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Hong Kong environmental issues

Plastic bottle deposit scheme considered for Hong Kong to boost recycling incentives

Fee may be added to drinks and personal care products that can be redeemed when returning plastic bottles for recycling, environment official says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 5:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 10:20pm

A deposit scheme may be introduced to boost the incentive for Hongkongers to recycle plastic bottles, a top environment official said on Saturday.

The government is also considering actively collecting waste plastic bottles from the community, instead of relying on contractors who have long been reluctant to handle such waste due to its high processing costs.

An 18-month study is also underway to see if a “producer pays” scheme was needed to transfer the recycling costs to the manufacturer, similar to legislation tackling dumped glass bottles.

The developments come ahead of a tightening of waste imports by the mainland – set to take effect on January 1 – that will greatly limit the scope of waste Hong Kong can ship away and hence force tonnes of unwanted recyclables into landfills.

A lack of sorting facilities in Hong Kong means nearly all waste plastic and paper is shipped across the border for further processing.

To ensure compliance with the mainland’s stricter import regulations, the government revised its recycling strategy on Tuesday to focus on three types of paper – cardboard, newspaper and office paper – and two types of plastic: rinsed bottles for drinks and personal care products.

But plastic bottles have long been unpopular with recyclers, as their bulky volume and low density drive up processing costs, yielding only marginal profits.

A “persistently weak” demand for raw plastic materials on the mainland further dampened interest in recycling plastics, an Environmental Protection Department report stated last year.

The situation is reflected through gloomy statistics – only 11 per cent of plastics were recycled in Hong Kong in 2015, compared to 32 per cent in 2012.

As a result, 357 extra tonnes of plastic was sent to the landfills every day, or 130,305 tonnes per year.

In an attempt to buck the declining trend, the Environmental Protection Department is now studying the possibility of a deposit mechanism where a fee will be added to the purchase of drinks and personal care products, to be refunded when the user returns the bottles for recycling.

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The department’s deputy director Vicki Kwok Wong Wing-ki explained the method has proved feasible in many places around the world.

“In Europe, there are machines which specifically accept waste plastic bottles. If you study research papers overseas, they actually suggest the recycling value of plastic bottles is high, unlike other types of plastics,” Kwok said on a radio programme.

She believes in the long run, producers may be asked to bear the costs of recycling in what is called a producer responsibility scheme.

“Of course, we have to study legal issues, the scope of regulation and the impact on different sectors,” she added.

Similar legislation to impose glass bottle levies on manufacturers was passed in 2016, with authorities now carrying out preparatory work for implementation.