Hong Kong’s war on plastics poised to get four times stronger

With more plastic bottles dumped every day, a new strategy developed by the ‘Drink Without Waste’ initiative will tackle the problem on four fronts.
Over 1.7 billion beverage containers were thrown away last year in Hong Kong. This is a waste of resources and harmful to the environment. The Single-Use Beverage Packaging Working Group, consisting of leading beverage producers, environmental groups and others, believes that by implementing bolder steps, the dire situation can be improved.
Pilot schemes launched by some producers a few years ago brought no improvement. The daily disposal of plastic bottles increased from 60 tonnes to 158 tonnes between 2006 and 2016. The disposal of liquid cartons amounted to 83 tonnes a day in 2016.
Some might think that, as long as this waste is buried in landfills, it won’t harm us or the environment. However, these containers are also found scattered along nature trails and beaches, and are a significant contributor to marine refuse. Plastic containers and straws slowly disintegrate into micro-plastics which enter the food chain and ultimately create risks to human health.
Green groups continuously campaign for the reduction of single-use plastic, including plastic bottled water, liquid cartons and disposable cutlery, aiming to put pressure on producers and the government to address the plastic pollution crisis.
Recognising the serious environmental impacts, the group branded its initiative “Drink Without Waste” and commissioned a study to look into global solutions that fit Hong Kong. Based on the findings, the group earlier this month announced four holistic strategies and actions, from reduction to recycling.
The first step is to reduce single-use packaging by installing beverage dispensers for public to conveniently refill their own water bottles conveniently. To encourage more public participation, “bring your own bottle” campaigns will be launched.
Next, we must redesign packaging to make it eco-friendly and easier to recycle. The group will come up with criteria that the government could eventually turn into regulation.
Third, the focus will be on recovering single-use packaging by implementing a cash-on-return scheme. Monetary incentives to return plastic bottles and liquid cartons are likely to boost recovery rates.
Fourth, Hong Kong must build state-of-the-art recycling facilities locally for processing the used packaging. Exporting recyclables abroad is an unsustainable option. The city needs to ensure facilities are built to turn recovered packaging into raw material for reuse.
Announcing these strategies is just the first step in the journey of improving the city’s environment via regulatory and business-led measures. We will all need to contribute our efforts towards reducing the disposable waste suffocating the environment.
Edwin Lau
Executive Director of The Green Earth
15 December 2018 SCMP