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Drink Carton Recycling Campaign

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Our Recycling Story


In 2016, we became the first organisation to launch a drink carton recycling programme in Hong Kong, and implemented it in schools, hotels, a theme park and the community in phases. Afterwards, we introduced an innovative “Cash Reward” model to plough drink cartons back into local recycling chains. This helped to establish a holistic and sustainable recycling system in Hong Kong.

Drink cartons are made of paper, plastic and aluminium, which are all recyclable. However, due to the lack of technology, facilities and resources, Hong Kong was yet to implement any drink carton recycling campaigns.

Not until 2019, that is, when a local recycling factory for drink carton was established, opening the door for effective treatment of carton waste. Nevertheless, the current recycling rate is still very low. Over 27,000 tonnes of drink cartons are thrown away each year. Dumping these recyclable resources into the landfills is not only a waste but also aggravates pressure on landfills and the waste problem. What is more, it does not help the local recycling industry.

Looking to examples in other parts of the world like Taipei, South Korea, Japan and Germany, there are a range of recycling regulations in place, including Producer Responsibility Scheme, which use economic means to regulate producers to recycle their own products. In this way, the producers have the incentive to not only provide recycling facilities and mechanisms, but also to choose the right materials and design their packages properly, in order to reduce waste at source.

A drink carton is made of a composite material, making recycling more complicated. By advocating drink carton recycling, we hope to raise public awareness of and reflections on Hong Kong's recycling policy:

  • The operation of the local recycling industry has always remained at a low technology level, involving baling and export only. There is no economic incentive to recycle composite materials such as drink cartons, which require a higher cost.
  • Since Producer Responsibility Scheme is not in place, recycling of composite materials lacks the support of producers, making it more difficult for the materials to build sufficient market value for recycling.
  • Without municipal solid waste charging, the public lacks an incentive to reduce waste and recycle. Even with capable facilities, the recycling rate is still poor.
  • Without legislation and the support of producers, the recycling industry only struggles to survive at a rudimentary technology level, and so is incapable of developing towards a high-end and value-added industry; the poor recycling rate hinders the recycling industry from reaching optimal operation efficiency, forming a vicious cycle.

We will continue advocating the implementation of a Producer Responsibility Scheme regarding all beverage containers and food packaging by the government, and urge producers to take on their environmental responsibility and support the local recycling industry. On the other hand, through recycling drink cartons, we hope to boost society's demand for recycling, and together we will strive for progress in waste management for Hong Kong!

Drink carton recycling programme
Drink carton recycling programme
Drink carton recycling programme
©PMQ
Drink carton recycling programme

Milestones


Sep 2021:
The fourth phase of primary school recycling and education programme; recycling programme in theme park and hotel
Jul 2020:
Drink Carton Recycling - Cash Reward (Jul 2020 – Aug 2021)
Sep 2019:
The third phase of primary school recycling and education programme
Jul 2019:
Community Collection Points (18 points in total)
Jul 2018 :
Recycling in community
Dec 2017 :
Jungle All the Way Exhibition @PMQ
15,000 Drink Cartons, Folded into 36 Sparkling Christmas Trees
Jul 2017 :
Petition to urge producers to recycle drink cartons
Jul 2017 :
Recycling programme in theme park and hotel
Oct 2016 :
Recycling trial in hospitality industry (26 restaurants in 5 hotels)
Oct 2016 :
The second phase of primary school recycling and education programme
Jan 2016 :
Launched the first drink carton recycling campaign in Hong Kong (recycling trial in primary schools)

About Drink Carton


Drink carton ranks second (17%)* in packaging materials of the beverage market. Together with cartons used in household kitchens such as broth and corn; cartons used in catering industry such as liquid eggs and cream, 27,375 tonnes* of waste carton are dumped in the landfill annually, which is equivalent to 2.4 billion cartons, enough to cover the area of 4,139 Hong Kong Stadiums, and requires public expenditure of HK$15 million for waste disposal.

There are two types of drink carton, namely aluminium foil carton and milk carton: the former is made of paper, plastic and aluminium; and the latter is made of paper and plastic. All these materials can be recycled and reused. Drink carton recycling is common worldwide. The recycling rate in Japan is about 45%, Europe 40%, Taiwan 30% and mainland China 10%.

There are different ways of recycling drink carton. A common method is to recover the paper constituent and recycle it into different paper products. Plastic and aluminium are made into molded boards or Refuse Paper & Plastic Fuel (RPF). A whole carton can also be recycled into Tectan boards or RPF. Or all materials (paper, plastic and aluminium) are separated and recycled into different raw materials.

High or low recycling value?

The main component of drink carton is paper (75% in aluminium foil carton; 85% in milk carton). The long paper fibres used allow the waste to be turned into more durable paper products. In particular, the paper in milk carton which is made from bleached wood pulp is of high recycling value, as premium quality paper can be made from the recovered materials.

On the other hand, in addition to paper, drink carton also contains plastic and aluminium. Recycling of the composite requires more complicated process and a higher cost. Thus, drink carton is often considered as a recyclable with low recycling value. Hence, in most places where the recycling rate of drink carton is relatively high, we can see that a Producer Responsibility Scheme is in place in order to promote recycling

Can I put drink cartons into the waste paper recycle bin?

No! Although drink carton is mainly made of paper, it also contains plastic and aluminium. In aluminium foil carton, 20% of it is plastic and 5% is aluminium; in milk carton, 15% is plastic. Drink carton is composite material, which cannot be recycled as normal paper.

* Drink Without Waste Research Report (2018)
* The latest Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong (2019)

Media Coverage


2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

Video


Drink Carton Recycling Cash Reward Programme – Our Vision and Implementation
(Jun 2021)
Drink Carton Recycling Cash Reward Programme – An Ordinary Day at Recycling Shops
(Jun 2021)
Drink Carton Recycling Cash Reward Programme – Care for Frontline Recycling Workers
(Jun 2021)

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