All About Green

Learning from International Experience with Producer Responsibility Scheme

Original Chinese article published in Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (3 June, 2019)
Author: Green Power
A bundle of compressed plastic beverage containers bound by wire

While writing this article, a news report regarding the local “glass beverage container producer responsibility scheme” came up. Although the exact date of implementation of the scheme has yet to be set, contractors have been appointed across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories to provide collection and treatment services for local waste glass beverage containers.

A higher recycling rate charge less

It may be too early to conclude whether the local glass recycling service can fulfil society's needs. In any case, producer responsibility scheme (PRS) is an important catalyst in promoting comprehensive glass recycling in Hong Kong. Currently, the PRS covers waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and glass beverage containers in Hong Kong. The former places recycling levies on suppliers and requires suppliers to provide a removal service for consumers that send old equipment to registered recycling plants. The latter PRS requires producers (including manufacturers and importers) to pay recycling levies, and the government will appoint contractors to collect and treat the glass waste.

One big shortcoming of the two schemes is that the producers are basically rid of their recycling responsibility, apart from the payment of levies. Whether the recycling system is effective, whether the waste is genuinely recycled, whether the recycling channels are convenient, or whether the recycling service suits people’s need... these important issues are no longer relevant to producers. Who will be held responsible? The contractors? The government? Or just let it be? Shouldn’t the producers bear more responsibility for recycling?

The concept of producer responsibility is clear: the producers (including manufacturers, importers, retailers, etc.) should be responsible for the whole life cycle of their products. Apart from manufacturing and selling the products, they should also arrange for the recycling, reuse and treatment of their products. Different arrangements of the details, however, will give completely different waste reduction results.

Taking European regions as a reference, producers are required to take up the main responsibility for recycling. Besides paying levies, producers have to collect and recycle their waste products by themselves or by appointing third parties.

In Norway, if producers achieve a higher recycling rate, the costs they have to pay will be reduced. The advantage of this arrangement is that producers are engaged in the recycling process, and the recycling effectiveness is directly related to the cost they need to pay. This encourages producers to invest more in product design and recycling, which is the best way to reduce waste.

In Hong Kong, by contrast, the recycling levies are linked to the amount of product produced. Any failure in the recycling process has nothing to do with the producers. The blame will only go to the contractors or the government. This is way below the standard expected by the general public!

Legislation for seven years of guarantee period for electrical appliances

There is another interesting example from California, United States: a local law was enacted to require electrical appliance producers to provide sufficient maintenance resources, such as repair service and replacement parts, for consumers and repair shops. In addition, producers have to provide a seven-year guarantee period for electrical appliances that are worth over US$100. This prompts producers to increase the life cycle and durability of their products, and encourages consumers to opt for repairs instead of buying new products. We should understand that in the recycling process, there is further energy and resource waste. Waste reduction at the source is always the best way.

The government is planning PRS for plastic containers, which is greatly welcomed by green groups, the recycling industry and the whole society. We hope that this time, the producers will not only be paying to avoid their true responsibility. The legislation should encourage producers to reduce waste at source – from product design, to procurement and selling – as well as bearing more responsibility for the final recycling and treatment of their products.