24 May 2019
Green Earth activists are calling for a refundable levy on purchases of plastic bottles to prompt consumers to return the used items for recycling. Photo: Green Earth
Green Earth activists are calling for a refundable levy on purchases of plastic bottles to prompt consumers to return the used items for recycling. Photo: Green Earth

Group urges refundable surcharge levy to curb plastics waste

An environmental group has called for the levy of a refundable deposit for purchases of beverage products that come in plastic bottles, saying the move can help boost the recycling rate in the city.

The government should consider putting in place a scheme that will prompt people to return used bottles for recycling, rather than discarding the items in trash bins, Green Earth said.

Under the scheme proposed by the Hong Kong-based activist group, consumers will need to pay a surcharge as a deposit that is included in the price of each bottle of beverage they buy.

If they return the empty bottle after use, the money paid as surcharge will be refunded to them.

The rule, if implemented, will lead to improved recycling, Green Earth said, citing the success of measures introduced in some countries elsewhere.

As for the levy itself, the recommendation is for a charge of one Hong Kong dollar as the deposit amount, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

According to Green Earth, the deposit-and-refund scheme has proved to be a relatively better and more effective way to increase the recycling rate, in places in the world where it has been introduced.

An analysis conducted by the group on 25 countries and cities that implemented the scheme of the kind shows their average recycling rate of used plastic beverage bottles was 73 percent, with the rates in some countries — Germany, Norway and South Korea — even as high as 95 percent.

After currency conversion, the deposits imposed by those governments were found to range from HK$0.3 to HK$3.14, translating to an average of HK$0.93, the group said, adding that those which ask for HK$1 or more see a recycling rate of 77 percent on average.

Still, the group admitted there is no positive causal relationship between the deposit amount and the recycling rate. For instance, Austria sets the deposit at the equivalent of about HK$3.14 but only has an overall recycling rate of 30 percent, while South Korea enjoys a 95 percent of recycling rate with only HK$0.75 charged as deposit.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Green Earth’s director of environmental advocacy, pointed out that the recycling rate also depends on whether there are other complementary measures, and a goal set for waste management, in place.

Taking into account various considerations, the group suggested that the government can use HK$1 as a reference amount to set the deposit for the scheme and gauge its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, a street interview conducted in Kwun Tong by HKEJ found that a rather high number of respondents do not deem the HK$1 deposit to be a strong incentive.

They warned that the move will be meaningless unless the government comes up with measures to put the recycled plastic bottles into reuse.

Data from the Environmental Protection Department show a daily average of 158 metric tons of plastic beverage bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate were discarded in 2016. Of that, only 14.7 metric tons, or less than 10 percent, was successfully recycled.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Sunday that the government is studying solutions proposed by an outside consultant to explore ways to cut the amount of plastic product containers in the city.

The options put forward by the consultant include a cash rebate arrangement, a deposit-and-refund scheme and setting up smart recycling machines for plastic product containers.

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