Hong Kong must take a leaf out of the European Union’s book to reduce waste

Hong Kong must take a leaf out of the European Union’s book to reduce waste
Hong Kong policymakers can learn from the European Parliament’s approval of an ambitious single-use plastic ban and regulations
Meanwhile, bottom-up strategies such as environmental education are key to sparking change

With the government’s recent issuance of the Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035, waste management issues that were looming over our city have once again been brought into the spotlight. Out of the many issues contributing to Hong Kong’s unsatisfactory performance in this area, I would like to highlight two on which progress has been stagnant – plastic waste reduction and environmental education.

Hong Kong has witnessed a surge of single-use plastic waste being disposed of since the enforcement of dine-in bans. While pilot schemes have been launched to kick-start recycling momentum, the eventual phasing out of single-use plastics with a clear timeline must also be implemented as soon as possible if we are to make significant progress.

Reference can be taken from the European Parliament’s approval of an ambitious step-by-step single-use plastic ban and regulations. Apart from market restrictions that ban the use of plastic cutlery, straws, containers and so on, countries are required to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics that have no alternatives, such as containers for immediate consumption of prepared food, by 2026.

A few other regulations will be implemented in 2024, such as the “extended producer responsibility” principle, which holds producers of waste accountable for cleaning up waste, gathering data and raising awareness. The directive also requires a separate collection target and design requirements for plastic bottles, aiming for a 90 per cent recycling rate by 2029.

To educate the public, certain disposable products such as sanitary items and wet wipes will have compulsory markings on their packaging to inform consumers about the presence of plastic in the product, appropriate waste management options and negative environmental impacts when the product is discarded.

While regulations and policies influence society from the top down, bottom-up strategies are also critical to spark changes in behaviour, with environmental education being one of the most fundamental. Because the correct attitudes and behaviour with regard to waste treatment are built over time, it would be most effective to start educating the younger generation environmentally in school.

The Environment Protection Department should cooperate with the Education Bureau to design an organised, comprehensive curriculum that integrates scattered pieces of environmental education in different subjects. Currently, the information from the government and NGO education programmes is fragmented.

The curriculum should not exacerbate competition among students and schools; rather, it should focus on developing students’ critical thinking skills to avoid them being misled. Outdoor learning experiences should be included as part of experimental learning to help students establish personal bonds with nature, encouraging them to think responsibly about the environment.

Rachel Yu, student, Division of Environment and Sustainability, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Feb 23, 2021)

Read more in SCMP letter article