Plastic-free and go green
26 August 2018
The ever-increasing amount of plastic waste is a pressing problem that needs to be addressed. In the past three years, an average of over 2 000 tonnes of waste plastics were disposed of at landfills every day, constituting about 20% of the total municipal solid waste generated in Hong Kong. Of the plastics discarded, one-tenth were bottles and another one-tenth were disposable tableware.
The handling of plastic waste presents two major challenges. First, owing to its low density, wide variety and bulk volume, the costs of collection, sorting, storage and transportation of waste plastics are high. Second, the price of raw plastic materials remains consistently low. As a result, the recycling of waste plastics is not effective.
Following the Mainland’s ban on import of household plastic waste that took effect in January 2018, the long established operation mode practised in the local recycling industry (i.e. collecting, baling and exporting) can no longer sustain.
To show our commitment to recycling waste plastics and boost public confidence in our overall recycling and waste reduction measures, the Government is going to test out a free service in three districts under a two-year Pilot Scheme on Collection and Recycling of Waste Plastics . With the tendering exercise scheduled for the end of the year (2018), the pilot scheme is expected to be gradually rolled out in 2019.
The collection service mainly covers public and private housing estates, schools, public institutions, and the Community Recycling Centres and Community Green Stations under the management of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). The EPD will hire service providers under service contracts to collect waste plastics direct from the above-mentioned premises for further treatment, such as sorting, shredding, cleaning and melting, to produce recycled raw materials or products for export or supply to the local market to ensure proper handling of the collected waste plastics.
In fact, the commonly used disposable plastic/polyfoam tableware accounts for about 10% of the waste plastics discarded in the territory. For example, in 2016, among the approximately 2 000 tonnes of waste plastics sent to landfills every day, about 150 tonnes were plastic tableware and about 40 tonnes were polyfoam tableware. As most of them are non-degradable or degrade very slowly, we can imagine that once entering the marine environment, they will stay around for a long time and pose a continuous threat to marine organisms.
Therefore, the most fundamental solution is to eliminate plastics at source. As a supporter of a plastic-free lifestyle, I often remind myself, my family and colleagues to use less disposable plastic tableware and, of course, bring our own bags when we go shopping. Also, at parties or festivities, try to resist the tempting convenience of disposables. Although it seems straightforward to serve nibbles for everyone to enjoy on such an occasion, the large volume of disposable tableware used over just an hour or so may take decades to decompose. The one-off tableware is short-lived, but its impact on the environment is enduring and far-reaching.
The Government is pushing ahead with waste reduction through a multi-pronged approach. The introduction of a producer responsibility system to promote the recovery and recycling of plastic beverage bottles is one of the many measures. Meanwhile, a study on the regulation of disposable plastic tableware in different places will commence in this legislative year to help Hong Kong find a suitable option to go plastic-free.
We have been encouraging food premises to serve dine-in customers with reusable tableware, avoid using polyfoam containers for takeaways and welcome customers to bring their own food containers. A “Plastic Free Beach, Tableware First” campaign is launched by the EPD this summer. So far 51 restaurants and refreshment kiosks in the vicinity of beaches have joined in to help foster a plastic-free culture by refraining from using or giving out plastic straws and disposable plastic tableware.
To help people cultivate the habit of bringing their own reusable water bottles as a way to reduce waste at source, the Government has put in place a ban on the sale of plastic bottled water measuring one litre or less through automatic vending machines at government venues. The ban applies to contracts, lease/tenancy agreements and permissions involving such vending machines for which tenders were invited or permissions were granted on or after 20 February this year.
The plastic-free awareness of our society and the general public has noticeably increased in recent years. More and more people are putting the concept into practice in their daily lives, like using water flasks instead of buying bottled water when going hiking, saying “No straw, please!” when ordering cold drinks, and bringing their own bags when shopping. In the business sector, more restaurants are offering discounts to customers who bring their own cutlery. Some hotels provide shower gel in environment-friendly refillable pump bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles. More exhibition venues are installed with water dispensers for visitors. Different quarters of society are making concerted efforts to protect the environment.
All in all, reduction at source is the most effective solution to the problem of plastic waste, and support of the community at large is of paramount importance. We can all cut back on plastics and one-use items. Together, let’s act now and reduce waste to live a green lifestyle.