Tough new rules 'creating mountain of plastic'

Trade group says rejected waste is piling up in landfills instead of being processed on mainland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 11:47am

Thousands of tonnes of plastic that could have been recycled has instead been dumped in landfills since Beijing imposed tough new restrictions on imported waste five months ago, a trade group says.

The Federation of Hong Kong Recycle said the new rules meant companies here had been unable to send more than 10,000 tonnes of plastic to the mainland for processing. Instead, the rejected plastic has remained at their premises, meaning they have not been able to receive new waste from clients. The federation said that meant each company was losing revenue of HK$200,000 to HK$300,000 a month.

Under the policy, which took effect in February, only plastic waste that has been washed, shredded and categorised can be imported to the mainland for processing. Federation chairman Chan Sik-kwan said local firms only had the resources to process a small amount of plastic in this way. More than 90 per cent of the plastic waste they collect is sold to the mainland for processing, he said. And about 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Hong Kong every month, he said.

He said space and infrastructure, such as sewerage pipes, were needed to process plastic. But most of the firms do not have the space, so most of the plastic was now ending up in landfills.

Chan said if the government did not step in soon, most local recyclers would have to close down in one or two months. He hoped the government could negotiate with mainland authorities to have the rules relaxed.

Chan said it was difficult for the companies to find more land, and even if they did they would only likely secure a lease for three years. "By the time the site is developed the way we need it the rental period will be over," he said, adding it was too expensive to install the infrastructure needed to process the plastic so that it met the mainland standards.

Cheung Ma-bing, head of plastics at the federation, said plastic waste of good quality could be sold for 6,000 yuan (HK$7,520) a tonne. He said it could be profitable if the government stepped in, for example by making land available with longer lease terms for recyclers.

He said the federation had hoped the government would allocate space to process the rejected plastic in the EcoPark in Tuen Mun, but it had yet to receive a response to its request.

Last week, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she would lead a high-level steering committee to oversee recycling, including whether the trade should be subsidised.