Initiatives are encouraging more recycling businesses
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If new recycling businesses are to take root in Hong Kong, government policies must take into account certain economic realities, according to Frank Wan Chi-hung, the technical director for Environmental Resources Management.
'It is a low profit industry,' he said. 'So you have to provide suitable land at a low premium to help companies sustain a business. They can then capture more waste, diverting it from landfills, meaning there will be less need for additional landfill sites in future.'
He said this basic lesson had been learned in the course of an in-depth study on waste treatment, conducted several years ago on behalf of the government. At that time the government was considering the feasibility of building a centralised facility to process mixed recyclable material.
'As we progressed with the study and viewed existing operations, we saw that the market-driven recycling business in Hong Kong was efficient and cost effective,' Mr Wan said.
It soon became clear that if the government went ahead with the initial proposal it would compete head-on with private industry and would drive some of 'the smaller guys' out of business. The conclusion was that it made better sense to support and enhance current operations while expanding public-private partnership schemes and continuing to award design-build-operate contracts for new facilities. This approach has helped to attract international contractors to Hong Kong and has improved standards of waste management.
In a more recent initiative to support the developments of recycling businesses, the government designated a 20-hectare site near Tuen Mun to build the EcoPark. Good road links and nearby berthing facilities will facilitate access and a management committee is formed to manage the park. 'If there is a recycling industry in Hong Kong, we can promote the local recycling of plastic and glass, rather than arranging shipment to China,' Mr Wan said.
He said that because prices for recycled material were not high, the important thing was to see the big picture. There had to be reasonable incentives to encourage the setting up of new companies and a genuine opportunity for them to operate profitably.
In the long term, the whole community would benefit.
'The government is quite keen to see the feedback,' Mr Wan said, noting that if this initiative proved successful, the chances were another site would be set aside for the development of recycling and processing companies.