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LCQ22: Recovery of waste through the three-coloured waste separation bins

     Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for the Environment, Ms Christine Loh, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     Since 1998, the Government has placed three-colour waste separation bins (three-colour bins) in various districts throughout the territory and encouraged the public to separate paper, plastics and metals from other waste for disposal into the recycling bins designated for collecting such waste.  However, the media revealed in 2013 that the contractors responsible for collecting waste from three-colour bins dumped the recovered waste at refuse depots and other litter bins.  Some recyclers of waste plastics have recently indicated that they have already stopped buying waste plastics due to their declining export prices.  They therefore reckon that quite a lot of waste plastics have been sent to landfills for disposal.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of sets of three-colour bins which were in use throughout the territory at the beginning of each year from 2013 to this year;

(2) of (i) the respective quantities of waste paper, waste plastics and waste metals recovered, (ii) among such waste, the quantities and percentages of those collected through three-colour bins, and (iii) the respective quantities of these three types of waste sent to landfills for disposal, in each year from 2012 to the first half of this year (set out in Annex 1);

 (3) of the expenditure incurred for the management of three-colour bins and the fees payable to the contractors responsible for collecting waste from those bins in each of the past five years; whether it has regularly reviewed and monitored the work performance of such contractors; if it has, whether it has uncovered any malpractices; if it has not reviewed and monitored, of the reasons for that;

(4) whether it has regularly reviewed the effectiveness of waste recovery through the provision of three-colour bins; if it has, of the details;

(5) of the expenditure incurred and the channels used for promoting among the public the use of three-colour bins for disposal of waste in each year from 2013 to the first half of this year (set out in Annex 2);

(6) of the expenditure incurred and the channels used in each of the past five years for promoting among the public the message of using less disposable cutlery and avoiding buying bottled drinks (set out in a table of the same format as Annex 2);

(7) of the respective quantities of paper, plastics and metal materials used for the packaging of beverages consumed by members of the public in each of the past five years; whether it has formulated policies to encourage beverage producers to use less of such materials and more of environmentally friendly materials; if it has, of the details; and

(8) whether it has maintained regular contact with the recycling industry to gain an understanding of the operation of the industry and the difficulties encountered by the industry; if it has, of the details; whether it has formulated policies to facilitate the development of the recycling industry; if it has; of the details; if not, how the authorities address the problem of ever increasing waste loads in Hong Kong?



     The Government launched the Waste Reduction Framework Plan in 1998.  Provision of three-colour waste separation bins (three-colour WSB) is one of the measures to reduce waste and increase recovery quantity under the Plan.  It also aroused the public awareness of waste separation and recycling.  Since then, relevant departments including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) have been providing WSB at various public places in Hong Kong.  Meanwhile, the Environmental Campaign Committee has distributed three-colour WSB to housing estates and schools under various promotion schemes to enhance education and recovery promotion.

     As a continuation of the above promotion schemes, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) launched the territory-wide Programme on Source Separation of Domestic Waste (SSDW) in 2005.  The objective of the Programme is to provide additional waste separation facilities on each building floor and in other areas of housing estates to facilitate source separation of waste by residents and broaden the types of recyclables to be recovered.  In 2007, the EPD extended the Programme to cover commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings (including all non-residential buildings, such as educational institutions and non-profit-making organisations, i.e. tertiary institutions, medical institutions and community facilities, etc.).  Since its implementation, over 2 000 housing estates (including all 185 public housing estates) have participated in the Programme, covering more than 80 per cent of our population.  Over 930 C&I buildings have also participated in the Programme.  In addition, recycling activities among the public are not limited to the use of WSB.  For example, some residents or cleaners will sell recyclables directly to recyclers or carry out recovery through other means such as bartering.

     Moreover, the EPD encourages public participation in waste reduction and source separation for recycling through various publicity and education programmes.  

     The EPD's statistics show that there has been no significant increase in the disposal of waste plastics at landfills in recent years.  The EPD will continue to monitor and follow up the situation to avoid the disposal of large quantities of recyclable waste plastics.  We have learnt from the industry that there is still a certain demand for clean and sorted recyclables, particularly waste plastics, in the local market.  Therefore, through publicity and public education activities, we will continue to urge the public to do a good job in waste separation at source and not to contaminate recyclables and mix them with waste.  This will help enhance the value and recovery of recyclables.

     My responses to various parts of the question are as follows:

(1) and (2) The Government has proactively encouraged public participation in waste reduction at source, waste reuse and recovery.  This is an important initiative in "Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022".

     C&I sectors generate a large amount of recyclables such as leftover bits and pieces during the production process.  These materials are usually of single type and clean, thus the recovery value is relatively high.  Many recyclers have already made efficient recycling arrangements with producers concerned.

     Moreover, the Government makes effort to promote waste separation knowledge and build up recycling habits of the public and facilitate them to participate in recycling by placing WSB and organising relevant promotion activities.  In 2013 and 2014, the Government placed about 15 800 sets of WSB (relevant statistics for 2015 are still being collected and compiled) throughout the territory at locations such as pavements, public transport interchanges, refuse collection points, leisure and cultural facilities, country parks, schools, public/private housing estates, shopping centres, government quarters/offices and hospitals/clinics, etc.  We have also launched a free mobile application, "WASTE LESS", that locates recyclable collection points at public places all over Hong Kong as well as providing the latest news and useful knowledge about waste treatment, reduction and recovery to facilitate public participation.  

     The Government has also encouraged housing estates/residential buildings to join the Programme on SSDW by placing WSB in the ground floor lobby and on each floor to facilitate source separation by residents for recovery.  The number of WSB to be placed is at the discretion of the housing estate/residential building concerned and the EPD does not have the statistics.  The Programme has enhanced public awareness of waste reduction and recycling as reflected in its rising participation rate since 2005.  

     Statistics on the main types of waste recovered and disposed of at landfills from C&I and domestic (mainly including residential buildings, public organisations and public places) over the past few years are shown at Annex 3.

(3) The FEHD has hired a private contractor through outsourcing to provide recyclables collection service.  The contractor is required to collect waste paper, metal and plastic from 2 850 sets of WSBs.  These recycling bins are placed at locations such as pavements, refuse collection points, public markets, bus terminals and venues managed by schools, the Water Supplies Department and the EPD.  The expenditures incurred by the FEHD on the contracts of collecting recyclables from WSB over the past few years are shown at Annex 4.

     According to the service contract, contractors are not allowed to dispose of the collected recyclables at landfills or other waste treatment facilities.  For better monitoring, the service contract signed between the FEHD and the contractor that took effect in August 2014 included additional tender terms as shown at Annex 5.

     The FEHD has set up a comprehensive contract management mechanism under which the FEHD staff conducts regular and surprise checks to monitor the performance of the contractor.  If any breach of contract provisions is found, the FEHD will take punitive actions accordingly, including issuing verbal warning, written warning and default notices.  The monthly amount payable to the contractors who have received default notices will be deducted in the light of the breaches.  In the past several years, the FEHD has not found any serious non-compliance from the contractor.

     For recycling bins placed at locations such as country parks, leisure and cultural facilities, public housing estates, government quarters and government office buildings, the maintenance and management are provided and paid for by the AFCD, LCSD, Housing Department (HD) and property management companies of the government buildings respectively.  The costs incurred are included in the refuse disposal and cleansing management contracts as a whole and no breakdown of such items is available.

(4) In 2013, the EPD appointed the Centre for Environmental Policy and Resource Management of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to conduct a survey.  Residents of housing estates were interviewed at random by telephone to evaluate their awareness and participation in the SSW Programme.  The findings of the survey showed that the interviewees' awareness of the Programme was high, with more than 90 per cent of which claimed to have knowledge of the provision of three-colour WSB in the housing estates/residential buildings they lived and over 70 per cent of which claimed to have participated in the SSW as well.  We will further enhance liaison and co-operation with the property management companies and stakeholders to improve the SSW Programme.  We will also publicise and promote waste reduction and recovery at the community level.  Moreover, we will disseminate the message of clean recycling through the announcements of public interests and the free mobile application, "WASTE LESS", etc. to facilitate the implementation of the overall waste management strategy of the Government.

(5) and (6) The EPD has been making great efforts to implement the programmes on Source Separation of Waste (SSW) and encourage community participation in waste reduction, separation, recovery and recycling.  The publicity and promotion activities are not limited to the dissemination of messages such as using less disposable cutleries and buying less bottled drinks.  These are part of the waste reduction and recycling work of the EPD.  We do not have breakdown of the expenditure incurred and the channels used in individual programmes.

     Meanwhile, through the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF), we actively support non-profit making organisations to organise educational activities and encourage recycling in the community.  Over the past three years, the funds approved by the ECF for non-profit making organisations on waste reduction and recovery as well as educational activities are shown at Annex 6.

(7) The Government submitted the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Product Container) (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the Legislative Council in July 2015 for the implementation of a mandatory producer responsibility scheme (PRS) on product containers which initially include glass beverage containers.  The implementation of PRS helps address properly the environmental impact caused by waste product containers.  The EPD will conduct a review taking into account the experience accumulated and consider extending the scope of regulation to other types of containers in future.  The EPD does not have the statistics for respective quantities of paper, plastics and metal materials used for the packaging of beverages.

(8) The EPD has maintained close contact and communication with the local recycling industry and monitored closely the market situation of recyclables.  A consultant was commissioned to carry out project-specific research for the recycling of local plastics.  We understand that the local recycling industry is facing various challenges, including the need for a stable supply of large quantity of clean and separated recyclables so as to increase the cost-effectiveness of the procedures, the need to improve the technology for high value-added processes, the need to control operating costs including those on labour and insurance, and the demand for suitable sites for operation, etc.  To help the local recycling sector meet the said challenges, the Steering Committee to Promote the Sustainable Development of the Recycling Industry led by the Chief Secretary for Administration has been co-ordinating departments concerned to follow up and implement various policies and measures proactively to support the recycling industry with a view to increasing the overall waste recovery rates of Hong Kong.  The policies and measures concerned are shown at Annex 7.

     The Government will continue to review the effectiveness of these measures and take follow-up actions and enhancement measures in a timely manner.  This is to ensure that the measures meet the needs of the local recycling industry and help promote the green circular economy.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Issued at HKT 19:17


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