Time for Hong Kong to finally get tough on plastic
As advanced countries adopt more effective ways to reduce waste, city officials are still tiptoeing around a host of measures that are long overdue
When it comes to environmental protection, Hong Kong is not known as a pioneer. While some advanced countries have adopted more effective ways to reduce plastic waste, local officials are still tiptoeing around a host of measures that have long been overdue.
The idea of paying a deposit for the return of plastic bottles is a case in point. After a consultancy study, the government appears to be taking another step forward. Under the proposed producer responsibility scheme, those who create waste should shoulder the cost of collection, treatment and disposal of materials.
To encourage recycling, machines that dispense cash rebates in return for used plastic bottles will be available across the city. The government aims to finalise the framework by the end of the year, but the timetable for implementation remains unclear.
Simple and straightforward as it is, the approach has been adopted successfully in some countries.
Regrettably, it has taken our government far too long to embrace it. Experience shows that a deposit system may raise the recycling rate up to 50 per cent and, in some European countries, it may even reach 90 per cent. The results are actually not surprising. What is more effective than rewarding recycling with money?
The government is finally doing what has been long overdue. The European Union has already moved a step closer to banning single-use plastic cutlery and other products. The Hong Kong government responded with a pledge to study the measures and to consider whether to follow suit.
Given their slowness in embracing the global trend, it would not be surprising if officials needed to commission more consultancy studies before coming to a decision.
The United Nations has warned that our planet could be awash with 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste by the middle of the century. Given the common use of plastic these days, a total ban may seem unrealistic.
That makes responsible usage all the more important. Our dismal recovery rate – 14 per cent in 2016 – means we have a lot to do just to catch up. Following the global trend of introducing tougher measures is just a matter of time. The earlier we close the gap, the better.