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Straight to landfill? Conspiracy theories about Hong Kong’s recycling are a load of rubbish

Christine Loh

On July 29, Hong Kong Free Press carried a story referring to a video uploaded onto Facebook: “video of workers throwing glass bottles intended for recycling into rubbish bins”.
The video shows workers emptying glass bottles from small bins into bigger ones. The assumption behind the caption was the glass bottles collected from recycling bins were being transferred to bigger bins heading for the landfill.


This assumption was likely made because of a belief that there is no point to separate recyclables because they all end up in landfills in Hong Kong. After all, this is a belief held by a lot of people.

But the facts were quite different in this case.

The workers filmed had unloaded the collected glass bottles into bigger bins in order to optimise the carrying capacity of the collection vehicle. In other words, they were transferring the bottles from smaller to bigger bins to make the onward transport more efficient.

We have GPS records and written receipts showing that after consolidation of the glass bottles, the collection vehicle then went to Tuen Mun to deliver over two tonnes of recyclable glass bottles to the designated recycler, who uses waste glass for remanufacturing.

How do we know this? These are government-hired contractors.

Glass recycling is one of our priorities. Over the past two years, we have consulted and got public support to implement a mandatory producer responsibility scheme (PRS) for glass bottles; and we have now presented how the scheme should work to the Legislative Council. We have put legislation to the Legislative Council on 8 July 2015 and we look forward to its passage in the next legislative year.

At the same time, we have expanded the glass collection network from covering 13% of the population to 70%. If you want to find recycling bins near where you are, have you tried our Waste Less app?


We are also actively collaborating with non-governmental organisations, as well as with major mall operators with large numbers of eateries and restaurants to place recycling bins at the best locations so that more glass bottles can be collected.

While Hong Kong generates about 50,000 tonnes of waste glass beverage containers per year, we have the capacity to process most of this quantity locally into useful materials, such as eco-pavers (CTA: Tiostone, run by an incinerator promoting Professor from HK Poly U uses flyash mixed with glass in a cold process that does not kiln bake the pavers, hence they will leach into the ground) , construction materials and sand.

You may also ask what happens to other types of recyclables, such as paper and plastics, which together make up about 38% of Hong Kong’s total municipal solid waste of about 9,500 tonnes per day.

We estimate about 60% of Hong Kong waste paper are recovered for recycling (CTA: by 80 year old scavengers) , with most of the recyclable paper being exported for reprocessing. What still ends up in landfills include contaminated newsprint and tissue paper. On average, about 360 tonnes of tissue paper end up in landfills every day. It will help if everyone uses a handkerchief to wipe hands after washing instead of using paper (CTA: then carry the germs around with you all day, touch your face and shake hands with others, then take the handkerchief home for washing and use electricity to operate the machine.)

Plastic is a major problem. To reduce waste plastic ending up in landfills, Hong Kong has to organize waste plastic collection in such ways that help to increase its commercial value. Waste plastic that has been contaminated (e.g. plastic bottles still with drinks inside, plastic that has been mixed with other non-recyclable waste) will not be collected. The cost for sorting it all out once more is just too costly; hence they end up at landfills.


To enhance the quality of recyclables, we are running a new campaign to encourage clean recycling and help people to understand the importance of separating recyclables without contamination. (CTA: yes we know what we should have done a long time ago already was to mandate source separation of recyclable items, but we want to just burn everything instead) We have also just set-up a HK$1 billion Recycling Fund to help the local collection and recycling trade to improve their skills, organization and methods so that more recyclables can be collected, reused and recycled. An advisory committee has also been established to facilitate the operation of the newly set up fund.

To strengthen the effectiveness of our efforts in recycling, the Government has also revised its contracts with cleaning contractors to collect the recyclables at each recyclable collection points. The contractors are also required to sort out refuses mingled with the recyclables and deliver the recyclables to the designated recyclers on the same day. Moreover, the contractor is required to use transparent bags to facilitate public monitoring.

Everyone can help too. If you do see any questionable activities, please let us know (contact no: 2838 3111). We will check it out like we did with the video.

Hong Kong people as a whole need to change our habits if we are to transit from a wasteful society to one that is much more careful about the use of resources, as well as one that is committed to turn waste-to-resources.

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