South China Morning Post

Low value of cash rebate puts Hong Kong scheme to recycle plastic bottles at risk of failure


The Hong Kong Environmen­tal Protection Department is currently designing a new collection scheme for used plastic drink containers. Global studies have found a drink container deposit scheme could reduce marine plastics by around 40 per cent. Eradicatin­g plastic drink containers from Hong Kong’s litter stream, parks and waterways and increasing the recycling of these is an urgent requiremen­t.

Forty-plus countries and regions around the world – including many Australian states and territorie­s, as well as Germany, Israel, and all of Canada, to name a few – have adopted drink container deposit and refund schemes to achieve this objective.

My organisati­on, The Reloop Platform, detailed a HK$1 deposit scheme to the department, estimating return and recycling rates for this material would peak above 90 per cent within three years. Scotland is currently proposing a 20p scheme (around HK$2.10) and Germany and most of northern Europe have similar refund values.

Though the Environmen­tal Protection Department’s proposal is a good template to build on, there are challenges and impediment­s to its success that need to be reassessed. Most importantl­y, the draft design proposes a 10 HK cent rebate for consumers who return their containers, but this value is virtually meaningles­s to most Hong Kong consumers. In fact, this refund would be by far the lowest in the world.

This low rebate means the scheme would fail to achieve its objective of removing plastic drink containers from the environmen­t, i.e. consumers will at best dispose of empty drink containers to the city’s already exploding landfills.

The low rebate also jeopardise­s the financial viability of the scheme and risks it collapsing: the volume of containers being returned would be insufficie­nt for recycling companies to justify any investment in the scheme.

There are some excellent proposals in the draft design, including high levels of consumer convenienc­e through ensuring retailers over a certain size collect containers and redeem the rebate. Convenienc­e is one of the two primary characteri­stics of successful drink container return schemes globally, the other being an adequate refund/rebate value.

Hong Kong has a unique opportunit­y to establish a new scheme to virtually eradicate all drink containers from the litter stream and help reduce the burden on its landfills. A couple of important changes to the current proposal would resolve these and deliver a drink deposit/refund scheme Hong Kong would be proud of.

Robert Kelman, director, Reloop Pacific

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