As we waved goodbye to 2020, the year when the coronavirus pandemic paralyzsed the whole world, it was time to recount the ups and downs of our way on waste reduction this past year and make a resolution for the new year. Let’s see how far we have gone and what lesson we have learned.
Plastic: The most disappointing was the single digit plastic recycling rate — 8%, according to the latest statistics announced in the Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong in December 2020. The figure was from 2019, and it might have been better in 2020 as the government launched a pilot scheme in three districts in January 2020, which subsidised plastic recyclers to provide free collection service of plastic waste from registered premises. Nonetheless, there is still a long battle over plastic waste. Apart from extending the pilot scheme to cover all 18 districts as soon as possible, the government should work on better management with a high degree of transparency to restore public trust in plastic recycling. In addition, disposable plastic products should be phased out as part of the global effort.
Producer Responsibility: Green Power has for a long time advocated Producer Responsibility. In 2013, the Environment Bureau tabled the formulation of producer responsibility regarding product packaging in the Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources. Related legislation on glass beverage containers was passed in 2016 and a study on plastic beverage containers was launched in 2017. However, nothing resulted after three years of study. Worse still, the study did not take into account paper drinks cartons. Paper cartons rank second in beverage container packaging. In the last year alone, a total of over 27,000 tonnes were dumped. Why are they excluded from the study? If producer responsibility is implemented for plastic beverage containers, will producers switch to paper cartons to evade regulation?
On the other hand, the Drink Without Waste Working Group, which comprises stakeholders including the beverage industry, earlier published a proposal to set up an independent recycling system for packaging materials that covers both plastic and paper containers. Producers will take the initiative to inject funding for the operation. Now that the producers have taken the first step, why should the government lag behind? Let’s speed up the regulation of recycling all drinks and food package. Meanwhile, we look forward to the days when “study” is over and action is realised. This is the real test for the industry! Not just all talk and no trousers.
Waste Paper Recycling: Hong Kong has been constantly under the shadow of “waste paper jam crisis” after mainland China tightened requirements on the import of recyclables in recent years. In view of this, the Hong Kong government introduced a cash fund last year—to pay no less than HK$0.7 per kilogram for waste paper collectors. The policy marked a drastic shift from the past market-oriented non-intervening approach. Nonetheless, the issue of export quotas is still lingering—albeit a short term agreement has been reached with mainland China that specifies certain paper plants that receive waste paper from Hong Kong.
Waste paper constitutes the second largest amount of solid waste in Hong Kong, with a daily generation of 2,704 tonnes. A long-term viable solution must be sought. A local paper recycling/pulp making plant that had been expected to open in 2023 in the EcoPark is not being built. The nightmare of waste paper and cardboard piling up on Hong Kong’s streets will keep returning.
Reforming the 3-colour bins: The 3-colour bins have long been criticised as a window dressing. Overflowing with litter, the 3-colour bins are often dirtier than the usual rubbish bins. Who can believe that recyclables inside can be properly treated?
The Office of the Ombudsman launched a direct investigation of the management and effectiveness of 3-colour bins at the end of last year. The result is easy to guess: the bins failed to raise public awareness and recycling rates. It is time to reform the recycling system and policy. The newly launched Green @ Community is more promising — with recycling stations, stores and spots across Hong Kong that receive numerous kinds of recyclables 24 hours per day, and are kept clean and tidy. Let’s hope the new initiative is a new beginning in building up public recycling habits.
2020 was a difficult year. But we shall not lose hope. Aside from pushing the government and producers to move forward, we as individuals can also contribute by setting up waste reduction goals for the new year!