‘Producer pays’ levies for recycling of waste must not be passed to the consumer

A producer responsibility policy based on the principle of “producer pays” has proved to be an effective waste management measure worldwide. In Hong Kong, waste electrical and electronic equipment, and glass beverage containers, will soon be regulated through such policy.
The regulation for electronic waste will take effect on August 1, and will require producers or sellers of eight types of regulated products, including air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and computers, to pay the government a recycling levy of between HK$15 and HK$165 for each of the items sold. The fees must be paid to the government every quarter.
From next month onwards, when consumers buy a regulated electrical or electronic appliance, retailers are required to provide free removal of their old appliance of the same type. Moreover, by the end of this year, landfills won’t accept the disposal of the regulated appliances.
The foremost public concern is whether retailers will shift their responsibility by passing on the recycling levy to consumers. If they do so, it would greatly defeat the “producer pays” principle of the regulation.
To monitor whether sellers have shifted their responsibility to consumers, the Consumer Council should keep track of the price change, if any, of the regulated appliances after the regulation takes effect, and advise the buying public on the prices.
Next on the list is the recycling of glass beverage containers. The government has proposed to charge importers a levy of HK$1 per one-litre bottle, and aims to put the regulation into effect by mid-2019.
If individual consumers are not charged a levy in the form of a deposit, the motivation to return used bottles will be weak. The public are also concerned that such a levy might be passed onto consumers by sellers.
The well-intended producer responsibility scheme for electronic waste and glass beverage containers should not become consumer responsibility. However, a deposit-and-refund scheme that requires consumers to pay a refundable deposit at the time of purchase has proven effective in encouraging the public to take action on waste reduction.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has said that the government consultant suggests using financial incentives to enhance the recovery of plastic beverage containers. I agree, as people who have paid a deposit are keen to get it back.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
23 July 2018 SCMP