Hong Kong is misusing its public recycling bins, green group says
Investigation finds less than 40 per cent of the contents of the city’s four-in-one bins were actually recyclable items
Waste-separation bins are being misused across Hong Kong, with contents more likely to end up in a landfill than at a recycling plant, a green group has found.
A two-day investigation by Greeners Action in early August of 23 four-in-one recycling bin sites at heavily trafficked spots in 14 districts revealed that on average, less than 40 per cent of their contents were actually recyclable items.
So dire was the problem, the group suggested all such recycling bins – which have compartments for general waste, waste paper, plastic and metals – to be moved into government buildings for better supervision.
Of the 1,300 samples Greeners’ volunteers took from the bins, about 16 per cent were rubbish items, 28 per cent were items too soiled to recycle and about 18 per cent were the wrong sort of recyclable in the respective bin.
What Hong Kong needs to do to recycle more: sort waste properly and see it as a chance to make money, not a problem
“The rubbish we dug out included used tissues, toothbrushes, mouldy banana peels and even half eaten ice cream cones. One may suspect the person may have just mistaken the item and sorted it incorrectly by mistake,” said senior project director, Vicki Wong Pui-chi.
“But in fact, many items are easily recognised as rubbish and still appear in recycling bins.”
The waste paper section was often the most misused, with 40 per cent of contents made up of general waste. The plastics and metals sections often faired better but most of the items were not properly cleaned before disposal, running the risk of contaminating the entire bag of recyclables.
Key challenges to Hong Kong’s hamstrung recycling trade and low waste recovery rate often cited by the industry include limited capacity and manpower for sorting and processing.
Up to 3.7 million tonnes of municipal waste – or 1.39kg per person per day – was sent to landfills in 2015. The amount of waste recovered for recycling fell to just 35 per cent, driven by significant declines in recovery rates for waste paper and plastics, which fell by 52,000 and 5,000 tonnes respectively.
“We suggest that the trend of most recycling facilities should be towards even more selective sorting,” said Wong. The group urged the government to step up public education and suggested moving the receptacles off the streets and into municipal buildings such as libraries and sports grounds for easier management.
But Joanne Lee Yuen-ting, executive director of the Federation of Environmental and Hygiene Services said the idea would be infeasible due to government departments’ tendencies to avoid taking on the work or responsibilities of other departments.
Most public bins on the city’s streets are managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
“Improving civic education is very important. Most people know where and how they should recycle but it's about whether they’re willing to do it,” Lee said. “It all comes down to civic quality.”
Lee believed things would change after the introduction of waste charging in 2019.
There is only one recycling bin for every 14 rubbish bins in Hong Kong but the government hopes to increase the number by 45 per cent to 4,000 – a ratio of one to six – by the time the waste levy is implemented.
A spokesman for the Environment Bureau said recycling bins were currently set up in public and roadside spaces near bins to facilitate convenient sorting of waste and ensure the cleanliness and hygiene of the area.
A government steering group is conducting a review on the number, design and placement of rubbish and recycling bins.
Among design ideas examined, the group has supported trialling a version with one single compartment for different types of recyclables, claiming it to be space saving, more convenient and clearer in indication.