For the first time in its 32-year history, the MTR has installed recycling bins for paper, plastic and metals in all of its stations, but critics say the bins are likely to have a limited impact without a government-imposed waste charge and greater public awareness.
Some 158 bins have been installed in all MTR line stations except those on the Light Rail line, following a two-year trial at Hong Kong Station that saw 200 kilograms of recyclable waste collected per day.
Last month, when the new bins - blue for paper, brown for plastic and yellow for metal - were in place, more than 22,000 plastic bottles were collected, leading to a drop in the amount of recyclable materials found in regular rubbish bins, Ivan Lai Ching-kai (pictured), the MTR's head of operations, said.
The MTR has maintained wastepaper recycling bins since 2001, and thanks to the new programme 'they are performing even better than before', Lai said. But Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, wondered why the MTR waited so long to introduce recycling bins into its stations. 'They should have been installed much earlier,' he said.
According to one recycling consultant, the MTR considered installing the coloured bins in its stations 10 years ago, but decided they would pose too much of an inconvenience to passengers.
'Their main concern was that they were an obstruction. That's all they kept talking about,' said Philip Stride, who ran Sustainable Solutions, which designed and installed recycling systems in housing estates and office buildings. The company shut down last year due to a lack of demand.
Lai said the MTR's first priority was on maintaining passenger flow. 'We have to make a balance between convenience and obstruction,' he said. 'It is not our primary responsibility to collect rubbish.'
Lau said the MTR should make use of its advertising space to better educate the public about the need for recycling. Hong Kong's landfills are rapidly filling up and a recent proposal to build a new incinerator in either Tuen Mun or Shek Kwu Chau has ignited a public backlash.
Lai said the MTR was still considering whether to launch an awareness campaign. He also said that it would monitor the effectiveness of its recycling bins before deciding whether to expand the programme. At the moment, most stations have just one set of recycling bins.
Above ground, the number of coloured recycling bins maintained by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has more than doubled since 2006, but they still remain rare compared to rubbish bins. There are 1,881 of the coloured bins compared to 21,020 ordinary bins.
Stride said: 'The more convenient you make recycling, the more people will do it. But you're looking at tens of thousands of tonnes of waste still being generated every day. You're not going to be cut it by massive amounts just by increasing the number of bins.'
The most effective way to reduce waste was to charge households and businesses for the amount of non-recyclable waste they produced.
'If there is no waste charge, there is no motivation for people to recycle. Right now, there is no incentive for anyone to sort out their waste. Depending on people's goodwill is not going to work,' he said.
Sets of 3-coloured recyclable collection bins in public places: 1,887