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Hong Kong environmental issues

New approach on recycling needed

As waste paper collectors threaten action in wake of plans by Beijing to curb imports, it’s time for the city to review the whole industry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 3:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 1:19pm

Environmental experts have long warned that China’s plans to curb waste imports could kill off the city’s recycling trade and add pressure to the landfills. The threat is looming large as tonnes of waste paper are piling up in Tsuen Wan with nowhere to go. Although traders have postponed their action to stop collecting waste paper from Monday after government requests, they say they will go ahead on Friday, so pressure to revamp the industry is still there.

The government probably cannot do anything to undo the decision by Beijing to restrict imports of 24 types of waste, including plastics and unsorted scrap paper, to change its image as the world’s landfill. But better preparation could have helped the local industry ride out of the crisis.

Shift in mainland policy could spell disaster for Hong Kong recycling

The stalemate owes much to our dependence on the mainland market. Unlike some countries that have a comprehensive chain of waste collection and product development, our industry mainly focuses on importing and re-exporting what has been discarded locally and overseas to the mainland for recycling. The city’s role is essentially that of a waste trader. And when a major market like the mainland is off, the industry suffers.

The operators said their mainland counterparts were still waiting for a notice from Beijing on import quotas for the coming quarter. With barges already idling with overflowing piles of waste paper along our shores, the industry said it has no choice but to stop collecting. Its frustration is understandable, but any action on its part does nothing to resolve the problem.

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

Earlier, the government rolled out new funding initiatives to help recyclers of plastic waste gear up for tighter import standards on the mainland. The waste paper traders will inevitably ask for similar assistance, and the government should play a more active role in helping them.

Given the long-term impact arising from mainland restrictions on waste imports, the government should take this opportunity to review the operation of the industry and come up with a more comprehensive and sustainable recycling approach.