While everyone is worried about plastic and the way it pollutes our oceans, Hong Kong faces another problem – paper. As a city we create a lot of waste paper every day.
The rubbish ends up in landfills or local recycling firms, which process it to be sent out of the city. There is no papermaking factory in Hong Kong at the moment, although we are likely to have one in late 2023.
Almost all the waste paper that the city exports goes to the mainland for recycling. Last July, the mainland decided it was not going to take all sorts of rubbish from other places. It doesn’t mind taking recyclable stuff, but it banned items that cannot be recycled.
At the time, many mainland recycling plants were suddenly unable to get permission to import “foreign” waste, and so the flow of waste paper from Hong Kong slowed dramatically.
Then the city’s recycling firms went on strike, asking the Hong Kong government to strike a deal with the mainland so that the city’s waste paper can be considered as not “foreign” because Hong Kong is part of China. The strike caused a lot of hardship to Hong Kong’s cardboard grannies, who scavenge paper and cardboard to supplement their income.
Earlier this year, a major paper factory on the mainland announced that it will no longer pay HK$600 per tonne of waste paper, starting this month.
Analysts think this has happened because of the US-China trade war. As China is exporting less, it needs less packaging and so needs to cut back on boxes and paper.
Also, everyone wants to get rid of paper, so they don’t always want to be paid for it. Why would companies have to buy their waste paper, when they can get it for free from European countries who will pay the transport costs to get rid of it?
With such low prices, the cardboard grannies might find it is not worth collecting cardboard from the streets, and so Hong Kong could soon be swamped by unwanted paper products.
Recyclers want the government to open temporary storage places where the cardboard can be kept until the problem is solved.