Maintaining a clean and hygienic living environment for the public is another key responsibility of the Department. The range of services includes street cleansing; waste collection; management of public toilets and aqua privies, public markets, cemeteries, crematoria and columbaria; and hawker management.
The Department and its cleansing contractors have a combined workforce of about 10,100 engaged in the provision of cleansing services, including street sweeping and washing, gully emptying, waste collection, and management of public toilets, aqua privies and refuse collection points.
Street sweeping is essential to keeping the city clean. All streets are swept manually from one to four times a day, depending on the need of the areas. Streets in highly pedestrianised areas or popular tourist spots may be swept up to eight times a day.
In addition to manual sweeping, mechanical suction sweepers are used to sweep highways, flyovers, central dividers and other busy traffic spots. Special cleansing squads operate on a need basis to clean hygiene black spots. They deploy tipper lorries to remove large abandoned articles and bulky waste that cannot be handled by street sweepers. The squads also undertake urgent clearance operations in the event of traffic accidents or natural disasters.
To facilitate the general public, there are about 20,940 litter containers located at almost every bus stop, major road junction, ferry concourse and public transport interchange. They are emptied at a frequency of one to eight times daily, depending on the need of the areas. The Department also provides some 480 dog toilets and 1,510 dog excreta collection bins.
Regular street washing is carried out in public places, including pavements, service lanes, hawker permitted areas, refuse collection points and hygiene black spots. A total of 108 street washing teams from the Department's in-house staff and cleansing service contractors wash heavily patronised pedestrian precincts and hawker/hygiene black spots at least twice weekly; busy areas at least once a week; and other areas on a need basis. For trunk roads with heavy traffic where normal washing is not practicable, flushing is done during non-busy hours.
Roadside gullies are cleared manually once every two to four weeks. Gully traps on highways and flyovers are cleared once every six weeks by mechanical gully emptiers after midnight when traffic is light.
About 76% of the Department's street cleansing services have been outsourced. A monitoring and sanction mechanism is in place to ensure that contractors deliver satisfactory services.
There are 3,205 refuse collection points (RCPs) in Hong Kong. These include 160 permanent off-street RCPs, which generally operate from 7 am to 3.30 pm, and up to 11.30 pm in busy areas; 25 temporary RCPs; 701 village-type RCPs; and 2,319 bin sites. The RCPs are of different designs to suit actual needs and site constraints. They are used for temporary storage of street litter and household waste pending collection. Whenever circumstances permit, the Department makes improvements to RCPs to minimise any possible environmental nuisance to nearby residents.
Waste in RCPs is collected at least once daily. About 5,160 tonnes of household waste are collected daily - 1,050 from Hong Kong Island, 1,590 from Kowloon and 2,520 from the New Territories and outlying islands. Waste is delivered to refuse transfer stations or landfills managed by the Environmental Protection Department. The Department has outsourced about 74% of its refuse collection services. It has a monitoring and sanction mechanism to ensure that waste collection contractors deliver satisfactory services.
In support of the Government's initiative to reduce waste, the Department provides recyclables collection service to 3,303 collection points in public places, schools, clinics and government venues to recover waste paper, metal and plastic materials.
During the year, the average monthly weight of recyclable materials collected was 45,510 kilogrammes of waste paper, 1,330 kilogrammes of metal and 14,210 kilogrammes of plastic materials.
Wherever possible, retread tyres are used on the departmental vehicle fleet. In the past year, the ratio of brand-new to retread tyres was 1:0.3.
Public toilets are provided mainly at tourist spots and busy areas, including ferry concourses, bus termini and picnic areas. Altogether, 659 public toilets are managed by the Department - 94 on Hong Kong Island, 62 in Kowloon, and 503 in the New Territories and on outlying islands. In addition, there are 187 aqua privies in the New Territories and on outlying islands.
Under an on-going Public Toilet Refurbishment/Improvement Programme, 13 projects were completed during the year. The Department is committed to make continuous effort in improving the hygiene, safety and comfort of public toilets. Many public toilets have been installed with new features, such as automatic infrared sensor water taps, hand dryers, urinal bowls and hand basins at children's height, baby changing counters, and coat hooks and racks inside individual toilet compartments for users to place their personal belongings. Air fresheners, hand sanitisers, liquid soap dispensers and toilet paper are provided in all public toilets. To ensure that public toilets are kept clean at all times, the Department employs attendants to station at those with high usage to provide immediate cleansing services.
Pursuant to the government policy of incorporating gender mainstreaming in project design and to meet the needs of both genders, the Department adopts a general planning ratio of two female toilet compartments to every male toilet compartment.
The phased programme to convert identified aqua privies into flushing toilets by 2013 continued in 2011. Of the 90 aqua privies in the sixth phase of conversion programme for which works commenced in November 2009, 89 were already converted into flushing toilets, 76 of which were completed in the year. The remaining one would be converted by the fourth quarter of 2012. Conversion works for another 145 aqua privies in the final phase commenced in February 2011 for completion by December 2013, of which three were converted into flushing toilets in the year.
For aqua privies that are yet to be converted or with site constraints that restrict physical improvements, the Department has put in use microbial odour-arresting agents to alleviate odour problems. Toilet paper, liquid soap dispensers, hand dryers and hand sanitisers are provided.
The Department deals with environmental nuisances, including those caused by water seepage, dripping air-conditioners and accumulation of refuse, by issuing advisory letters and statutory Nuisance Notices to ensure abatement. In 2011, the Department handled some 23,700, 17,500 and 4,700 related complaint cases respectively.
Officers of the health inspectorate, foreman and hawker control grades of the Department are empowered to issue summonses against people committing cleanliness offences. Apart from day-to-day enforcement action, anti-littering raids are conducted. During the year, about 660 convictions were recorded.
The Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) Ordinance empowers enforcement officers to issue $1,500 fixed penalty notices for minor cleanliness offences, including littering, spitting, unauthorised display of bills or posters, and dog fouling in public place. In 2011, about 35,100 fixed penalty notices were issued by FEHD staff.
It has been the standing policy of the Administration to satisfactorily regulate licensed hawking activity and take enforcement action against illegal hawkers. Apart from the sale of cooked food or restricted food without a licence, or conducting hawking activities in main thoroughfares, areas where there are high pedestrian flow or places where there are repeated complaints, the enforcement staff adopt a "warning first, followed by prosecution" strategy. The Department will continue with the above strategy in monitoring on-street hawking activities.
The number of licensed hawkers, including both fixed pitch and itinerant ones, gradually fell over the years and there were 6,985 such hawkers by the end of 2011. After consulting relevant stakeholders and the Legislative Council Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene on the proposals of a hawker licensing policy review conducted in 2008/2009, the Department has been implementing the proposals resulting from the review. Such proposals concern the re-issue of certain categories of hawker licences which include 61 new Itinerant (Frozen Confectionery) Hawker Licences and 218 Fixed Pitch (Other Classes) Hawker Licences for on-street vacant hawker pitches. The Department has also relaxed the restrictions on the transfer of licence, number of tables and stools, etc. for nine cooked food stalls called "Dai Pai Tongs" in Central to help preserve them as part of Hong Kong's local heritage.
The management and control of hawkers is the responsibility of about 2,100 trained staff who are assigned to 191 hawker control teams.
Hawker control staff inspect fixed hawker pitches regularly and regulate the operation of itinerant hawkers to ensure that licensing conditions and relevant legislative provisions are observed. They also take enforcement action to prevent irregularities caused by licensed or illegal hawkers. There were 30,217 convictions for offences related to hawking in 2011.
The No. 4 Alarm fire broke out at Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok on 30 November 2011 causing a considerable number of casualties in the adjoining buildings. As there are many similar on-street hawker stalls which are close to residential buildings and located in densely populated areas of the territory, the Administration considers it necessary to introduce various short, medium and long-term measures to improve the management of fixed hawker pitches so as to reduce the fire risks to nearby residents. Short term measures included strict and persistent enforcement of the licensing conditions and the proposal to implement a mechanism for cancellation of hawker licences. According to the proposed mechanism, if a licensed hawker is convicted six times within three months for breaching the relevant regulations of the Hawker Regulation (Cap 132AI), the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene may consider cancelling the hawker licence. The consultation period is between 13 December 2011 and 31 March 2012. The Department is in parallel considering various options of medium and long term measures, including overnight storage of commodities only inside enclosed metal stall structures, dismantling of stalls and removal of all commodities after close of business at night, re-siting of the whole hawker areas, etc.
In 2011, the Department organised 14 Lunar New Year Fairs in 12 districts from 28 January to 3 February and two Lunar New Year Fairs in two districts from 3 to 17 February. There were about 2,000 stalls offering commodities ranging from seasonal flowers and plants to traditional food, festive decorations, dry goods and fast food, and services of fortune-telling and lot-decoding. The fairs not only provided additional leisure and shopping places for citizens and tourists, but also added zest to the festivity during the Lunar New Year period.
Public markets and cooked food centres/markets serve an important role in meeting public demand for fresh and cooked food and dry goods. There are 77 public markets, with about 13,400 stalls offering commodities ranging from fresh food to household items, and about 1,050 stalls in 39 cooked food centres and 25 free-standing cooked food markets. By end-2011, 12,660 stalls were let out, with 901 stalls vacant, and 891 stalls frozen for designated purposes such as re-siting and renovation. Stalls are let through auction, with successful bidders entering into a tenancy agreement with the Department.
The Department introduced a one-off Tenancy Transfer Scheme in May 2010 so as to regularise the status of public market stall operators. Upon the closing of applications by 30 June 2011, the Department received some 1,600 applications.
To enhance the vibrancy of public markets, the Department has introduced service trades, snack shops and bakeries to certain markets with vacant stalls since mid-2009. By end-2011, 67 service trade stalls, seven snack stalls and one bakery stall were let out.
On 1 April 2011, Kwong Choi Market, which had a very low occupancy rate and was lacking potential to be revitalised, was closed with the support of Tuen Mun District Council.
Since February 2011, the Department has allowed stall tenants not to dismantle serviceable fixtures and installations, such as roller shutters and security mesh covers, upon termination of market tenancies so that the fixtures and installations may be reused by new tenants. This arrangement not only reduces waste but also avoids noise and other nuisances resulting from the related demolition and construction works.
In 2011, various market promotion activities were carried out in public markets and cooked food centres/markets to attract patronage. These included festive decoration and celebration activities during Lunar New Year, Tuen Ng and Mid-Autumn Festivals and Christmas, exhibitions on topical subjects, thematic talks with cooking demonstrations, and addition of display boards on "Recipes of Chef's Daily Recommendation" displaying seasonal recipes in Chinese, English, Pilipino and Indonesian. An information booklet on public markets and cooked food markets and a quarterly Market Newsletter were published for wide distribution.
Market staff undertake daily checks to ensure that stall operators observe the law and tenancy conditions. Health inspectorate officers inspect meat, poultry, fish and cooked food stalls regularly to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and codes of hygiene practices and that food is clean and wholesome. Enforcement action is taken as and when necessary. In 2011, 1,220 prosecutions were taken against market stall operators for breach of statutory provisions and, as a result of investigation into suspected subletting cases, one market stall tenancy was terminated by the Department while another one was surrendered by the relevant tenant.
The frequency of inspection on overnight stocking of live poultry to the remaining 132 retail outlets has been stepped up for better control of human infection of avian influenza. During major Chinese festive periods, such as Mid-Autumn Festival, Winter Solstice and Lunar New Year where over-stocking of live poultry is common, the inspection frequency will be increased further.
The Department manages six government crematoria, 11 public cemeteries and eight public columbaria for the provision of cremation and burial services to the public. It also monitors the management of 28 private cemeteries in accordance with the provisions of the Private Cemeteries Regulation. Six years after their burial in public cemeteries, human remains have to be exhumed to be either cremated or reburied in an urn cemetery.
The Government's policy is to promote cremation over burial. During the year, about 89% (37,916) of dead bodies were cremated. The Department is upgrading cremation facilities at Wo Hop Shek Crematorium and Cape Collinson Crematorium to increase capacity and efficiency in order to meet the increasing demand for cremation service. Environmentally friendly features are also introduced for these facilities.
For public convenience, booking of cremation sessions at all of the six public crematoria, namely Cape Collinson, Diamond Hill, Fu Shan, Wo Hop Shek, Kwai Chung and Cheung Chau, can either be made in person or through licensed undertakers of burials at Wu Chung House in Wan Chai and Cheung Sha Wan Government Offices in Kowloon.
Some 167,900 niches are provided for the storage of cremated ashes in eight public columbaria. In addition, the Department has been actively promoting sustainable means of burial by encouraging the public to scatter ashes of their ascendants in its eight Gardens of Remembrance or in designated Hong Kong waters. In January 2010, the Department launched a pilot scheme of providing free ferry service for families of the deceased to scatter ashes at sea. In view of the increasing number of families choosing this form of interment, the Department is going to enhance its free ferry service from mid-January 2012 by employing a bigger vessel which can accommodate more than 200 passengers. Apart from offering a more stable and comfortable sea voyage, the bigger vessel would provide a more spacious venue for family members and friends to hold memorial ceremonies for the deceased. There were 662 cases of scattering ashes at sea and 1,648 cases of scattering ashes in the Gardens of Remembrance in 2011.
The Department also launched the Internet Memorial Service (IMS) in June 2010 for members of the public to pay tribute and express condolences to their lost loved ones at any time and from anywhere online through a dedicated webpage (www.memorial.gov.hk). To further enhance the service, a mobile version of IMS (m.memorial.gov.hk) was launched in September 2011.