My Take

Let’s have a hi-tech solution to recycling

China has been the dumping ground for waste from the developed world and it’s about time the city took care of its own rubbish

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 12:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 1:21pm

Many of our streets have been buried in paper and plastic waste in the past week. Barges bound for the mainland are filled to the brim with bushels of scrap newspapers and cardboard with nowhere to go.

They have been the result of an industrial action, now called off, led by the recycling trade. If this is not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.

Yet, we can’t blame the trade or the new mainland ban on the import of unsorted and unprocessed waste from the end of this year.

China has been the dumping ground for waste from the developed world. Unless it does something drastic, many of its people will be buried literally in garbage.

Waste paper collection resumes in Hong Kong as firms call off strike early

If anyone is to blame, it’s ourselves; and also a government that has pandered, for years, to our selfishness and thoughtlessness. The way forward is a no-brainer, or rather we no longer have a choice: a hi-tech recycling industry backed by a waste management policy and law that have been standard in many developed countries for many years.

The primitive state of our recycling system is an embarrassment. It has been woefully inadequate in sorting and separating different types of waste, let alone reprocessing it. It still relies on the elderly poor to collect recyclable waste while traders just pack and ship it to the mainland.

Yet, the government can’t see beyond next week. Officials said more street cleaners were being deployed and more refuse collection sites opened while the government would be liaising with mainland authorities, presumably to ask for preferential treatment and extra quotas just for Hong Kong. Such a Band-Aid solution doesn’t work any more. In their defence, officials will point to an additional HK$20 million for the HK$1 billion Recycling Fund, to help meet stricter mainland requirements. Then there is mandatory waste charging across the city, to be introduced in 2019.

It’s too little, too late. We need a full-scale government-led industrial policy to drive investment in recycling services and technology. If this means directly subsidising recyclers, investing in technologies and upgrading laws to regulate the industry, then so be it.

Some countries use laser and robots to sort through recyclables. In place of another innovation park in Lok Ma Chau Loop, why not an advanced recycling and reprocessing hub for waste destined for the mainland? You want a hi-tech industry? There is one staring at you in the face.