To encourage more recycling of the 1.5 billion plastic bottles that Hong Kong people throw away every year, the Government plans to introduce a Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) that will include charges for producers of plastic bottles, refunds for consumers and more recycling facilities.
A consultation process is currently under way, so the Chamber organized a webinar on 8 April to help members understand the proposals and how their businesses might be affected.
Iris Lee, Assistant Director at the Environmental Protection Department, explained that the proposed scheme was consistent with the Government’s Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035, which is intended to uphold the principle of “polluter pays” and facilitate the creation of a circular economy in the city. She added that the three-month consultation had started on 22 February and the Government wanted to hear from the public and stakeholders on its plans.
Her colleague Stephen Siu, Principal Environmental Protection Officer, then introduced the background to the scheme and the Government’s proposals. He explained that a significant proportion of the plastic waste in Hong Kong consists of drinks bottles, which are made from materials that can be easily recycled.
“In other places, plastic bottle recycling is the norm,” he said. “But in Hong Kong, the common pattern of on-the-go consumption is a challenge.”
The proposals include a recycling levy on beverage suppliers and retail stores above a certain size will serve as designated return points. Recycling businesses will also need to be licenced. Some drinks containers will be exempt, including pouches.
“We hope that through the implementation of the Producer Responsibility Scheme, we can help establish a circular economy in Hong Kong,” Siu said. “Each party has a role to play.”
Paul Zimmerman, Chairman of Drink Without Waste, said that the organization fully supports the scheme. However, they have some concerns about the focus on plastic bottles only.
“We’d like to see all beverages included, not just plastic bottles,” he said. “If we make it difficult to use plastic bottles, importers will switch to pouches and cartons.”
Zimmerman noted that around 50% of bottled drinks sold in Hong Kong are water. This would be reduced if more water dispensers were available at convenient locations.
He said that he would like to see new policies piggyback on the city’s current recycling network, rather than adding more RVMs – or reverse vending machines – which could lead to more trucks on the streets.
On a positive note, Zimmerman said that Drink Without Waste’s research showed that a 5 cent refund could result in up to 70% of bottles being recycled – so long as there is a convenient and trusted network in place.
“Consumers want convenience,” he said. “But they also want to be confident that when they drop something in a recycling bin that it actually gets recycled. Some of them are skeptical, so we need to give them more confidence.”
He acknowledged that Hong Kong has unique challenges due to our very densely populated environment and lack of space.
“Hong Kong is very different from Canada, the United States or Europe, where you have parking lots for people to drop off used recyclables,” he said. People’s homes and buildings also do not have space for extra bins to ensure waste is correctly separated.
One solution to this is temporary pop-up facilities. These would visit housing estates and street locations on a regular schedule, and provide a flexible mechanism to ensure that much more of our waste gets recycled.