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Hong Kong environmental issues

Help beat Hong Kong’s plastic waste problem by supporting drinks makers in their green efforts

  • The government must make the process of setting up paid water dispensers easier
  • Hongkongers should bring their own bottles and use water fountains more
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 February, 2019, 8:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 February, 2019, 8:00am

Lunar New Year celebrations are in full swing, with plenty of carnivals, parties, fireworks and gift giving. But once the festivities are over and used bottles and containers are binned, they may become out of sight, but they are never truly gone.

There is really no such thing as “away” in “throw away”. Almost everything we use and buy stays with us – in landfills, strewn across the countryside, on our beaches and in our seas. This Lunar New Year, we are calling for bottlers and importers, the government and consumers, to all play their part in addressing one of Hong Kong’s chronic environmental problems.

There are some positive signs from producers. Three leading local beverage manufacturers, also members of the Drink Without Waste initiative, have agreed on a set of strategies, from reduction to recycling, to address Hong Kong’s disposable beverage packaging problem. Swire Coca-Cola and Watsons Water recently announced schemes such as installing water dispensers and reverse vending machines. They have also pledged to launch other voluntary schemes this year to address the beverage packaging waste, most of it plastic, generated from their business. The public and the government should support them so that these schemes multiply.

To enable these schemes to operate, beverage producers must go through lengthy bureaucratic processes to obtain all the necessary licenses. For instance, selling drinking water without a PET bottle is considered to be a small-scale drinking water production plant – which means installing a simple water fountain requires jumping through several regulatory hoops.

In Hong Kong, filtered water should flow and plastic bottles should go

The Environment Bureau needs support from relevant bureaus and departments to ensure the efficient implementation of these schemes, as the timeline of producer responsibility legislation addressing plastic beverage containers is still unclear.

Overseas, the European Union agreed last year that its member states will be obliged to collect 90 per cent of their plastic beverage bottles from 2029 onwards. In Hong Kong, a recycling plant for plastic bottles will be set up at the Eco Park in Tuen Mun in a few years’ time by Swire Coca-Cola, but we also need to build another plant to recycle drinks cartons.

Drinking water dispensers should be widely installed to achieve waste avoidance at source. We must bring our own reusable bottles and refill them wherever we can. If we do buy a bottled drink, we must return the bottle to a reverse vending machine, recycling bin or to a recyclable materials collector so that those acting in environmentally responsible ways are rewarded.

By working together with the government and manufacturers, we can make a difference to Hong Kong’s plastic waste problem. It’s the right thing to do for ourselves, our planet and our children. Act now, please!

Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director, The Green Earth