second highest population density. That being said, I think Hong Kong is a perfect candidate for building garbage-burning plants. I’d like to know your opinion on this solution.

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