Earlier this month, the government concluded its public consultation on “New Producer Responsibility Scheme on Glass Beverage Bottles”. While authorities have not released the results, it is certain that the environmental lobby dominated consultation will ensure “widespread support” of the initiative.
If the authorities proceed with a glass-bottled beverages recycling fee on importers and distributors, it seems clear that the proposed new fee will be passed onto the consuming public.
Does Green Biz generate any Black?
In recent years, development of a vibrant green industry has been one of the government’s priorities. Hong Kongers are known for our entrepreneurial spirit. If the green industry holds profitable business opportunities, there will be no shortage of private investments. The sad reality is that Hong Kong’s recycling industry is well known as a tough business with limited profitability. This is why the city’s tycoons spend billions to acquire a New Zealand based waste management business but not a penny on Hong Kong’s recycling industry.
The CE government’s own document acknowledged that the commercial value of glass bottles is low. According to data released by the Environmental Protection Department in 2012, export sale for non-ferrous metal is around $16,000 HKD per kilogram, compared to a mere $900 HKD per kilogram for glass. As glass recycling is a labour intensive business, low market pricing combined with an increasing minimum wage makes it a tough business.
Despite these facts, several social enterprises and community organizations supported by the publicly financed Environment and Conservation Fund, and other non-profit organizations, have been providing limited glass recycling services in popular bar districts around the city. Since it is proven that glass recycling is a non-viable industry, the big myth is how the government is going to “provide opportunities in green industry and create a green society”.
Even if the government managed to force the development of recycling collection centres, environmental villages, or even a “glass city”, in the end, we will only end up with piles of worthless environment waste funded by taxpayers that nobody wants.
Government documents indicate there are 270 existing glass recycling collection points at public and private housing estates around the city servicing over 880,000 people. It is unclear why the government is proposing another costly program. The government must realize that the new recycling fee will eventually be paid by hard working citizens.
Many glass beverage producers already have their own existing “deposit-and-return” system. Consumers pay a deposit while purchasing their beverage which is refundable when they return their empties. Producers will then recycle these empties without any government interventions. These non-interventionist, self-regulated programs seems to be a much better approach than the government’s heavy handed, red tape driven “Producer Responsibility Scheme”.
Lastly, the government has proposed that only “glass beverage” bottles should be regulated, but failed to clearly define “glass beverage”. The proposal also exempted over 35% of existing consumable glass products. In other words, producers can easily avoid the new fee by “reclassifying” their products.
Alternately producers may shift their packaging mix away from glass completely, choosing plastic, cans and Tetrapak. This would only add to the plastic and metal content of Hong Kong’s landfill.
Since 1997, successive SAR governments have been keen to make their marks on the public policy. While their motive is understandable, it should not be done on the backs of hard working citizens. Under the proposed glass bottle policy, everyone has to pay more. There have been enough burdens added onto Hong Kongers over the years. The MPF and plastic bag fees are just two clear examples.
The government may have plans to reduce waste consumption. However, this effort will not change the patterns of consumption and will only add to the burden of hard-working Hong Kong consumers.
Siu Bing* is a typical Hong Konger in his thirties, working enthusiastically for his family. As a GRIP (Government Relations Industry Professional) with years of exposure to government, political parties, the media and public sectors, he beleives that the social problems being disclosed are just the tip of the iceberg.
* A pseudonym.