Waste-charging Scheme: Financial Burden Hits Underprivileged Elders
Liu Siu-lan, 73, lives alone in a public housing flat and makes a living by scavenging for cardboard after her retirement.
Liu worked as a garment worker in a sewing factory after she fled to Hong Kong from the mainland in the 1960s.
She lives alone after her husband died a few years ago. She has no children or other family.
“I can still work and contribute to society by collecting cardboard from shops and sending it to the recycling stations,” said Liu. “It cannot make me a huge fortune, but can subsidise my living.”
She said she can go to Yum Cha with her friends once a week with the income from recycling.
“It is tiring but I think it is the right thing to do,” said Liu.
“It is always good for the elders to have something to do,” said Liu. “It makes me feel like I am not a burden to society.”
However, she may need to pay for domestic waste in 2023.
The Legislative Council passed the waste-charging schemes, named The Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill 2018, on 26 August.
There will be a preparatory of 18 months before the implementation of charging, which means the scheme will start no sooner than early 2023, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
Under the scheme, households will need to buy “designated garbage bags”, which have nine sizes for citizens to choose from.
For oversized waste, such as furniture, citizens will need to buy a HK$11 “designated label” to affix with the waste.
“It is not reasonable to charge us money for having rubbish,” said Liu. “Obviously not everything is recyclable.”
Wu Kwok-sang, 72, lives on a government subsidy and alone in a public housing flat.
“The waste charging scheme will definitely increase my financial burden,” said Wu. “Even replacing my broken table will cost more.”
Only one-fourth of the elders who live in public housing estates support the “dedicated-fund-for-dedicated-use” principle, which means more rubbish thrown, more money paid, according to the survey by the Federation of Public Housing Estates.
Among the opposing responses, about half of them stated “increasing their financial burden” as their main reason.
As Wu and Liu receive the “High Old Age Living Allowance”, they will be provided with a subsidy of HK$10 per month, same as the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme recipients, to support the additional expenditure on the waste charging.
However, the government estimates that an ordinary household may be charged HK$30 or above per month.
“The government needs to provide enough subsidy to the recipient of CSSAS and HOALA to cover the needs for the waste charging scheme,” Sze Lai-shan, the deputy director of the Society for Community Organization.
“Generally I do support the scheme,” Larm Wai-leung, the deputy president of the Federation of Public Housing Estate. “But the government really needs to clarify the details.”
Larm said the government could consult residents of public housing and come up with more ideas to reduce the burden on residents.
Currently, households of public housing can get free garbage bags.
Larm suggests that the government can distribute a certain amount of designated garbage bags to public housing residents.
In response, the government is planning to distribute free designated garbage bags to all households for a period after the implementation of the charging scheme; the arrangement will be finalised with LegCo later, according to Carmen Lee, spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Department.
About half of the residents in public housing said they would recycle more after the implementation of the waste-charging scheme, according to FPHE.
Liu said she has been recycling before the plan on the waste-charging scheme was introduced.
“If the government wants to charge us for having rubbish, they should pay us for recycling,” said Liu.
“Collecting the recyclable materials from shops and restaurants to the recycling stations takes effort but it did not pay well,” said Liu.
Recycling stations collect recyclable materials in exchange for money.
Wu said if the scheme is implemented, he will do more recycling. However, he thinks that no matter what, there will always be waste that cannot be dealt with.
“Whenever I go shopping, in the market or supermarket, there will always be packaging that cannot be recycled,” said Wu.
However, half of the residents in public housing said there are not enough recycling facilities in their estates, according to FPHE.
“The government should provide more recycling facilities,” said Sze.
“There are only two recycling stations near Shek Lei Estate, both of them located in the industrial area that takes half an hour walk,” said Liu.
Wu said in his estate, which consists of 14 blocks of public housing, he only knows of three small recycling bins.
“If the government wants us to recycle, they should put more facilities near our homes to make it convenient,” said Wu.
The government is devoting resources to expanding the network, which comprises nine recycling stations, 22 recycling stores and over 100 recycling spots, said Lee.
The government said they recognised the additional financial burden that the MSW charging may bring to lower-income households. They said the HK$10 subsidies could largely cover the additional financial burden that the MSW charging may bring.
An estimated HK$800 to 1,000 million will be collected from the scheme every year, all of it will be dedicated to enhancing waste reduction and recycling in Hong Kong, according to Lee.
Sze said the government can work with local groups, such as NGOs, owners' corporations, owners’ committees, and the mutual aid committees of public housing.
“They should do a better job at social education,” she said.
She said some elders might not even know where to buy the designated garbage bags.
“The officials should visit the community and get more responses from the public,” said Sze.
《The Young Reporter》
The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.
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