Producer Responsibility Schemes
This environmentally-driven policy is based on the idea that those who produce pollution should be charged for it – ‘polluter pays’ – and is a key tool in the HK government’s strategy on waste reduction. The PRS concept requires relevant stakeholders including manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers to share the responsibility for the collection, recycling, treatment and disposal of end-of-life products. The goals of a PRS include a reduction in the use of the product, increased collection for recycling and payment of funds for collection and recycling of the material.
Hong Kong has two mandatory producer responsibility schemes in place so far. These are the Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme and the PRS on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). The necessary regulations have been put in place to formalise the PRS on Glass Beverage Containers and in the second half of 2020 the PRS on Plastic Beverage Containers should be implemented.
Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme
This PRS was the first ever mandatory PRS and was first launched on July 7, 2009, affecting approximately 3,500 stores, primarily supermarkets, convenience stores, personal health and beauty stores, and drug stores. It came into full effect on April 1, 2015.
The full PRS on plastic bags includes all types of commercial businesses, regardless of their scale. This means that street stalls and large chain stores are equally affected. The PRS requires retailers to charge at least 50 cents for each plastic shopping bag (PSB) or each pre-packaged pack of 10 or more PSBs.
Types of PSB covered:
- All PSBs, regardless of whether or not there is a handle or other carrying device on the bag
- Paper bags with plastic lamination or components, including plastic accessories
- Non-woven reusable bags made of plastic
Types of PSB not covered:
- Bags used for food hygiene, i.e. food without packaging, food in unsealed packaging or frozen/chilled foods
- Bags used for packaging, i.e. bags that have been sealed before they are delivered to the retailer or that form part of the packaging
- Bags provided as part of a service, e.g. the bags used for pills at a medical clinic and laundry service bags)
Note that the seller keeps the collected fees, so there is no money allocated for the cost of collection or handling of plastic bags post consumer use.
In 2020, the government is considering further amendments to the PRS to tighten the exemptions and increase the levy value as the volume of PSBs to landfill is increasing over time, after an initial drop after the implementation of the PRS.
Waste Electric and Electrical Equipment (WEEE)
Approximately 70,000 tonnes of Waste Electric and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) are generated in HK annually. Historically, approximately 80% was exported for reuse or recycling, but this export strategy was neither sustainable nor responsible. The demand for used WEEE in developing countries was expected to decrease over time, and it was not responsible to export to countries where they may not be handling the WEEE safely or properly. WEEE contains harmful materials which can be hazardous to the environment and to human health if improperly handled. Even the temporary storage of WEEE pending export caused environmental hazards in HK due to improper storage. HK needed a plan for management of its own WEEE.
The PRS on Waste Electric and Electrical Equipment of 2016, implemented on August 1, 2018, regulates the recycling and disposal of regulated electrical equipment, known as REE, which includes the following items:
- air conditioners
- washing machines
- computers, printers, scanners and monitors
Manufactures and importers must be registered and pay a recycling levy for all REE that is distributed in Hong Kong. When consumers purchase new REE they are entitled to free collection of the same product by the seller who must send the waste equipment to a downstream recycler with an e-Waste Disposal Licence for proper handling. There is a ban on REE to landfill.
In 2018, 27,600 tonnes of WEEE was recycled locally out of 42,000 tonnes (66%) collected for recycling, compared to 3,900 in 2017 out of 49,000 tonnes (8%).
Glass Bottle PRS (not yet fully implemented)
In May 2016, the Legislative Council approved an amendment to the existing regulations to allow for the inclusion of glass in the Product Eco Responsibility Ordinance and pave the way for new PRS legislation on glass containers for recycling. Once the amendment comes into effect, all businesses providing beverages in a glass beverage bottle will be required to register as a registered supplier, share data with the government on volumes sold, pay the container recycling levy and submit an audited report. The goal is to cover the full cost of running the PRS, including collection, treatment and admin costs.
Through open tenders, the government has appointed companies to provide collection points and service for collecting glass containers, arrange reuse and recycling, and provide the public with an incentive to return clean, used glass containers. There are three regional contracts for handling glass for recycling: Hong Kong Island (including the Islands District), New Territories and Kowloon. Hong Kong Glass Reborn Limited is the contractor for Kowloon while Baguio Waste Management & Recycling Limited is the contractor for the other two regions.
Note that as there is no return value given to the consumer, and waste charging is yet to be implemented, there is little incentive for consumers to recycle glass bottles. The government instituted the Glass Container Recycling Charter to encourage organisations to participate in glass recycling in Jan 2019.
The protests during the 2nd half of 2019 prompted the removal of glass recycling bins from the public which was a set-back for glass recycling as consumers and some businesses no longer had a convenient location to recycle their glass.
Slowly over the first half of 2020, the bins were returned.
PICTURED: Johnnie Walker bottle and glasses left ‘on the rocks’
Over 77,000 tonnes of glass bottles were sent to landfill daily in 2018, representing almost 2% of the total weight of MSW, which translates to 28 million tonnes per year. The amount of glass recycled was negligible at only 15,100 tonnes.
Planned PRS on Plastic Beverage Containers
Approximately 5.3 million plastic (polyethylene terephthalate – PET) beverage bottles went to landfill in 2018 – that’s 1.93 billion bottles annually. Although this only represents 1.2% of the weight of MSW in landfill, this form of packaging should be easy-to-collect for recycling: it’s easy to clean, easy to identify for consumers and recyclers, and recycled PET has a high value given the demand globally by companies to use recycled PET in their products. In October 2017 the government commissioned a feasibility study on how to implement a PRS on plastic bottles. Most countries around the world with Deposit Refund Schemes for plastic bottles, a type of PRS, have great return rates, with countries in Europe averaging 90%. In a typical DRS, the consumer pays a deposit upon purchase which will be refunded when the bottle is returned for recycling. The ‘producer’ pays for the administration and some of the logistics of this system.
During 2019 and 2020, a variety of government and voluntary pilot schemes have been initiated to gain experience and data on the collection of plastic beverage bottles. There are reverse vending machine (RVM) trials taking place across Hong Kong which allow the consumer to return their plastic beverage bottles (and some liquid cartons) to vending machines, providing the returnee with an incentive such as value on their Octopus or coupons for shopping. These machines will be only one method for collection of bottles, given their high cost, the public space they require and the huge volume of bottles available for collection.
The government will conduct a public consultation on a plastic bottle PRS in late 2020 or early 2021.
Drink Without Waste
Drink Without Waste is an initiative led by the Single-Use Beverage Packaging Working Group, a broad collation of stakeholders focused on reducing waste from beverage consumption. Established in September 2017, this unique group of stakeholders, including organisations representing producers, distributors, retail, waste management and NGOs is working together to solve the problem of waste created by beverage packaging. After commissioning a comprehensive study on how to effectively manage beverage packaging waste, a position paper was created, detailing the four main strategies to be focused on: reduce, redesign, recover and recycle. Whilst none of these strategies are new, the fact that these stakeholders are working together, looking at the bigger picture and taking all four aspects into consideration to achieve the overall goal of reduction of beverage containers to landfill is positive and exciting.
More than simply commissioning papers and writing position statements, the group is taking action to move forward with the goal of solving the problem of beverage container waste. In 2020, the group is working on: creating Design for Recycling Guidelines for beverage containers based on global standards yet appropriate for Hong Kong; initiating a pilot collection scheme for plastic bottles; trialling new collection bin styles and strategies; promoting the collection of plastic beverage bottles and liquid cartons and producing a second position paper on a plastic bottle PRS to help inform the government.
Did You Know?
Since the introduction of the PRS on plastic shopping bag charging in 2013, Plastic Free Seas has noticed a significant reduction in the number of plastic bags that were found washed up on beaches and in the sea.
Resources & Reports
PLASTIC SHOPPING BAG CHARGING
HONG KONG BLUEPRINT FOR SUSTAINABLE USE OF RESOURCES 2013-2022
DRINK WITHOUT WASTE POSITIONING STATEMENT