HONG KONG — Charging a fee for throwing out each bag of trash is the latest idea to curtail waste in the most wasteful place in the world.
Sadly, that's not hyperbole. A study published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in October 2010 declared that Hong Kong generated the most waste per capita among 30 economies studied.
Local officials say roughly two-thirds of the city’s garbage comes from households.
All of Hong Kong's non-recycled trash gets hauled into landfills that are fast filling up. The government now has controversial plans to construct the world’s largest garbage incinerator, which will be able to burn up 3,000 tones of waste per day. It is not expected to be completed until 2018.
We don’t need green groups to tell us (even though they still do) that the ideal solution to the city’s dire trash-disposal problem would be to generate less garbage to begin with.
So it makes sense that the government is now exploring the idea of forcing residents to buy pricey garbage bags for waste collection, as a way to encourage conscientiousness about trash. The government is now surveying residents to gauge support for such an initiative.
This tax system has been implemented in Switzerland, Taipei, Seoul and other places, where trash quantities have fallen dramatically.
The major enforcement challenge would be making sure people don’t just throw their garbage into bins on the street. The South China Morning Post pointed out that Taipei and Seoul reward informers who report anyone trying to cheat the system.
If Hong Kong’s successful plastic-bag tax is any indication, tacking a fee onto things is an effective way to change behavior. In 2009, when supermarkets stopped giving out free plastic bags and charged a meager $0.06 for each one, the number of plastic bags issued plummeted by around 90%.
Now imagine how people would behave differently if every bag of trash cost $2, the approximate amount charged in Zurich.
Photo: Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department