The rubbish-strewn streets of mid-Levels are a symptom of unscrupulous garbage contractors who dump mountains of trash illegally on footpaths rather than paying for it to be properly handled, according to a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) official speaking to Transit Jam on condition of anonymity.
Luxury apartment buildings along Caine Road and Prince’s Terrace, for example, are paying as little as HK$100 a month to have their garbage collected, according to the FEHD source, who says the buildings use these token contracts to absolve themselves of all responsibility.
“Those buildings who pay just $100 a month don’t care how the garbage is handled,” said the official. “Therefore, it appears some of the collectors are just collecting the apartment garbage and throwing it on the street.”
The source said on top of this, other apartment buildings or building contractors simply dump their garbage directly on footpaths to save money on waste disposal.
“A builder who has three vans of construction waste, if he dumps some of it on the street illegally he only needs two vans. But he’ll still charge the client for three vans,” said the official, in an exclusive and frank exchange on the issues surrounding waste management.
When asked why FEHD doesn’t mount operations to catch perpetrators, the official said it was possibly due to “laziness of the upper management level”.
According to the source, some blackspots have now become “unofficial waste transfer stations”, with FEHD paying private contractors to clear them every morning.
FEHD did not respond to questions on the cost to the taxpayer of these unofficial operations, nor whether such arrangements might further encourage more illegal dumping.
District Environmental Hygiene Superintendent (Central/Western) Li Yat-fung has defended FEHD’s record, claiming “no irregularities” have been found at many black spots around mid-Levels.
According to Li, FEHD has “all along been closely monitoring the situation and taking appropriate action against offenders for illegal dumping of waste in public places when detected,” she said in a letter (seen by Transit Jam) to the Ombudsman, who was investigating claims of malpractice by the department.
At the junction of Caine Road and Ladder Street, a notorious blackspot with tonnes of illegal trash blocking even the footpaths every morning, Li told the Ombudsman five tickets had been given for illegal dumping in the last 12 months. “We conducted several ‘blitz’ operations there even at the small hours of the day,” said Li. “No irregularities were found.”
The issue of illegal dumping has been a key debating point between lawmakers and government officials in discussion of the proposed waste-charging bill. Under that scheme, which has been under discussion since 2011, all trash (except medical and construction waste) will need to be placed in special bags which will cost between HK$0.3 for a three-litre bag to HK$73 for a 660-litre bag.
Last week, activists urged the government and lawmakers to press ahead with that waste charging scheme. “A very strong support expressed by the public should encourage legislators and politicians to not be afraid to put the extra charge on the community, because the community is ready,” said District Councillor Paul Zimmerman, who is also a board member of think tank Civic Exchange.
Over years of discussions, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, including Elizabeth Quat and Jeremy Tam, for example, have questioned whether the government’s plans would prevent abuse or illegal dumping.
The government has said it will learn from other cities overseas and further strengthen its camera network to prevent fly tipping. However, a Transit Jam investigation in February revealed those IP cameras to be largely useless in preventing fly-tipping.
Lawmaker Frankie Yick, who chairs the Bills Committee tasked with scrutinising the government’s proposed bill, says illegal dumping is certainly a big concern for lawmakers. “We do have questions on how our government can carry out the law enforcement in an effective manner. And how many people our government needs to do law enforcement,” he told Transit Jam this afternoon.
Yick says his own view is that more “emphasis on education” is needed.