Cycle of waste: City's recycling industry needs must be addressed by Hong Kong government

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 1:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 1:10am

Given our colour-coded dustbins have been in place for years, one would have thought that separation of waste for recycling would be a way of life now rather than a goal still to be achieved. But the sad reality is that there are still far too many households and individuals who pay little regard to the importance of recycling. The problem is compounded by the insufficient support given to the recycling industry.

Thankfully, that could be about to change. In a belated step, the government has launched a HK$1 billion fund to enhance the sustainability of the industry.

There are two funding programmes - a matching grant for upgrading and expanding recycling operations and one for non-profit and trade support organisations. The former offers grants equal to 50 per cent of approved expenditure for a two-year period for up to three projects with cumulative funding of HK$5 million; the latter gives 100 per cent grants capped at HK$15 million. The aim is to raise the quantity of recyclables, promote markets for products made of recycled materials and, ultimately, ease the burden on landfills.

But the industry appears to be sceptical about how effective the scheme will be. Some traders are wary about investing in new machinery when their profit margins are shrinking amid soaring rents and falling plastic and oil prices. Their concerns are valid. Officials should listen to their views and try harder to meet their needs.

Recycling of plastic bottles in the city has reportedly been suspended recently because there is no money to be made in the business. There are also suggestions that as soon as households have sorted their garbage into recycling bins, cleaners mix them together and send them to landfills. If that is the case, it would make a mockery of the upstream efforts in recycling.

Our regional neighbours, like Japan and Taiwan, have made much progress on waste reduction and recycling. It is a shame that we have spent so much effort in expanding our landfills, but are still tip-toeing around the introduction of a waste charge.

The government is seeking to raise the recycling rate to 55 per cent by 2022. Laudable as it is, the goal cannot be achieved unless there are good business prospects for the recycling industry. The funding scheme is a long overdue step to give the industry a helping hand. But it is important that the needs of the industry are addressed.