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In recent decades, the concern of managing wastes has swept across the globe. Thanks to the growing population and decreasing environmental consciousness of people, most affluent countries are facing the problem of being incapable of managing excess wastes. Especially when people can afford more purchases and greater convenience, they are inclined to throw more rubbish away. Hong Kong is no exception to this. In Hong Kong, according to the Environmental Protection Department (revised in 2012), among a wide variety of wastes, domestic and construction wastes have the highest weighing of wastes in Hong Kong from 1991 to 2011. [i] (See Fig.1) Therefore, the problem of these two types of wastes should be tackled as soon as possible. This can be done by concerted effort from the government, contractors and citizens in Hong Kong. In this essay, I am going to suggest ways to manage domestic and construction waste by the aforementioned strata and criticize the effectiveness of policies implemented by the HKSAR Government.
As we all know, it has been suggested that producer responsibility schemes and waste disposal charging should be implemented by the Hong Kong Special and Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government to alleviate the problem of domestic waste in Hong Kong. According to Ko & Poon (2009) [ii] , there used to be a relation between domestic waste and population, meaning that the quantity of domestic waste increases with population growth. However, the correlation of the two has been weakened since waste recycling scheme has been implemented. The writers suggest that many people are more aware of waste recycling and therefore, there is less waste being disposed in landfills. In spite of that, there is still a considerable amount of domestic waste (Fig.1). So, just like Taiwan, a user-pay policy ought to be launched in Hong Kong by putting a price on waste so that there will be "stronger financial incentives for waste producers and waste recyclers to reduce and recycle more waste." (Ko & Poon, 2009, p.109) [iii]
The Hong Kong public is also concerned about construction waste. Hong Kong is a small place with a crowded population. In recent decades, there has been an increase of construction of infrastructures and skyscrapers, which contributes to a tremendous amount of construction waste. Tam, Le & Zeng (2012) [iv] reveal that formwork and temporary hoardings are the major sources of construction waste which are used to support in-situ concreting. However, there are made from wood which can be used once only as wood is non-recyclable. Therefore, the HKSAR Government should discourage or even restrict contractors to keep using wood as the raw materials for construction. Steel and aluminium should be used instead as they can be reused more than one hundred times. Because of this, there will be a decrease of construction waste at source, thus alleviating the burden of landfills.
Among various construction waste minimization measures, the off-site construction waste sorting (CWS) program is often perceived as a good practice. Construction waste is sorted before being dumped into landfills to two divisions which are inert and non-inert construction materials (Lu & Yuan, 2012). [v] Inert materials include sand, bricks and concrete while non-inert materials include bamboo, plastics, glass and wood. Apparently, inert materials are recyclable whereas non-inert materials are not. Inert materials can be accepted by public fill reception facilities but non-inert materials can only be dumped into landfills as waste. Because of the uselessness of non-inert materials, the HKSAR Government has implemented a successful policy to manage them. The policy is to charge contractors more for non-inert materials ($HK100 per ton) than that for inert materials ($HK 27 per ton). Again, it is a stronger financial incentive for contractors to use more inert materials than non-inert materials when doing construction work. Nevertheless, non-inert materials are not necessarily useless. The HKSAR Government can subsidize or even establish green enterprises to create products by re-shaping second-hand resources like wood and bamboo. This can greatly reduce the amount of non-inert materials.
To ease the burden of landfills, a concerted effort from different strata of the society is needed. Otherwise, landfills in Hong Kong will soon be saturated and more landfills and even incinerators will be inevitably built. Wong & Yip (2004) [vi] suggests that contractors and businessmen should forsake their deep-rooted mind of earning maximum profit in every construction. Instead, they should start adapting green construction style like using recycled building materials. The first stage for improving the situation is to acknowledge the problem and reflect what they have done to harm the environment. On the other hand, the government should introduce and promote different kinds of sustainable construction waste management methods to contractors so that they can reduce construction waste as much as they can. Besides, educating citizens can be a good way to decrease the amount of non-recyclable construction waste too. For instance, citizens should be taught to buy durable and recyclable furniture like steel instead of wooden furniture. As a result, their awareness of using fewer non-recyclable construction materials and producing less construction waste can be aroused.
After reading this essay, many would argue that the HKSAR Government has done different measures to manage domestic and construction waste and it is "enough". For instance, except the above measures that I have mentioned, the Government has implemented a programme on Source Separation of Domestic Waste (slogan: blue paper, yellow aluminium cans and brown plastic bottles) and an environmental levy on plastic shopping bags in 2007. Unfortunately, though, life is not that simple. A growing body of research, governmental included (Fig.1), shows that the amount of domestic and construction waste has been more or less the same only. This indicates that the Government's performance is far from satisfactory and the measures are ineffective. The two programmes only cure the symptoms, not the disease. The Government should seriously consider launching a levy on domestic waste based on the quantity in every Hong Kong family. If some families cannot afford this, the Government should subsidize them instead of postponing the project indefinitely. It is obviously the general trend and the most effective way to alleviate the burden of landfills across the globe.
It can be concluded that, in the light of evidence, the waste reduction can be achieved by concerted efforts from people of different strata in Hong Kong. First of all, producer responsibility schemes and waste disposal charging should be implemented by the HKSAR Government to manage domestic waste, so as to provide a financial incentive to citizens to discourage themselves from making too much waste. Secondly, the success of the off-site sorting programme as mentioned can forbid contractors using too many non-inert materials. It contributes to minimize the amount of construction waste. Then, contractors should abandon wood as the raw materials of construction work as it is non-renewable. Instead, they should use renewable raw materials like steel. Finally, contractors and businessmen should forsake their deep-rooted minds of earning maximum profit in every construction and citizens should learn various ways to reduce waste. The Government should start implementing long-term measures to manage waste and all stakeholders should keep progress in reducing waste by united efforts but not stagnate. After all, our environment will be fine and nice because of people's efforts.