Hung Hom recycling scheme faces closure over high costs
Unless Hung Hom initiative to reprocess rubbish gets more government aid, it may have to shut due to hefty cost increases in rent and insurance
A community-based rubbish recycling scheme warned yesterday that sharp increases in its insurance and rent costs may doom the project - and others like it - unless it can get more funds from the government.
The recycling scheme is based in Hung Hom and run by the Ever Green Association. Its insurance fees for workers' injury and compensation had increased more than 16 times - from HK$5,000 to HK$90,000 - in the past 18 months, said the association's executive secretary, Virginia Ip Chiu-ping.
Rent at the project's base had risen from HK$18,000 in 2010 to HK$30,000, Ip said. These costs could eat up half of the HK$1.2 million in funding the project was awarded 18 months ago from the government's Environment and Conservation Fund.
"We feel as if the fund is being robbed, and there is nothing we can do to resist," said Yip. "Now most of our funding and income goes to the landlord."
The Hung Hom project helps nearby residents separate their rubbish, to promote recycling, and provides collection services for plastic recyclables.
Dr William Yu Yuen-ping, a member of the Environment and Conservation Fund's vetting committee, said committee members were aware of the situation facing agencies like Ip's.
"It is not an isolated phenomenon, but is beyond the control of the fund," he said. "However, we are trying our best to help these agencies."
Ip, too, warned that such costs could force other small-scale, community-based agencies out of business.
She said some insurance firms had refused to sell them any coverage, while others had quoted unaffordable prices because they thought the government might provide more funding.
Some insurers had labelled waste recovery a dangerous business, Ip said, acknowledging that one of their employees broke a leg at work.
She applied to renew the project's funding last week, and is awaiting a final decision. She is seeking a HK$1.1 million subsidy for 12 months of operation, hiring two full time and six part-time employees.
Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por said the higher insurance fees correspond to the risk of workplace accidents.
"It is not uncommon for drivers and workers to get hurt while moving loads of metal and paper; their working environment is often riskier [than average]," he said.
Insurers paid little attention to the recycling sector until earlier this year, when statisticians worked out the risks, Chan said.
The sector's insurance fees now cost 18 per cent of the average total wage package, he said.