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Hong Kong environmental issues

Company responsible for recycling Hong Kong’s electronic waste dismisses concerns it cannot keep up with demand

Alba IWS was chosen by government to dispose of unwanted appliances and says it can handle 30,000 tonnes a year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 10:42pm

The sole contractor of the government’s new disposal scheme for electrical appliances has brushed off concerns over whether it could cope with the recycling demand, saying it was presently running at only at a quarter of its normal capacity.

Alba IWS was responding to criticisms against the arrangement of the Producer Responsibility Scheme, which began on August 1 and retailers are required to provide free, government-approved removal services for old or unwanted appliances to customers.

Unwanted air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers, printers, scanners and monitors will have to be taken to a licensed recycler to process, while producers also have to pay a recycling levy of between HK$15 and HK$165 per item to the government every quarter.

The government has employed Alba to provide free collection services and to run its new waste electronics processing plant in Ecopark, Tuen Mun. Each year, the company receives about HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) in return.

But concerns were raised over whether Alba had the capacity to handle the sheer demand for collections from the estimated 3,000 appliance sellers in the city, without leaving those broken-down clunkers sitting at customers’ home for days before they could be collected.

Nigel Mattravers, Alba’s director and general manager, said they could handle around 30,000 tonnes of waste a year, or about 95 tonnes per day.

Since the scheme started, he told the Post the company had collected up to 500 items of old electrical appliances per day, or just a quarter of their nominal capacity.

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“We have plenty of capacity at the moment to deal with more material,” he said.

Mattravers rejected earlier reports which said some customers would need to wait until September before collection could be arranged, saying the firm had been able to keep its promise to pick up old appliances as soon as three days after purchase.

Environment secretary Wong Kam-sing echoed Mattravers’ remarks in a radio show on Saturday morning, saying the contractor can cope with the city’s demand.

He added that the company also had the capacity to help those who do not buy new appliances take away old items, and said the wait time will be about a week.

Wong also dismissed mounting criticism that the scheme would drive small and medium-sized recyclers out of business, saying those companies and logistic firms could collect and deliver appliances to licensed recyclers.

Apart from Alba, there are two other licensed recyclers, but most of the retailers have opted to work with the government contractor.

“We give a lot of choices and freedom to the shops,” Wong said. “The most important thing is to provide free removal services as required by the law.”

Jacky Lau Yiu-shing, director of the Recycle Materials and Re-production Business General Association, said local recyclers could offer free removal services for customers and send them to Alba, given that the contractor paid them a delivery fee of HK$60 to HK$70 per bulky item.

Lau called it a win-win solution, which would only cut one to two per cent of the recyclers’ revenues. Local recyclers had lost about 10 per cent of income, or about HK$4,000, after the scheme kicked in, he added.

Mattravers said his firm was working with “several” local logistics company to help collect electrical waste, and he would also be willing to work with local collectors.

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But not all customers are happy. A caller to the radio programme Wong attended blasted the scheme for causing him more trouble after Wong reiterated that Alba would be able to pick up old items three days after a purchase was made.

“You said [I] had to wait for a few days,” said the caller, who identified himself as Mr Chan. “Usually I could do everything within one day and now, I also have to make an appointment.”

But Wong insisted customers could have the old item collected on the same day the new one was delivered, saying they just needed to arrange a time with retailers for this to happen.