Orange News: The incessant littering problem in Hong Kong presents inextricable ties with its multi-levelled stakeholders. Taking a variety of voices into account, the government has already been devoting policymaking efforts sufficient to suppress rule breakers, and a mix of regulations tools unique to other places in the world.
The government on 7th December has proposed to double the littering fine from HK$1500 to HK$3000. Such includes behaviours like displaying posters without permission and pets fouling on streets. The last adjustment on its littering fine amount was made back in 2003, while Hong Kong has seen a cumulative inflation rate of 60% over the period. Other offences revolving shop front extensions and illegal dumping of construction materials also had their fines toughened to ensure the streets are as clean and hygienic as possible.
Monetary punishments are one of the most effective deterrents in respond to a change in individual’s behaviour. The authorities can also acquire information handy to devise their next move, such as looking at the accumulated fine in one month and conducting location mapping in order to modify fine amount and tailor the number of patrolling in each district. Nevertheless, the Environment and Ecology Bureau could consider few other rational and systematic approaches to look into, in complementing the rise in littering fine:
Enhance enforcement efficiency
A modification on fining procedure should be made to accelerate the penalty issuances process. For tenants facing shop front extensions charges, law enforcers are required to provide evidence (ie. Photographs) to legitimise their actions. The Bureau could explore the opportunity to conduct immediate enforcement, without the presence of proofs. Other features of the shop front extension penalties like shortening the tenant’s time to move away obstacles are also welcomed. Despite a pure rise or fall in penalty levels, non-monetary measures that deals with efficiency could also cast an effect on tenant’s behaviour.
Explore the potentiality of progressive Fine Structure
The Bureau has previously suggested the use of progressive fine penalties that issues a higher penalty level to repeat offenders. The scheme was then called off due to the complexity behind setting up a data bank and on-the-spot fine issuance. The government is convinced that issuing multiple tickets on one go is more effective. However, such may cost greater argument when enforcers issue tickets in every 5 minute which the tenants have insufficient manpower to move its inventory speedily back to the store. It is believed that more research and development could be done on determine whether creating a data bank or issuing multiple tickets are more effective in the long run. Other than that, repeat offenders could be called to court if he/she shows no attempt to change its attitude.
Tenants have pointed out that internalising the penalty cost has been a norm for many tenants. Shop owners are prepared to forgo the financial cost to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) in exchange for public areas, such that they can occupy nearby spaces for their inventories. Not only does this suggest a feeble punishment to the offenders, but also make room for the possibility to initiate a progressive structural increase in the fine amount.
Fidgeting with fine levels alone is less likely to create impact. More initiatives should be done in accompany with fine adjustments to improve the overall situation.
If littering fine is an effective approach to terminate short-term habitual behaviours, raising awareness is crucial as it tackles the root of problem. Given the comprehensive education system in Hong Kong, the authorities can certainly leverage a part of the student’s syllabus to elucidate what’s wrong with littering on the streets. In a community level, the district can always arrange environmentally themed events for local residents, not only raise awareness on other environmental topics but also to make connections with other like-minded people, encouraging people not to litter from a top-down approach. The government could also dedicate resources into adding and advertising the locations of rubbish bins and community recycling stations, as to allow the public in acknowledging what they could do with rubbish.
Establish Feedback Mechanism
Offering constructive feedback is the precondition to a campaign’s success. Timely feedback from various standpoints is equally necessary when authorities attempt to improve public hygiene. To better communicate, feedback mechanism within the local residents could be useful in learning which perspective of the campaign requires adjustments, such as the inadequate number of stations to offload construction waste and littering hotspots in a particular area that has yet to be dealt with. Such mechanism can streamline responses in a neat procedure for the authorities to reflect upon and suggest better ideas to ameliorate the experience in deterring litter louts.
An increase in littering penalty is indeed a solid initial step to progress Hong Kong into a decent city. Enacting other complementary strategies in line with existing action shall aggregate the outcomes and efficiently guide Hong Kong into a litter-free environment.
Originally published on Orange News on 22 Dec 2022. Written by Lawrence Iu.