Waste paper collection resumes in Hong Kong as firms call off strike early
Trade group denies this was due to public pressure, apologises for impact on collection and cleaning workers
A trade group of Hong Kong exporters has called off its stoppage of waste paper collection after just three days of industrial action.
Jacky Lau Yiu-shing, director of the Recycle Materials and Re-production Business General Association, said the group had made its point, and collections would gradually resume on Monday.
The stoppage, which began on Friday, was initially planned to last for at least a week. The group called on the local government to help lobby Chinese officials to fix an issue involving exporting waste from the city to mainland China for processing.
“Many firms have let their staff go on leave because of the stoppage, so a full resumption will not happen until Tuesday. But we acknowledge that the government has been working hard ... and is grasping the seriousness [of the matter],” Lau said.
He pointed out that the full impact of such a stoppage had not been felt as some collections had continued upstream, but added that he believed the move conveyed the consequences and complications of what a full stoppage would entail.
“If this issue is not solved by the end of October, the whole industry will come to a stop regardless. This will be several times more serious.”
The association apologised for the impact on collection and cleaning workers who had earned less or had to work longer hours.
About 1,000 recycling plants across mainland China failed to get additional permits to bring in foreign waste for the current quarter, causing a logjam of stock in Hong Kong.
The issue is related to a shift in mainland policy, announced in July, with the aim of banning imports of 24 types of polluting “foreign rubbish” from around the world by the end of the year.
But Lau denied that the early end to the industrial action was due to public pressure – about 80,000 tonnes of waste paper are collected across Hong Kong each month, a main source of income for grass-roots and elderly street collectors. Most of the material is exported to mainland China, where they can fetch up to 3,000 yuan (HK$3,580) per tonne.
Lo Yiu-chuen, chairman of the General Association of Recycling Business, a group that represents local frontline recyclers, criticised the export stoppage as an attempt to push down prices and squeeze suppliers.
“Seeing that the elderly men and grannies [were losing income] and that the government really couldn’t do anything, they probably succumbed to public pressure and had to resume collection,” Lo said.
He added that he believed collection prices had dropped from about HK$1,000 per tonne to as low as HK$500.
“A few mainland firms in Guangdong are still taking orders, and there are about 60 in provinces further away. They should have enough capacity to take Hong Kong’s small amount [of waste paper],” Lo said. “We should be solving the problem ourselves rather than pressuring the government or central government.”
Hong Kong’s deputy director for environmental protection Vicki Kwok Wong Wing-ki said the government had been working closely with relevant authorities at central and provincial levels, to find an acceptable solution for all sides.
“We mainly conveyed the situation and the industry’s requests,” Kwok said. “We also expressed our hopes to [the industry] that they would understand different sectors of society might be affected by [the action] to varying degrees.
“No matter what ways are found to get our waste paper out in the future, improving the quality of our recyclables will be important.”
As waste cardboard and old newspapers piled up over the weekend, the government deployed more manpower to refuse points, while extra storage space was allocated to public and private collectors.
As of 6pm on Sunday, 44 tonnes of waste had been collected from the recycling trade and 14 tonnes from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department for temporary storage at EcoPark in Tuen Mun.
The public also delivered 827kg of waste paper to the government’s various community green stations and recycling centres, a spokesman said.
On Monday, prices for cardboard – frozen at about 50 cents per kilogram – still showed no signs of recovery, according to an 89-year-old collector in Causeway Bay.