A good step forward on litter

Editorial | 10 Oct 2017

It's great that Hong Kong has made enough progress to act further to remove all litter bins from country parks.

I'm elated. It reflects positively on the quality of people who spend weekends trekking along trails that offer spectacular views of the natural scenery, and it's a vote of confidence by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in the people.

Since the department launched the first phase of the "Take Your Litter Home" program two years ago, bins have been removed from various country park locations. By the end of 2017, all remaining bins will be gone.

There's little doubt Hongkongers are more aware of the environment than before. So, it didn't surprise me when AFCD director Leung Siu-fai summed up the progress that the amount of trash found at locations where bins had been removed fell 70 percent and, in some places, more than 90 percent.

It was a bold decision in 2015. Back then, the initiative was clouded with concern that country parks could be littered with food residues, tins, plastic and paper, should rubbish bins be taken off the trails.

Leung opted to trust the hikers.

Admittedly, it's a bit redundant to have rubbish bins across the country parks in the first place. Given the vast size of the parks, visitors are literally free to dump waste wherever they like - without the fear of being caught for littering.

Understandably, the program's success has had a lot to do with proper publicity planning, although people who are willing to spend weekends on the hills are usually nature lovers.

It's only a small step, nonetheless. As far as the environment is concerned, the greatest challenge is in urban areas where most waste is produced.

According to the Environmental Protection Department, people are discarding more municipal solid waste than before. In 2015, each person dumped 1.39 kilograms per day. In 2011 and 2006, it was only 1.27 kg and 1.35 kg.

Don't be misled by the seemingly harmless term of "municipal solid waste." In layman's language, it means trash.

Some progress is being made on domestic waste. In 2015, a person discarded 0.88 kg daily, compared favorably to 0.97 kg in 2006. But the figures could have been better had the recycling system been more efficient.

Our recycling system is absolutely primitive. I can't help asking, if the Secretary for Environment Wong Kam- sing had given serious efforts to promoting waste separation at the local neighborhood level, would color bins in housing estates, for example, be filled with the correct stuff instead of non- recyclables?

It's plain misleading to assert Hong Kong has a recycling industry. If it had, cardboard boxes wouldn't have piled up on the streets immediately after the mainland refused shipment of low- grade waste recyclables from the SAR.

Instead of blaming the mainland for turning away refuse from Hong Kong, we should come up with a better policy to deal with the waste problems.

The country park program provides a good experience. Now it's up to Wong to do his part to devise a corresponding urban strategy.

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