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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong needs deposit scheme for plastic bottles says green group as city’s recycling rates drop below 10 per cent

Green Earth proposes scheme to charge HK$1 per bottle which customers would get back when they returned it

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 11:34pm

Hongkongers are recycling less than 10 per cent of the plastic bottles they buy, leading one environmental group to call for the implementation of a HK$1 deposit scheme.

Green Earth believes that potentially hitting the city’s residents in their pockets could raise the recycling rate to 70 per cent, and stop people merely throwing the bottles away.

The local group studied 25 countries where consumers pay a refundable deposit on every plastic bottle they buy, and found the average recycling rate was 73 per cent. The average refundable charge per bottle was HK$0.93.

“The disposal rate of plastic bottles [in Hong Kong] keeps rising, but the recycle rate has dropped from around 10 per cent to 8.5 per cent in 2016, the latest figure the government released,” said Edwin Lau Che-feng, the group’s executive director.

The group’s scheme would operate in a similar fashion to the one used for glass bottles in the city.

Green Earth’s proposal came as Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing pledged to study the feasibility of offering consumers financial incentives to return plastic bottles under a producer responsibility scheme.

The plan would make waste producers bear the cost of collection, recycling, treatment and disposal for their products.

Hong Kong’s shameful recycling efforts: the numbers don’t lie

As part of the preliminary results from a consultation report commissioned by the Environment Bureau, which is expected to be released in the first half of next year, Wong said smart reverse vending machines could be introduced to the city.

Wong’s plan only provides for a cash rebate as a financial incentive to recycle – in his preliminary report he did not say who would bear the cost.

Financial drive is quite effective. And overnight, you will see the results
Edwin Lau Che-feng, Green Earth

Lau believes it is the consumer who should pay.

“In terms of sustainability, the sole cash rebate [idea] is not good enough because it creates a financial burden on the third party who bears the cost – either the government or the beverage company.” he said.

“Hongkongers are quite price-sensitive. Just like the plastic bag levy, it has changed our behaviours. Financial drive is quite effective. And overnight, you will see the results.”

Lau believes the “deposit and refund” scheme would not place a financial burden on Hong Kong’s residents, but instead would raise their environmental awareness.

While there is no clear correlation between a higher deposit cost and recycle rates in the environmental group’s research findings, Green Earth said the scheme only worked with supporting policies and effective waste management goals.

Straight to landfill? Why Hong Kong is recycling less of your rubbish

In South Korea, which has a 95 per cent plastic bottle recycle rate, there is a regulation on mandatory recycling.

The average recycle rate of waste plastic bottles is at 77 per cent with countries who set the price of the refundable deposit above HK$1.

The environmental NGO added that China had tightened its rules on plastic waste importing at the beginning of the year. The new regulation forbids unprocessed plastic waste to be sold to China, making it harder for other countries to have their recycling processed.