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CS'speech at "Municipal Solid Waste Control Strategy and Technologies" Seminar (English only) (with photos)

    Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Rafael Hui, at the Seminar on Municipal Solid Waste Control Strategy and Technologies organised by the Democratic Party this morning (September 1):

Martin (Lee), distinguished speakers and guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     First of all, I would like to thank the Democratic Party for inviting me to open this seminar.  I have to say that today's topic is not the world's sexiest subject; nonetheless, it is a very important subject for all big cities around the world.  And it is even more important in tiny Hong Kong, where space is at a premium, and where the recycling culture is only now just beginning to take root.  It is clear to all of us that we just cannot keep on digging new holes in the ground to fill up with our rubbish.  We simply don't have the space.  So, what can we do to address the challenge?

     A noted British economist in the last century by the name of Sir Josiah Stamp once said:  "It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities."  I am sure his wisdom applies equally well to environmental protection in the 21st century.  Protecting the environment is the responsibility of every person in the community.  If we fail to discharge our responsibilities now, then not only us, but our children and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences in the years ahead.

     Hong Kong faces serious environmental challenges and the Hong Kong Government has never been in denial over this.  Roadside air pollution is at very high levels on some days.  Our landfills are filling up.   A large volume of effluent, having received only preliminary treatment, is still discharged daily into Victoria Harbour.  And air quality has been a big concern over the past few years.  The government's 'Action Blue Sky Campaign' is a community-wide initiative. It calls for the Government to tighten emission controls on the power companies, and to work closely with our Guangdong counterparts to find solutions to common problems.  The campaign calls on legislators to empower the government to regulate aerosol products using volatile organic compounds.  I hope I can count on the support of the Democratic Party.  The campaign also calls on the business sector and the community to reduce electricity consumption, and to turn off idling engines.  We all have a role to play in improving air quality.  Blue sky will not appear out of the blue - we must act together.

     Solid waste disposal is another big challenge for us. If we don't take action to reduce waste, our landfills will be full in five to nine years.  And then what?  Suitable land is a scarce commodity in Hong Kong. More important, solid waste disposal is only an end-of-pipe solution.  It is not sustainable.  We need to do more to treasure and conserve our resources.  And that means avoiding , reducing, reusing, recycling and treating waste.  Our landfills should be the last resort for our unavoidable solid waste, not the first port of call for most of it.

     Late last year, the Government published a policy framework for the Management of Municipal Solid Waste (2005-2014).  It sets out a comprehensive strategy for municipal solid waste management over the next decade and marks the start of a new process to attain sustainable waste management.

     The core message of the Policy Framework is clear and simple: every one of us must be responsible for what we produce, supply, consume and dispose of.

     The business sector, for example, has a responsibility to minimise the environmental impact of their products.  They should rethink the way they approach a product - from design to packaging and finally, disposal.  Products should be designed to generate less waste and facilitate recycling.

     As individuals, we also have a responsibility to reduce waste and share the cost of handling the waste we produce.  We should pause and reconsider our consumption-driven lifestyle.  We should adopt good environmental habits.  For example, choose green alternatives if at all possible: take a reusable bag when shopping; separate waste at source before disposal.

     The Policy Framework proposes incentives and infrastructure to help everyone become an environmentally responsible resident.  Dr Liao will talk more about these initiatives in her keynote speech.  The Policy Framework does not have all the answers to all of our waste disposal problems.  Although most of the proposed initiatives have been tried and proven effective in other places, they have yet to be customised to fit our local conditions.  I hope our overseas guests and our local experts will be able to give us some guidance and advice.

     Before I conclude, I would like to stress again that we must understand that we all are the source of most of the problems.  We have to adopt production processes and living style and habits that help minimise environmental impact.  We have to share the treatment and mitigation costs.  The challenge is how to build community consensus and support in sharing the costs and adopting environmentally friendly processes and living habits.  

     I hope our legislators can rally to the cause and join the Government in making difficult decisions for the sake of the environment.  Although we will continue to engage the community, some waste reduction measures will inevitably cause short-term inconvenience to some segments of the public, or lead to increased costs for other sectors. But, we need to take a broader view and understand that a vote in the Legislative Council for environmental legislation is a vote for the future environment of your children and those who elect you.

     The Government will of course do our part.  Apart from providing appropriate resources and initiating legislation, we will continue to enhance our publicity and educational programmes so that our residents can understand the nature of the problem, the solutions available, and the price we have to pay for a cleaner living environment.  The Government has been working with non-government organisations, green groups, academic institutions and the private sector, both locally and overseas, to build strong partnerships in pursuing environmental protection.  I believe that although we were part of the problem in the past, we, everyone of us, are also the solution in the future.

Ends/Friday, September 1, 2006
Issued at HKT 11:04


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