Hong Kong’s environment minister has blamed the previous administration for the lack of food-scrap collection bins needed for a now-shelved waste-charging scheme, while also insisting authorities have “never thought about” dumping garbage across the border.

Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan on Saturday also promised a review of the legislation, saying he could see a “fairness problem” after two cleaning workers told him they would consider quitting the sector because of an “unfair” legal burden placed on them.

The government on Monday revealed it would put on hold the pay-as-you-throw scheme that was supposed to launch citywide on August 1, citing widespread reservations expressed by residents and businesses that took part in a pilot scheme that began in April and covered 14 sites.

The minister said it would be irresponsible for authorities to set another date before all the issues identified during the trial were resolved.

He conceded that one issue centred on a lack of food-waste collection bins for people to conveniently dispose of leftovers, making it hard for households to save money on the government-approved garbage bags that were mandatory under the scheme.

But he suggested the former administration of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had overlooked the public expectations over food waste when it proposed and prepared the legislation for the plan.

“By the end of the previous administration, we had [about] 170 food-waste recycling points in Hong Kong. We are expanding that to 1,100 this year,” he said. “The previous administration did not pay special attention to the recycling of household food waste … it can be said that we had to start from scratch.”

He also promised to review the legislation after learning about cleaners’ complaints during the trial run.

“Two cleaners told me: ‘we have talked about the hard work and if the time comes that the law is implemented as it is, I will change my job’,” Tse said, recounting the conversation he had with the workers.

“They will have to separate the garbage into those with specified bags and those without. They are concerned not only about the loathsome task, but also the fact that they will bear legal liability. I also see a fairness problem,” he added.

Tse served in the former administration as the undersecretary for environment between 2017 and 2022 before taking up his current role. He has worked for the Environmental Protection Department since 1985 and became its deputy director in 2013.

The government put forward the idea of waste charging nearly 20 years ago. The current scheme was passed into law by the Legislative Council in 2021, and the launch date was postponed twice before it the plan was shelved last week.

The minister said while officials “were quite reluctant” to put the brakes on the scheme, the “upsurge of attention in the community” in the past few months had boosted public awareness and recycling volumes to levels that the authorities’ education drive could not achieve for two decades.

He also made clear that the Hong Kong government has “never thought about” dumping waste across the border in nearby cities, saying earlier comments he made about mainland China’s “land and cheaper labour” was only referring to potential cross-border collaboration in “high-end” upcycling and green technology.

Authorities were looking to build new and “very beautiful” waste incinerators in the city to reduce dependence on landfills, Tse said.

His remarks on another radio programme earlier this week prompted questions over whether the city was considering to send its waste to the mainland for treatment, which led to the Environment and Ecology Bureau issuing a clarification.