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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong government vending machines to ditch small water bottles in battle against plastic waste

Environment minister says administration ‘committed to setting green example’, announcing policy to start in February

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 11:09pm

Vending machines at government premises will stop selling water in bottles of one litre or less starting from early next year, it emerged on Thursday, as part of a bid to clamp down on unnecessary plastic waste.

The new policy will cover all government-run sports complexes, performance venues, offices, urban parks, country parks, car parks, transport interchanges and ferry piers, according to the Environment Bureau. It will come in on February 20 next year.

“The government has always attached great importance to ... reducing waste and actively promotes reduction and recovery at source at different levels of society,” a bureau spokesman said.

There are more than 1,130 vending machines set up at government venues across the city.

The machines will still dispense bottles of water larger than one litre, and the policy will not apply to any drinks other than water.

The government is committed to setting a ‘green’ example in promoting waste reduction at source
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing

Exemptions will also be made for “special circumstances” such as “ad hoc operations, prolonged outdoor works or emergency situations” where bottled water would be provided to meet public service or operational needs, according to a spokesman.

“Having said that, bureaus and departments should continue to encourage their staff as far as practicable to refrain from using plastic bottled water in the course of discharging their official duties,” a bureau spokesman added.

The government is not the first large institution to bring in such a rule. In July, the University of Hong Kong banned the sale of bottled water measuring one litre or less at shops, restaurants, offices and vending machines.

More than 5 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles go into Hong Kong landfills every day, and will take hundreds of years to decompose.

Local environmental group The Green Earth estimated that since 2008 Hongkongers had thrown away more than 12 billion plastic bottles, which if placed end to end would circle the globe 58 times.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, its director of environmental advocacy, welcomed the new policy, but said it should have come long ago.

Two in three Hongkongers use plastic disposables for dining, adding to city’s ‘waste crisis’

He said it would also have to be complemented by the strategic placement of water dispensers and fountains to promote a “bring your own bottle” culture.

“People don’t like bringing their own water bottles because they’re heavy when full. If you put dispensers in the right locations, they won’t have to fill them up that often,” Chu said.

He said the next step in developing such a culture was for shopping mall and railway operators to follow suit.