Asia Recycling Waste Management

Hong Kong, Plastic and Solving the Plastic Waste Problem

Hong Kong, it's relationship to plastic and some insight on how to solve the plastic waste problem.

Interesting facts about Hong Kong and Plastics

  • 2100 tonnes of plastics are buried daily in landfills.
  • China has a ban on imported recyclable materials.
  • Hong Kong recycling policy only accepts code number 1 and 2 plastics.
  • Less than 15 % of plastic waste is recycled in Hong Kong; the global average is 9%.
  • Worldwide value of plastic packaging is approx 130 billion $

Bioplastics doesn’t seem to be the cure-all solution

It’s already difficult enough for the citizens of Hong Kong to differentiate between #1 and #2 plastics; so having to separate bioplastics from conventional plastics would be mission impossible. Bioplastics in the sea is as devastating than conventional plastics.

What is the solution?

We need a different approach: plastics should be designed taking the end-of-life into consideration. Following points should be considered:

  • Plant-based PLA has a similar density to PET, making it difficult to separate them.
  • Black food trays used by supermarkets and restaurants makes it hard to detect them in traditional optical sorting machines, as the commonly-used carbon black pigments absorb infra-red light.
  • Small plastic pieces such as straws, tear-offs, and wrappers, often get lost during collection and sorting. They’re too small to be filtered by machines and too costly to be sorted manually.
  • Multilayer flexible packaging cannot be recycled because each layer is different and has to be separated.
  • Detectable chemical markers could be used to identify the various plastic grades and would make automated sorting easier.
  • Packaging materials designed using a single polymer or compatible polymers can be recycled by existing machinery.

The burden of managing plastic’s afterlife should be placed on producers, who benefit the most from the production and consumption of plastic packaging.  In Japan and Taiwan, producers either pay to use the local recycling infrastructure or establish their own collection routes. Telling people to recycle more and use less plastic is not enough. Big problems require big solutions. People around the globe are demanding more responsible use of plastic. It is time for industries and governments to take action.

Closing Remark

Plastic waste problem should be solved by governments, industry and consumers. Consumer behaviour and pubic opinion are shifting and industry is waiting for government to take decisions and actions. Governments are lacking behind. China or Hong Kong are not moving in the right direction. Inspirations may come from Scandinavia or Germany and the US should show us how we solve a world problem efficiently. What about Belgium? The first decision of the current Belgian/ Flemish Minister of Environment was to cut down a forest to build a parking, and we quote: “a tree has always had the sole purpose of being cut down”. Lets start by appointing competent politicians.

This articles was inspired from an article written by Friends of the Earth (HK). Go to the article

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