Hong Kong waste-charging scheme: principals call for more support as schools expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year under coming measures

Hong Kong waste-charging scheme: principals call for more support as schools expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year under coming measures

Hong Kong principals have urged authorities to provide more subsidies and improve recycling networks as schools and kindergartens will have to pay up to tens of thousands of dollars a year under a coming waste-charging scheme.

Education sector lawmaker Chu Kwok-keung has suggested trying out the scheme at government schools to identify potential problems and devise solutions to serve as a reference for the sector.

The scheme, set to take effect in August, will require residents to buy government-approved plastic bags, available in nine sizes, for 11 cents (US 1.4 cents) a litre, to dispose of their trash.

Polly Chan Shuk-yee, the principal of Yaumati Catholic Primary School (Hoi Wang Road) and vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Aided Primary School Heads Association, called on the government to provide financial support to offset the cost of the bags.

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Pupils learn how to use designated bags at a promotional event for the waste-charging scheme. Photo: Eugene Lee

Instead of putting designated bags in all classrooms, many schools are planning to buy the 100-litre ones, priced at HK$11 each, to collect bags of rubbish across campuses as a cost-saving measure.

“In that way, the cost of the designated bags is bearable, but it is an extra cost that we did not need to pay in the past,” Chan said. “Would it be possible for the government to set aside a budget for the bags, or grant us some rebates? But whenever we ask the Education Bureau about it, we are told to contact the Environmental Protection Department.”

Chan said she was worried that some students or staff might even bring their household garbage to school for disposal, adding she hoped education authorities would issue further guidelines before the new measures took effect.

What you need to know about Hong Kong’s coming waste-charging scheme

To prepare for the scheme, her school had started getting rid of unwanted clutter, and planned to purchase a food-waste processor, which could turn scraps into fertiliser for gardening purposes, and help educate students as well, she said. The disposal of lunchboxes was handled by the supplier, Chan added.

Lawmaker Chu, also a school principal, said the sector expected to pay a few thousand dollars to up to HK$10,000 a month on designated bags, and he urged the government to provide subsidies or distribute the bags for free.

He said the most important step was to ramp up education and promotion of the scheme as many people mistakenly believed that the government had introduced it to save money.

“The education and environmental authorities should collaborate, and issue guidelines for schools to follow,” he said. “Some government schools can take the lead in launching the scheme first to see what the potential challenges are, so problems can be resolved before they appear.”

Esther Ho Yuk-fan, principal of Carmel Secondary School, said authorities could increase the size of the operating expenses grant for aided schools or provide direct subsidies, adding they had received allowances for electricity before because it was an inevitable expense.

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Esther Ho, principal of Carmel Secondary School, says authorities should come up with a list of reliable recyclers who are willing to work with schools. Photo: Roy Issa

Ho also expressed concern that current recycling networks were not up to par, and needed to be improved by the government.

“In the past decade, the education sector faced some challenges in recycling,” she said. “Paper is the easiest to deal with, but for plastic and glass bottles, and some bulky items such as desks, which are made of wood and steel, it’s not easy to find a recycler to collect them.”

She suggested that authorities create a list of reliable recyclers who were willing to work with schools to help save administrative costs and ensure waste was processed properly.

Ho added that the overall recycling network in the city should also be strengthened to encourage students, as well as the public, to recycle.

Hong Kong officials urged to clean up act, change waste-charging scheme tactics

She said the secondary school was decluttering and coming up with waste management plans to prepare for the scheme.

Takeaway boxes, often thrown away with leftovers still inside, were one of the bulkiest types of trash found in secondary schools, Ho noted.

“We needed to formulate measures to reduce the volume, including designating a location where food waste can be handled hygienically, and boxes can be stacked up before they are thrown away,” she said. “We need to think of different scenarios and plan ahead. Students would also be engaged in these discussions.”

Nancy Lam Chui-ling, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said kindergartens were bearing a heavier load than primary and secondary schools as they operated on a self-financing basis.

Lam, a kindergarten principal, urged the government to provide special grants to schools such as hers as it during the Covid-19 pandemic to alleviate the financial burden.

A mop and a pause on Hong Kong’s waste-charging scheme

Three-quarters of the kindergartens in Hong Kong are non-profit organisations. Private independent and non-local kindergartens do not take part in the government’s subsidy scheme and require families to cover the tuition fees themselves.

Lam said each kindergarten used at least three 100-litre garbage bags daily. Full-day kindergartens and nurseries, where waste also consisted of diapers and disposable lunchboxes, would need even more.

That means they would have to spend at least HK$6,000 for the designated garbage bags every year, excluding labour costs to handle the rubbish.

In a reply to the Post, the Education Bureau said it had advised schools to follow guidelines and information provided by the Environmental Protection Department to prepare for the new measures.

It added that the operating expenses grant and subsidies could be used to cover costs incurred from the cleaning of school premises, including the waste-charging scheme.

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