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Hong Kong to charge glass recycling levy

Fee aimed at ending wholesale dumping in landfills to have major impact on bars and restaurants

Thirsty Hongkongers may have to pay more for drinks sold in glass bottles after the imposition of a levy aimed at ending wholesale dumping of the ¬containers in landfills was given the legislative green light on Friday.

The move – that will have a significant impact on bars and restaurants across the city – targets ¬manufacturers and importers.

Lawmakers yesterday passed an amendment bill to start charging the levy from 2018. The amount has yet to be finalised, but the government has proposed charging HK$1 for every one-litre bottle. The money earned would be used to hire a contractor to collect and process glass bottles.

The majority of lawmakers supported the ¬move, with only five opposing it, including the Liberal Party’s Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who ¬represents the catering sector.

According to official statistics, the city threw away 204 tonnes of glass containers a day in 2014, ¬accounting for about 2 per cent of solid waste ¬produced daily.

Cheung said he supported protecting the ¬environment, but questioned the effectiveness of the levy in reducing waste and increasing the number of bottles being recycled.

“The government should think about giving tax rebates to caterers and retailers to encourage them to bring glass bottles back [for recycling],” he said.

Cheung warned that the additional cost due to the levy could trickle down to restaurants and bars.

The Liberal Party’s Vincent Fang Kang, who also voted against the proposal, said the levy alone would not solve the problem as there were not enough supporting services in place to deal with the waste.

“Perhaps the government could give incentives, for example in terms of land, tax or loans, to attract foreign and local investors to put money into the glass recycling industry,” he said.

Fang also accused the government of doing little to educate the public about recycling glass.

Lawmaker Wu Chi-wai of the Democratic Party said while he supported the levy, the government should also come up with initiatives to encourage ¬recycling at the community level.

The food and beverage industry is worried about the ¬impact on business.

“If the levy is too high, the costs could be passed on to restaurants and supermarkets, which could in turn increase prices for customers. This could affect business,” Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Federation of Restaurant and Related Trades, said.

“The HK$1 per one-litre bottle proposed earlier might not seem a lot for a bottle of wine, for example, but for a bottled drink that costs, say, HK$10, the levy would be 10 per cent the price of the drink.”

But Wong said a lower levy could also be ¬problematic. “If the revenue from the levy is not big enough to cover the costs of the recycling, this could lead to a possible future levy on restaurants and supermarkets,” he said.

Wong said his group would seek discussions with the government on details of the scheme.

A bar manager in Central said the levy would ¬likely affect her bar’s profit level.

“It could cost more for us to buy drinks [from ¬distributors] but we can’t charge the customers too much or they won’t come. So that means we will have to make less money,” she said.

Despite the prospect of higher prices for bottled drinks, bar customers did not seem to be worried.

One customer said possible price increases after the levy was enforced would not deter him.

“A small bottle of beer is already HKD$50-$60; how much more can they charge [with the levy]? The levy won’t stop me from heading to the bars to enjoy myself,” he said.

While various voluntary recycling schemes have been introduced over the years, there is no citywide, mandatory recycling scheme for glass bottles.

Official figures show only 1,500 tonnes of glass waste was recovered from 55,000 tonnes generated in 2011.

As of March this year, there were about 1,300 ¬recycling points in residential areas and another 580 in public areas across the city.

The government said it would expand the ¬recycling network in the future.

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