19 April 2019
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing speaks at the opening ceremony of the "World Environment Day 2018 - Zero Waste Fun Fair" on Sunday. Photo: HK Govt
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing speaks at the opening ceremony of the "World Environment Day 2018 - Zero Waste Fun Fair" on Sunday. Photo: HK Govt

Cash incentive mulled to boost plastic bottles recycling

The government is considering monetary incentives as part of efforts to help reduce plastics waste in the city, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Sunday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the “World Environment Day 2018 – Zero Waste Fun Fair”, Wong said Hong Kong needs further action to curb plastics waste and promote recycling, in line with a call by the United Nations to observe “Beat Plastic Pollution” as the green theme this year.

He was referring to an announcement made by the UN on the World Environment Day on June 5.

Hong Kong cannot afford to take the issue lightly given all the problems arising from the use of plastics, the official said, outlining the need for new measures to reduce waste and boost recycling.

Wong revealed that the government has hired an outside consultant to explore ways to cut the amount of plastic product containers in the city.

The move comes after authorities launched a producer responsibility scheme (PRS) last year to tackle the issue. 

In its preliminary study report, the consultant, according to Wong, suggested that the PRS give priority to waste beverage containers, which account for about 60 percent of waste containers made of plastic, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

A cash rebate arrangement can be considered to provide financial incentives for members of the public to recycle plastic beverage containers, while smart “reverse vending machines” can also be used to help enhance the recycling program.

The machines could dispense cash in return for plastic bottles, encouraging more people to offer their used beverage containers for recycling.

The consultant will engage relevant trade associations and other stakeholders to seek their views before submitting a final proposal to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for consideration.

The study and assessment on the issue are expected to be completed by the end of the year before the timetable for the next step can be set, Wong said.

As for how to deal with disposable plastic knives, forks and straws, Wong said the government will lead by example, with various departments cutting down on the use of such products, and will also step up efforts to urge the related industries and the public to do the same.

The EPD will look into the matter further and may consider imposing regulations, he said.

Lauding the EPD’s plan as a good first step, environmental group The Green Earth said it is correct to target plastic beverage containers and disposable cutlery items first because the life cycles of those items are relatively short.

That said, Hahn Chu Hon-keung, the group’s director of environmental advocacy, stressed that what is more important is producers of plastic products must do a better job on their part.

Moreover, efforts must be made to ensure that fast-food restaurants reduce use of disposable cutlery items, Chu said, also calling on producers to avoid excessive packaging and supermarkets to say no to overly-packaged items.

An owner of a recycling company, meanwhile, criticized the incentive of cash rebates as being unattractive to recyclers even if it can help increase the recycled amount.

He argued that his industry has been losing money on recycling plastic waste as transportation and labor costs are higher than the money they earn by recycling the items.

What the government should do is provide more places for storage of plastic waste and send trucks to collect it from recyclers so as to enhance their willingness to engage in the business, the person said.

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