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Publicly funded waster venture struggles


Publicly funded waster venture struggles

Plastic-recycling centre can’t hit its target despite subsidy, free site and machines – leaving private operator wondering what chance it has

Cheung Chi-fai 
Mar 26, 2012

Will government financial support offer a solution for loss-making recyclers? Not necessarily, if the performance of a charity supported by public funds to run a plastic-waste-processing centre at the Eco Park in Tuen Mun is anything to go by.

The Yan Oi Tong charity is receiving HK$10 million over three years to run its recycling service and also benefits from a 5,000 square metre site, handed to it free along with all the necessary equipment.

But last year it recycled just 1,090 tonnes of waste plastic – well below its target of 7,200 tonnes. It means each tonne of recycled plastic effectively cost the taxpayer HK$3,300, although precise details of its spending and subsidy arrangements have not been made public.

And that’s before the HK$21 million the Environmental Protection Department spent on infrastructure, plant and equipment for the centre and the HK$1.2 million annual rent it is forgoing.

Lee Hing-tak, who runs a private waste-plastic-recycling company at the Eco Park, said he struggled to see how a commercial plastic-recycling operation could sustain itself if a charity could not. “With all that support and funding, the charity is not even able to hit the target and break even. How can a commercial recycler like us survive?” he said.

A person familiar with the situation acknowledged the problems facing the charity but said its performance should not be measured only by the tonnage it recycled.

“One tonne more or less recycled has little impact on the overall operation. But it has a huge effect in demonstrating that locally generated waste can be handled locally. It can boost people’s confidence in recycling,” the person said.

Dr Chung Shan-shan, a waste management specialist from Baptist University, said plastic recycling on a commercial basis was undoubtedly a difficult line of business, but a subsidy might not be the most effective solution. “All we need are correct and effective policies, such as taxing overpackaging to minimise the waste at the source. A policy to divert waste to proper recycling channels might also help too,” she said.

The charity did not respond to media inquiries.

Another charity, St James’ Settlement, which is receiving HK$10 million to operate an electrical appliance recycling centre at the park, treated about 230 tonnes of waste last year, slightly more than the minimum required.

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