Better glass bottle recovery in Hong Kong
Business Development Lead Fiona Donnelly updates us on the plans for better glass recycling in Hong Kong.
As expected, in early 2017 the Hong Kong Government released the tenders to appoint glass management contractors (GMCs).
The ask? To improve the recovery rate of glass containers and ensure they are used in a sustainable way.
The Territory is being divided into three areas – Hong Kong and outlying islands, Kowloon and New Territories – and three tenders have been released, one for each area. For a five-year period, the winning GMCs will be tasked with taking over existing voluntary glass container recycling programmes, growing the network of bins and collections and taking the glass collected for re-use.
The GMCs are under contractual pressure to achieve strict Annual Recovery Targets, which when achieved is intended to see Hong Kong recycle a total of 50,000 tonnes of glass per year, more than five times the latest recorded recovery tonnage of glass, in 2015.
The GMCs will need to ensure complete continuity of service for existing bins while quickly identifying and getting approval for the optimal new bin locations where increased tonnage of used glass containers is likely to arise. This is likely to involve a balancing act between needs of an area (the tender includes channels for people to have a ready way to make requests for more bins) and the GMCs wanting to target large glass container volume clusters and manage an efficient network of collection routes.
‘The devil is in the detail’ is a widely-used term, but on this occasion highly justified. The tender documents are technical and detailed, and quite a labyrinth of hard-waste and soft-behavioural, and new and existing elements. A couple of quirky points did however surface for this reader:
- The Government is requiring GMC’s to crush the collected glass bottles to a certain specification, so has already potentially limited what sustainable purpose the recovered glass can be put towards. Is this a sound strategic decision or a missed opportunity? Only time will tell.
- ‘Collected product’ ie whole or broken decontaminated glass containers, may be exported out of the Territory for recycling; historically Hong Kong’s glass that is recycled, is usually recycled in the Territory. Again, a red flag is raised – does the energy required to export the glass to a sustainable purpose make this a net negative alternative? It would be timely to evaluate all alternatives that could work in Hong Kong: there could be a sustainable use that is a means to diversify the economy and create jobs as well as avoid the environmental downside of shipping the glass offshore.
- While the Amendment Bill was passed in 2016 to introduce the levy on glass containers, the exact amount of the levy still remains unknown as the Government has said it will be determined by the cost of the GMC’s. It will be interesting to see if the maths stack up and the figure that has been bandied around town – that the levy will be around HKD1 per litre – holds true.
It is likely that the GMCs contracts will be awarded in Q3 2017, and services will start after a preparatory period of up to 6 months. It is hoped that the glass bottle levy that is being charged and remitted to the Government to finance the GMCs will be collected with effect from 1 January 2018. So, if things go to plan for all the regulations and approvals that must take place, that must be a significant, target date for the GMC contracts too.
With Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) charging likely to be introduced in Hong Kong by 2H 2019 at the earliest (according to the Environment Secretary in a presentation in early March 2017), the GMCs will have a powerful lever to incentivise better treatment of glass containers.
Educating, training, offering incentives, relationship management and stakeholder engagement are a large part of the GMC’s delivery under the contract. But if planetary concerns, Hong Kong’s filling landfills and consumer conscience don’t inspire better waste separation behaviour, then a hit to the wallet may be the very motivator that’s required to make a step change in used glass bottle habits.
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