Recyclers in Hong Kong brace for full impact of temporary ban on wastepaper collection

One-week stoppage planned, but worries grow about long-term solution for tens of thousands of tonnes piling up in city each month

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 6:17pm

Hong Kong recyclers are bracing for the full impact of a temporary halt in wastepaper collection by local exporters from Friday.

The business association behind the industrial action hoped the pain would be short-term – a stoppage of at least one week is planned – but fallout was already cascading through the supply chain.

“Street collectors are putting up signs saying they are no longer accepting [wastepaper],” said Jacky Lau Yiu-shing, director of the Recycle Materials and Re-production Business General Association.

“For us [exporters] we’ll only be able to handle stock up to the end of this month. We’re not signing any new contracts with collectors for October.”

To deal with the fallout, the Environmental Protection Department was to activate a contingency plan, which includes freeing up sites for storage at the EcoPark and Nim Wan in Tuen Mun as well as 16 public cargo berths.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department also planned to implement “urgent” measures.

Shift in mainland policy could spell disaster for Hong Kong recycling

Some 80,000 tonnes of waste cardboard, newspaper and office paper are collected in the city each month, and almost all of it is exported over the border due to the city’s lack of sorting and processing capacity and the mainland’s demand for raw materials.

But this month, around 1,000 recycling plants across the country failed to obtain permits to import foreign waste, causing a logjam of stock in Hong Kong. The association had said that if collections continued, their warehouses and docks would be full to the brim within weeks.

Pressure was believed to have stemmed from a national policy tweak in July, aiming to ban 24 types of polluting “foreign rubbish” imports by the end of the year.

Frontline recycler and collection business owner Leung Hin-fai said the trade had “been seeing red” for weeks. “We still have to collect. If exporters don’t want it, we’ll have to dump them on the streets or on their docks,” he said. “The government will have to do something.”

Even finished paper products are not being spared. Gary Ng Kong of the Courier Association claimed cardboard box prices had recently risen 20 to 30 per cent.

The government does not grasp the danger of this situation
Gary Ng Kong, Courier Association

Lau said more than a week had gone by since the association announced the plan but that city officials had yet to “serve as a bridge” and broker a solution with the mainland to exempt Hong Kong shipments from the ban.

“The government does not grasp the danger of this situation and this is disappointing,” he said. “Yes, about 30 to 40 per cent of stock can be diverted to Southeast Asia, but that still leaves about 50,000 tonnes with nowhere to go.”

Yet there is some respite. Lau said he recently heard that Guangdong province authorities were communicating with major plants in Dongguan, where most of Hong Kong’s exports go.

“This could be good news. But in the meantime, we’re out of solutions.”

The EPD has been liaising with the Ministry of Environmental Protection in Beijing and major mainland importers.

Hong Kong is misusing its public recycling bins, green group says

Harold Yip of paper recycler SSID, which exports mostly to Vietnam and Indonesia, said he would be willing to absorb some office paper on the market, but not newspaper or cardboard.

Yip would also offer two trucks to help green groups collect cardboard if the situation on local streets became acute over the weekend.

His larger worries, however, were longer-term in nature.

“China is the biggest market for wastepaper. If no one can export to China, there will be a scramble to markets in Southeast Asia,” he said. “This sudden oversupply would cause prices to plummet.”