LCQ17: Green burial
Regarding green burial, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of (i) the respective numbers of cases in which ashes were scattered in relevant locations (i.e. in gardens of remembrance (GoRs) under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), GoRs in private cemeteries, and at sea), (ii) the percentage of the number of green burial cases in the total number of burial cases, and (iii) the utilisation rates of various GoRs under FEHD (including the number of burial cases in which FEHD was entrusted with the arrangement for dedicated staff to scatter ashes, and the number of cases in which memorial ceremonies were arranged to be held in GoRs), in each of the past 10 years;
(2) of the number of users and the hit rate of the Internet Memorial Service (IMS) website, as well as the number of downloads of the IMS mobile application, in each year since the launch of the website and the mobile application;
(3) of the number of members of the public registered with the "Green Burial Central Register", and the number of registrants therein whose cremated ashes were handled in the form of green burial in accordance with their wishes before death, in each year since the launch of the Register;
(4) whether it will conduct an in-depth and quantitative study on green burial (including the public's awareness of green burial and their worries about green burial services, as well as the utilisation situation of relevant services), so as to collect data for formulating strategies to promote green burial; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) whether it has (i) reviewed the strategies and measures to promote green burial, (ii) set targets for increasing the utilisation rates of relevant facilities and services, and (iii) set performance indicators for relevant work;
(6) whether it will draw reference from the experience of green burial in other places, such as (i) "tree or flower burial" (i.e. burying the cremated ashes of the deceased in soil planted with trees or flowers) adopted in Japan and Taiwan, and (ii) transforming cremated ashes into synthetic diamonds or ornaments, so as to provide members of the public with more choices of green burial methods; and
(7) whether the Government will continue to build GoRs and encourage non-governmental organisations and religious groups to build more GoRs in suitable places in the coming five years; if so, of the locations of such GoRs?
With a growing and aging population in Hong Kong, the public demand for burial facilities is earnest. To cope with the demand, apart from increasing the supply of public niches and facilitating the development of the private columbarium industry through regulation, the Government has been actively promoting green burial, including scattering ashes in Gardens of Remembrance (GoRs) or at sea, to encourage the public to handle ashes of the deceased in a more environmental friendly and sustainable manner. Through continuous provision and enhancement of green burial facilities and services, as well as public education and publicity, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) encourages the public to adopt green burial.
My reply to the various parts of Reverend Canon the Hon Peter Douglas Koon's question is as follows:
(1) Over the past decade, under the active promotion of the Government, the prevalence of green burial has significantly increased. The number of green burial cases increased from 3 400 in 2013 to about 9 450, accounting for 15.4 per cent of the total deaths of the year, in 2022. The respective numbers of ashes scattering in GoRs under the FEHD, GoRs in private cemeteries and at sea, as well as the percentage of the number of green burial cases in the total number of deaths each year during the period are set out in Annex 1.
Currently, there are 13 GoRs under the management of the FEHD for members of the public to scatter ashes of the deceased. In 2022, about 7 700 applications for the service were received. The statistics on the utilisation of GoRs in the past decade are set out in Annex 2. The FEHD does not keep statistics on the number of burial cases in which it was entrusted with the arrangement for dedicated staff to scatter ashes in GoRs, nor the number of cases in which memorial ceremonies were arranged to be held in GoRs.
(2) In June 2010, the FEHD launched the Internet Memorial Service (IMS) website (www.memorial.gov.hk), which provides a free memorial website for the public to create memorial webpages for their deceased loved ones and family members and to pay tribute to them at any time and from anywhere. In June 2018, a mobile app of the IMS website was launched. Its functions include personalised profile settings, message notifications and social media sharing. It is easier for the public to pay tribute to their deceased family members and friends with their mobile devices. The IMS website currently has about 26 880 registered users. The number of new users and the hit rate of the IMS website as well as the number of downloads of the IMS mobile app in each year since their launch are set out in Annex 3.
(3) The Government launched the Green Burial Central Register in January 2019 to encourage the public to plan in advance their after-death arrangements by registering their wish for green burial and making it known to their families. As at December 31, 2022, over 9 500 members of the public have registered their wishes in the central register, and around 68 per cent of the deceased registrants had their ashes handled in the form of green burial in accordance with their wishes. It should be noted that even if there is no prior registration, descendants can still adopt green burial for the deceased. The number of registrants in the central register and the number of deceased registrants whose ashes were handled in the form of green burial from 2019 to 2022 are set out in Annex 4.
(4) and (5) The FEHD has been reviewing the effectiveness of its promotion of green burial through on-going monitoring and analysis of the statistics related to green burial, including the percentage of people adopting green burial, the utilisation of green burial facilities and the number of registrations in the Green Burial Central Register. To understand the public views on green burial, two questionnaire surveys were conducted by the FEHD in 2020. In one of the surveys, users of cremation service in the past few years were asked how they handled the ashes of the deceased. In the other survey, public views on green burial were sought. Based on the views collected, the FEHD has adjusted and optimised the promotion work of green burial.
To further promote green burial and upgrade the service quality, the FEHD has launched a design thinking consultancy study which is expected to be completed by mid-2023. The aim of the study is to gain a better understanding of the views of users, stakeholders and the general public so as to formulate more effective promotion strategies and measures for the promotion of public understanding and acceptance of green burial, and to enhance the green burial services provided by the Government and encourage more people to use the services. The study adopts a design thinking user-based approach. Centred on the needs of service users, it seeks innovative and appropriate solutions and creates more possibilities. During the course of the study, the consultant will invite relevant stakeholders, including members of the public, representatives from the funeral trade, academics, operators of private cemeteries and representatives from non-governmental organisations, to take part in workshops and face-to-face interviews for a thorough understanding of their views.
Under the active promotion of the Government, green burial has significantly become more popular in recent years. Nevertheless, it still takes time to bring about the change of social norms and conventions. The Government will continue to improve services and strengthen promotion so as to gradually make green burial the mainstream arrangement of handling ashes, thus achieving the policy objectives of being more environmental friendly and sustainable development.
(6) We have been following the situation and effectiveness of the implementation of green burial measures in other places, and will study the feasibility of launching such measures in Hong Kong. The design thinking consultancy study under way will also gather the views of the public and the relevant stakeholders on other green burial measures. The Government is open to adopting other green burial measures, and due consideration will be given to various factors including land use, stakeholders' views and technical feasibility, so as to draw up suitable measures to encourage more members of the public to adopt green burial.
(7) Two government-constructed GoRs, located in Shek Mun Columbarium in Sha Tin and Siu Ho Wan Columbarium, are expected to be completed and commissioned in the next five years. Besides, the Government encourages non-governmental and religious organisations to build GoRs at suitable sites. Green burial facilities are provided in Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery and Pokfulam Chinese Christian Cemetery, while the GoR in Hong Kong Buddhist Cemetery in Cape Collinson was commissioned in January 2023. Meanwhile, the FEHD is processing a similar application, the vetting of which is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023.
Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:40
Issued at HKT 12:40