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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong government takes greener approach to e-waste as new scheme puts onus on retailers to junk old appliances

Producer Responsibility Scheme allows public to have old fridges, washing machines and other household items taken away free of charge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 2:43pm

The government launched a new scheme on August 1 requiring retailers to help customers dispose of old appliances when they buy new ones. Hongkongers who want to get rid of unwanted air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers, printers, scanners and monitors can also contact a licensed recycler.

The regular service provided by government contractor Alba IWS is free as producers pay a recycling levy of between HK$15 and HK$165 per item to the government every quarter, which in turn pays the contractor about HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) per year.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is it? How does it work?

The Producer Responsibility Scheme requires sellers of certain regulated electrical equipment to arrange a free removal service for a customer’s old appliance when they buy a new one, so they can be delivered to a government-licensed recycler. As of July, three recyclers in Hong Kong, including Alba IWS, had been granted licenses. These recyclers are required to store, treat, reprocess or recycle the waste appliance. The aim of the scheme is to get sellers of these appliances to pay to help fund proper collection and disposal of e-waste.

How was waste electrical and electronic equipment dealt with before?

About 70,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment is disposed of in Hong Kong each year, 80 per cent of which is shipped overseas to Africa or Southeast Asia, while the rest is dumped locally in a landfill. This e-waste contains harmful materials which, if not properly treated or disposed of, is hazardous to the environment and human health. The government says exporting the waste is not sustainable because demand for second-hand products overseas will ultimately decline. Alba says it can handle about 95 tonnes of waste a day – or 30,000 tonnes of waste a year.

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What do I do about my old appliance, if I’m buying one from a retailer or if I just want to get rid of an old one?

You should let the retailer you are buying the new appliance from know that you need an old item disposed of. They are required to arrange the delivery of the new appliance and removal of the old one at no extra cost.

If you want to get rid of an old appliance without purchasing a new one, you can call the recycling hotline 2676 8888 to make an appointment with Alba IWS, the government-appointed operator of its recycling and treatment facility, for a free pickup. They should be able to take your item within a week of your call. Consumers can also make use of door-to-door collectors if they really need to, but the government says there is no guarantee appliances will be brought to the right places.

Are there really no costs incurred by the consumer?

Suppliers of these appliances have to pay. The proposed charges are HK$15 per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. The fee must be paid to the government on a quarterly basis. However, there is nothing to stop suppliers from passing the costs on to consumers.

How long must I wait for my old appliance to be taken from my home?

It will take about three working days to arrange for Alba to pickup the old appliance from your home, an arrangement they have billed “T+3”. The retailer can arrange to deliver your new appliance on the same day Alba pick up the old one. But, if you want either service sooner, some retailers may charge for this upgraded service. This is not prohibited under the law. For example, retailer Fortress will charge customers HK$100 if they want to get rid of their old appliance before Alba can arrange a pickup. It will store the appliance for customers and Alba will pick it up from them.

What will happen if I dump the appliance in the refuse depot near my home?

It is not prohibited, but is likely to damage the environment as waste collectors may not dispose of it in the best way. It is likely to end up in a landfill.

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What will Alba do with my old appliance?

Alba will bring it to the WEEE-PARK Treatment and Recycling Facility at the EcoPark in Tuen Mun. The products will be detoxified, dismantled and turned into secondary raw material such as plastics, alumina, copper or iron, which can be reused for manufacture or landfilled locally “in a clean manner”.

What if I have questions or issues?

Call the Environmental Protection Department at 2310 0223 if you have questions or have any complaints about retailers.