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Government audit of Hong Kong’s waste reduction efforts makes clear who is to blame for our growing mountain of rubbish

i Dec 3rd No Comments by

An informative piece by Tom Yam published by the SCMP (1 Dec 2015) that builds on the Audit Commission report titled “Government’s efforts in managing municipal solid waste“.

Hong Kong’s waste problem: a stinking trail of missed targets, data errors and misdirected efforts

Tom Yam says a government audit of Hong Kong’s waste reduction efforts makes clear who is to blame for our growing mountain of rubbish.

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If an organisation misses targets, mangles statistics, mismanages capital assets, underestimates costs, undertakes trifling projects and underperforms in a critical task year after year, will it survive?

The answer is a resounding “yes” if it is the Environmental Protection Department.

The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended)

The Audit Commission recently issued a report on the government’s management of the garbage, officially known as municipal solid waste, which Hong Kong produced over the decade to 2015. The Environmental Protection Department is responsible for waste management and has an annual budget of HK$2.05 billion to do the job.

By every measure, including the department’s own as set out in its Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (2005-2014), and the Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources (2013-2022), it fell short.

Key performance indicators for waste management have all deteriorated. Per capita waste disposed daily increased from 1.27kg in 2011 to 1.35kg in 2014. Waste recovered and recycled dropped from 49 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2013. Food waste increased from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013.

READ MORE: What a waste: Hong Kong government ‘set to miss targets’ as people dump more rubbish

The landfill in Tseung Kwan O. As of 2013, 63 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste was still dumped in landfills. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The policy framework set a target of disposing of 25 per cent of waste in landfills by 2014. As of 2013, 63 per cent was still dumped in landfills.

The department’s data, used to manage ongoing programmes, is rubbish (pun intended). The Audit Commission cites a litany of statistical errors. The amount of waste recovered for recycling was inflated because the department included waste imported for processing. Its forecast of a 50 per cent drop in food waste from school lunches was overstated because only 12 per cent of students ate lunch in school. It could produce no quantifiable data to explain its changing assumptions about the serviceable life of the landfills. It now claims that all landfills will be full by 2018. The Audit Commission believes they should last some years beyond 2018.

The department priced phrase 1 of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities, to recycle mainly food waste, at HK$489 million in 2010. But because it omitted or significantly underestimated the cost of some components, the cost surged to HK$1.589 billion in 2014.

READ MORE: Waste not, want not: The ‘food angels’ collecting goodies we’re about to throw out to cook for Hong Kong’s underprivileged

The producer responsibility scheme for plastic bags has been rolled out, albeit behind schedule. But the scheme has yet to be implemented for five other products, including glass bottles. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Target dates for rolling out the producer responsibility scheme for six products, based on the “polluter pays” principle, have not been met. Only the first two phases of the plastic shopping bag levy have been implemented, in 2009 and 2015, six to eight years behind target. The scheme has yet to be implemented for the other five products – waste electrical and electronic equipment, vehicle tyres, glass bottles, packaging materials and rechargeable batteries.

Only four of the 12 government departments have signed up to the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign, which promotes reduction of food waste, two years after its launch.

With great fanfare, the department did launch a series of waste reduction, recovery and recycling initiatives. Their impact, however, has been inconsequential. Net reduction of plastic shopping bags disposed of in landfills in 2009-2013 was 11,544 tonnes, or an infinitesimal amount of total waste disposed.

READ MORE: Cycle of waste: City’s recycling industry needs must be addressed by Hong Kong government

… Article Continues though

TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE visit SCMP

… Summary of Article …

The audit report describes a mismanaged organisation that lacks coordination with other government departments, produces inaccurate information and statistics, and engages in inconsequential efforts to tackle waste reduction and recycling. It cannot effectively manage ongoing programmes, resulting in missed targets and deteriorating performance.

In the private sector, a chief executive accountable for such rotten results would have been fired. Yet the previous environment secretary, Edward Yau Tang-wah, is now director of the Chief Executive’s Office. The current one, Wong Kam-sing, is this week attending the UN climate change conference in Paris. The Environmental Protection Department’s director, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, has been in her job since 2006. Despite the audit report, all three are likely to keep their highly paid jobs in Hong Kong’s non-accountable government.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

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