What China’s waste import ban teaches Hong Kong about recycling and resource use
“Dump Less, Save More, Recycle Right”: a month has passed since the Environmental Protection Department’s response to China’s waste import ban. Considering the ban was announced in July last year, the response was far too late and woefully inadequate.
Barely any outreach was done to educate the public on what recyclables are accepted. Nor did the department seem to have coordinated with the Community Green Station network. Even though the department said the stations will accept everything, each has its own list of accepted recyclables. The campaign feels like a major step back in the government’s waste reduction efforts – especially when the waste-charging scheme is expected to roll out in 2019.
But Hong Kong is not alone in being stumped by the import ban. Municipalities around the world that had been reliant on China for their recycling are also scrambling to find a solution. Some, like Hong Kong, responded by stopping the collection of certain recyclables and sending them to landfills or incinerators. Others decided to seek importers elsewhere, while developing local recycling capacity.
Though the Environmental Protection Department has reserved HK$20 million to upgrade recyclers’ capability for processing plastics into pellets, they should not be content with simply being reactive to new developments.
Hong Kong must reduce its dependence on exporting waste by greatly expanding its ability to reuse resources locally, through investing in processing and manufacturing capacity, and creating a circular economy with green procurement to support the local industry. This should be supported by producer responsibility schemes to reflect the true environmental cost from production to disposal.
China’s import ban will most certainly cause a headache for many. This short-term pain could, however, become a long-term gain.
With the advent of the circular economy, progressive leaders have realised that exporting resources is a risk – not a solution. Commodities will see higher prices and more volatility as demand continues to grow. Recycling is no longer a simple environmental policy on waste management, but on resource management.
Wendell Chan, Friends of the Earth (HK)