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Cash Reward for Drink Carton Recycling, to Highlight Value of Local Recycling Industry

Original text published in Sing Tao Daily “Green Forum” (31 Jul, 2020)
Author: Green Power

An elderly person seeking drinks cans on the street with a trolley behind, or waiting outside stalls to collect used paper cartons … this is the everyday life of waste pickers, as well as a snapshot of Hong Kong's recycling industry.

The local recycling industry is a chain made up of the upper, middle and lower sections, which includes (1) frontline recycling workers (including waste pickers and cleaners); (2) recycling shops/trucks; and (3) exporters. Recyclables are now collected by frontline workers through different channels and sent to recycling shops/trucks in the neighbourhood, and then be transported to exporters after reaching a certain volume. Every exporter works with several recyclers to collect sufficient recyclables for export. The different levels of parties take on different roles and complement each other throughout the recycling chain.

Cash reward to support the recycling sector

Green Power has recently launched the Drink Carton Recycling Cash Reward Scheme with the support of the Recycling Fund. The objective is to make the best use of the existing recycling network to encourage recycling of drinks cartons. Frontline recycling workers (including waste pickers and cleaners) will be given $0.05 per carton, which is equivalent to $3.3 per kg. The cash reward also covers local recycler shops/trucks and exporters, which will receive $0.02 and $0.01 per carton, respectively. All the collected cartons will be sent to the local carton recycling factory, Mil Mill.

The scheme has received positive responses from the recycling sector. It is now supported by three recyclable exporters, with five collection spots set up in the North East New Territories, North West New Territories, South West New Territories, Kowloon East and Hong Kong East, to collect drink cartons from recyclers across Hong Kong. 42 recyclers (shops and trucks) and about 380 frontline workers are participating in the scheme.

As compared to finding new contractors or building another recycling network, the cash award scheme can effectively increase the recycling rate of drink cartons, as the existing recycling network is long established and covers wide areas in Hong Kong. While reducing waste, the scheme also brings benefit for the different levels of the recycling sector, creating a win-win situation for the recycling industry and Hong Kong as a whole.

In addition, the scheme gives recognition to the frontline workers. A study by the Waste Picker Platform revealed that there are about 3,000 frontline recycling workers in Hong Kong, collecting a total of 200 tonnes of waste paper every day. This shows the significance of frontline workers in local recycling work. However, the workers are often neglected and there is little support for them in terms of policy. Therefore, Green Power invites participating restaurants and the public to give the drink cartons to frontline workers for free, in order to improve their livelihoods. At the same time, we will promote the concept of "clean recycling". A simple act of cleaning and drying the cartons before giving them to the frontline workers can help a lot, and show our respect for them! The workers are indeed key players in our waste recycling and reduction system!

Model of Producer Responsibility Scheme

Drink cartons are compound materials. The cost of recycling is high due to the complicated treatment process. To establish a sustainable recycling model, a Producer Responsibility Scheme must be in place. The producers should take the responsibility to provide financial support for handling and recycling their own products. If our Cash Reward Scheme is successful, it means a mere $0.08 cash reward for each carton is what it takes to cover territory-wide recycling that is fast and effective and win-win.

It may be a long road before drink cartons become mainstream, well recognised recyclables. The Cash Reward Scheme is a new attempt, both for the recycling sector and the public. We hope our efforts can lead to a new possibility for drink carton recycling as well as the implementation of Producer Responsibility.

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