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Golden opportunity going to waste

SCMP – 1 April 2012

Clear the Air says: yet another Edward Tang Ministerial failure (what happened to ministerial accountability for the success or failure of portfolio policies ?). Guess how much local recyclers handle per day ?

Yes 1% of recycling is done locally and 99% is exported to the Mainland or elsewhere for recycling thus contributing to local air pollution during the transportation.

“Through the existing waste recovery system, about 3.60 million tonnes of municipal solid waste were recovered in Hong Kong in 2010. Of that total, 1% was recycled locally and 99% was exported to the Mainland and other countries for recycling, with an export earning of HK$8.6 billion for Hong Kong”

An industrial park setting for the recycling of waste material was certainly a good idea when authorities laid it out eight years ago and, now that the Eco Park is developed, it remains a worthy part of Hong Kong’s garbage strategy. Yet the five commercial tenants that have set up under generous terms and conditions are falling far short of targets, and there are suggestions that subsidies may be necessary for their survival. Even one of the two publicly funded charities is struggling, raising concern that if organisations that are already receiving hefty support cannot make ends meet, there is little hope for those that do not. But the operators are not necessarily doing anything wrong; it is the government’s shortcomings in not putting firm policies in place that is the problem.

The HK$319 million park in Tuen Mun was established to form the backbone of a homegrown recycling industry. Recyclers based there were envisaged as making new products and raw materials from usable waste, rather than it being sent elsewhere for reprocessing. The seeds of the scheme were sown by the companies, but the amount of rubbish they are handling and the number of staff being employed have been disappointingly low. One tenant, the first to set up, has already stopped production and is considering winding up operations.

Given that the firms pay low rent and take advantage of government-funded infrastructure, it may seem difficult to sympathise with their plight. But good ideas need more than just on-site support, and that is where the failings lie. Hong Kong does not have a household recycling waste policy, depriving recyclers of potential vast quantities of paper, wood, plastic, metal and electrical appliances. A three-month public consultation, which ends on April 10, on introducing charges for waste disposal may hasten implementation of a wide-ranging recycling strategy. But even then, a lack of resolve to put in place legislation means that years could pass before there is a shift.

A recycling industry’s success depends on its being able to readily obtain raw material. Waste has to be sorted, preferably at source, and worthy items identified. An efficient collection network has to be in place to supply the recycling operations. With 44 per cent – 6,100 tonnes a day – of the garbage being dumped into our landfills coming from households, great potential is literally being thrown away.

More than half of municipal solid waste is being recycled. That is not near enough for a city that is fast running out of room for dumping its trash. We should have a dedicated system of sorting and collecting recyclable material to reduce what we throw away rather than putting it mostly in the hands of cleaners and scavengers. That way, the Eco Park, while a small part of our overall waste strategy, would be a shining light of our efforts rather than a burden and embarrassment

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