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Hong Kong environmental issues

Hong Kong to pay for recyclers to collect plastic waste in trial scheme covering homes, offices and schools in 3 districts

Recyclers will be required to sort, shred, clean and melt used plastics to produce regenerated materials for local or overseas markets, city’s No 2 official says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 7:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 10:21pm

A trial scheme to boost Hong Kong’s dismal waste plastic recycling rate will be rolled out next year in three districts, the city’s No 2 official announced on Sunday.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government would pay for recyclers to collect waste plastic from private and public residences, schools, public offices and government-run recycling centres.

The contractors, hired by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), would be required to sort, shred, clean and melt the used plastics to produce regenerated materials or products for local or overseas markets. Tenders will be called later this year. Cheung did not say which three of the city’s 18 districts would be involved.

Currently, private buildings handle their own recycling efforts while the government has set up bins in public areas for others to dispose of waste plastic, metal and paper. The authorities are also aiming to launch a municipal solid waste charging scheme in late 2019.

In the past three years, more than 2,000 tonnes of plastic have been sent to Hong Kong’s landfills on a daily basis, accounting for about 20 per cent of all the municipal solid waste produced by the city’s 7.3 million population.

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“There are two major challenges in handling plastic waste,” Cheung said in his official blog.

“First, costs of collection, sorting, storage and transport are high because plastic waste is of low density, great variety and large size. On the other hand, prices of raw plastic materials have remained low. Therefore the recycling rate is not high.”

Also, as mainland China stopped importing used plastic amid its ban on 24 types of solid waste starting this year, the city’s recyclers no longer had a ready destination to send their items.

But recyclers were concerned as to whether there would be enough space to store the waste and whether they could collect enough plastic to sustain the cost of operations.

Jacky Lau Yiu-shing, director of the Recycle Materials and Re-production Business General Association, said the two melting machines his recycling company owned needed a space of 20,000 sq ft.

Leung Hin-fai, owner of recycling company Leung Fai Kee, said 10 flexible bulk containers filled with used plastic could take up 500 sq ft to 600 sq ft – about the size of an ordinary waste collection shop.

Lau said: “Would the government consider giving recyclers the land restored from closed landfills to build recycling factories?”

At present, the 13 closed landfills in Kowloon and the New Territories collectively occupy an area of about 300 hectares (740 acres).

Lau also said the cost would be rather high if the contracted recyclers were required to cover all the procedures and therefore a sufficient and stable supply of used plastic would be crucial.

“If we could collect no less than 30 tonnes of used plastic every day, then the recycling cost could be controlled at or even below HK$3,000 [US$385] per tonne,” Lau said.

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“Considering the regenerated plastic particles could be sold for between HK$5,000 and HK$8,000 per tonne depending on quality, there is still room for profit if the supply of plastic waste is sufficiently stable.”

Bonnie Tang, campaigner of Greenpeace Hong Kong, said collection of the used plastic might be a major challenge for the pilot scheme as well as the contracted recyclers.

“The municipal solid waste charging scheme is not yet in place and the public awareness of waste sorting is not high,” Tang said.

Leo Wong Ka-chi, assistant project manager of Greeners Action, said the group welcomed the scheme. “We appreciate the government’s effort to restore the public’s confidence in the city’s plastic waste recycling system,” Wong said.

“As the waste charging scheme is set to be implemented by the end of 2019, the pilot scheme will provide people an alternative to recycle used plastics.”

From April to the end of June, the Sha Tin Community Green Station operated by the EPD collected only 361kg of waste plastic although its recycling service covered 90 per cent of the district’s population. Sha Tin is the city’s most populated district where one in 11 Hongkongers live.

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Tang said at the centre of Hong Kong’s plastic problem was that waste reduction policies had been too slow and weak.

“Taiwan recently set its goal to ban all disposal plastic tableware by 2030 whereas Hong Kong hasn’t started to make its plan,” Tang said.

In his blog, Cheung also called on the public to use fewer plastic products in daily life as it was the most efficient way to solve the waste problem. About 10 per cent of the plastic waste sent to landfills in Hong Kong was disposable tableware and bottles.