The Beijing government recently announced it will no longer allow the import of 24 types of solid waste for recycling purposes, including waste paper. This means recycling companies on the mainland have now started to refuse to accept waste paper and, as a result, the streets of Hong Kong are now piling up with cardboard boxes and waste paper. These are typically the most wanted items for waste collectors, who sell them to make a living. It is currently estimated that more than 20,000 tonnes of waste paper, which can’t be recycled locally, will now be sent to landfills instead.
Our city’s government is trying to negotiate a lift on the ban with the mainland – but who knows if that will be successful? This has been a small act by Beijing, but it has the potential to do a lot of damage to Hong Kong. We ought to use this issue to reflect on our local recycling industry – namely, that we don’t have much of one. The last waste paper recycling company the city had closed back in 2006. This was due to increasing operational costs and the strict regulations imposed by the government on the oil used in the company’s operation.
Hong Kong has been far too reliant on the mainland for recycling. In 2015 alone up to 95.6 per cent of all the city’s waste paper was recycled on the mainland. The recycling industry there is thriving because of the lower wages that can be paid to workers. The local government has been trying to revitalise recycling through the “Recycling Fund”, but efforts have seemed futile because the requirements for people to get subsidies from the fund are way too stringent. The rate of paper recycling in Hong Kong has actually dropped from 63 per cent in 2012 to 52 per cent in 2015.
Other developed cities in the world, like Vienna, Berlin, and Taipei, have at least a 60 per cent success rate on recycling. This figure goes to show they have more successful recycling industries and systems. In fact the recycling industry helps generate revenue for many European countries. The Hong Kong government might want to think about taking this opportunity to explore the benefits of developing our recycling industry. If there’s nothing else we can take from our current situation, we should take away a realisation that we need to bring back recycling. It might not be as profitable as recycling industries in Europe can be, but it would make us money. But in order for that to happen, the government needs to put more resources into financing the recycling industry. And finally, even if we want to continue exporting our waste, at the very least would it not be worth considering other countries to export to? We not look at other southeast Asian countries, where the wages of workers and operational costs are as low as they are in the mainland?