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Hong Kong environmental issues

Paper jam in Hong Kong as mainland China tightens requirements on waste imports

Fully-loaded barges of paper waste have been sitting idle in Hong Kong’s berths since Friday – with 4,000 tonnes alone at Gin Drinkers Bay in Tsuen Wan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 9:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 1:18pm

Waste paper could pile up in the streets and landfills of Hong Kong and the elderly who depend on collecting scrap could be left without valuable income if the city’s recycling firms follow through on a threat of industrial action next week.

Jacky Lau Yiu-shing, director of the Recycle Materials and Re-production Business General Association – which represents the city’s major recycling firms – said the trade had decided to stop collecting waste paper from next Monday to ride out an import-export crisis.

The mainland, however, has been tightening requirements on waste imports since the State Council told the World Trade Organisation in July that it would stop importing 24 types of waste – including waste plastic and unsorted scrap paper – as part of a campaign against “foreign garbage” by the end of the year, claiming it to be harmful to the environment and public health.

In an rare move, China stopped issuing for approval notices allowing mainland Chinese workshops to import waste, for the current quarter of the year. Since Friday, fully-loaded barges of paper waste have been sitting idle in the city’s berths – 4,000 tonnes alone at Gin Drinkers Bay in Tsuen Wan.

Lau said traders would have to wait for quotas on approval notices to be freed up when shipments coming in from Europe and the US reach mainland China – in about 40 to 50 days. If the pressure is not eased, about half of the 80,000 tonnes could be absorbed by Southeast Asian markets, but would entail higher logistics costs that many exporters would find hard to shoulder.

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“Some of our members’ storage facilities and ships are already packed to the brim. In two weeks, every company will be completely full,” Lau said. “As a result, we are deciding to do something that will allow the Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese governments to understand our situation better.”

Lau said the stop could last anywhere from three days to two weeks with the exact duration to be decided this week.

“The impact might not be seen overnight as many street cleaners tend to stock up before selling. But the effects will begin to unravel after two or three days,” Lau said. “We hope to the Hong Kong government will communicate with the mainland on our behalf.”

Hong Kong recyclers collect some 2,500 tonnes of waste paper each day and almost all of it is exported to mainland China for processing due to the city’s lack of capacity and space for sorting.

Harold Yip, who runs a waste disposal and recycling firm, said he was very concerned about the stoppage.

“If they stop collecting on Monday, my workers will just be sitting there,” he said.

Wong Hon-meng, assistant director for waste reduction and recycling at the Environmental Protection Department, said the government would communicate with traders to see what help could be provided, including helping them find for temporary storage space.

“Mainland paper factories may not be too clear on [Hong Kong’s situation]. We hope that through better promotion and information, we can enable them to better understand that our recyclables can meet all mainland requirements,” he said.

Speaking at a forum on Tuesday, Wong said in the long-run the industry would have to think about how to raise the quality and value of the city’s exported recyclables as mainland regulations would only get tighter.