Government-paid street sweepers have been caught emptying recycling bins and dumping their contents with general waste destined for landfills.
Video taken by the Sunday Morning Post revealed the illegal activity, which is torpedoing public recycling efforts and denying the government's recycling contractor revenue from the sale of plastics, paper and metals for reprocessing.
In the footage, operatives in blue overalls and yellow highvisibility vests, employed on government cleaning contracts, open the doors of on-street recycling boxes and pull out the collection bins.
They then mix material for recycling with rubbish from general waste bins and dump the black bags with other rubbish bags on their trolleys.
They close the boxes and continue sweeping the streets.
Such activities have been caught on camera in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai and appear to have increased in recent weeks.
In the past, such bins were typically the target of scavengers, hunting for material to sell to backstreet recycling operators.
It was also accepted that operatives would sometimes remove material hanging outside the bins or lying on the ground. But the video footage reveals street sweepers are now opening the bins to remove their entire contents, sometimes less than an hour before the recycling contractor is due to arrive.
A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesman said: "Our street cleansing contractors are not allowed to tamper with the content of the recyclables collection bins." He added that tampering with the boxes "without a reasonable excuse" was an offence with a maximum fine of HK$5,000.
On Kee Metal Company was awarded contracts totalling HK$12.92 million to collect plastics, metal and paper from recycling boxes on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. The contracts began on August 1 last year and will expire on July 31 next year.
Project manager at On Kee Anthony Ho could not estimate how much revenue the business was losing at the hands of street sweepers.
Scavengers tend to get about HK$1 per kilogram for waste paper and steel sold to backstreet recyclers, while aluminium cans fetch about 10 cents each.
A departmental spokesman said an average of about 44 tonnes of waste paper, 1.3 tonnes of metals and 14 tonnes of plastic was collected each month last year.
Ho said material collected under the department's contract represented 3 per cent of the total amount of plastics, paper and other recyclables collected from organisations, including the airport, Jockey Club, hospitals, hotels and supermarkets.
He said On Kee would report the situation with street sweepers to the department.
A departmental spokesman said: "We have received no such complaints from the contractor since the commencement of the contract."