LCQ21: Handling of styrofoam waste
It is learnt that due to the epidemic, a substantial amount of waste styrofoam boxes have been piled up on the streets of Hong Kong as there is no one to clear them away, causing street obstruction and hygiene problems. Regarding the handling of styrofoam waste, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the amount of styrofoam waste handled by the authorities since 2019, with a breakdown by handling method (e.g. local recycling, export, and transporting to landfills);
(2) whether the authorities took measures in the past five years to promote local recycling of styrofoam waste; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; of the long-term plans (especially those on promoting local recycling) to handle styrofoam waste in Hong Kong;
(3) whether the authorities know if the market has grasped the technique to expedite the recycling of styrofoam waste; if such technique exists in the market, of the details, and whether the authorities have liaised with the relevant organisations to expeditiously resolve the problem of waste styrofoam boxes piling up on the streets; and
(4) given that styrofoam waste will seriously affect the ecological environment, whether the authorities have discussed co-operation arrangements with the various cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, so as to reduce the pollution caused by styrofoam waste to the soil and water bodies in the area?
The consolidated reply to the Hon Kwok's question is as follows:
(1) and (3) According to the reports on Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong compiled by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), 4 035 700 tonnes of waste were disposed of at landfills in 2019, and styrofoam waste accounted for about 0.8 per cent or a total of about 32 600 tonnes (i.e. about 90 tonnes per day), among which some 14 600 tonnes (45 per cent) were styrofoam tableware (i.e. about 40 tonnes per day), with the rest being other styrofoam products such as packaging materials. Drawing reference to the practices of other economies, the EPD has simplified waste classification since 2020 by grouping waste types of similar natures to enhance the precision of estimation. As only statistics on the overall amount of waste plastics disposed of at landfills have been compiled, a breakdown of the statistics on styrofoam waste is not available.
Regarding the styrofoam boxes used for supplying vegetables and fruits to Hong Kong, in the past, they were mainly returned to the Mainland for reuse and resources circulation rather than being disposed of at landfills. The trade estimates that there are currently some 120 000 such styrofoam boxes entering Hong Kong every day, amounting to an average of about 48 tonnes per day.
Styrofoam is lightweight but bulky in volume. Given that a large amount of styrofoam recovered and processed will only produce small amount of raw plastics, the logistics and recycling costs are high. Coupled with the fact that waste styrofoam may be either contaminated or mixed with impurities, the recycling efficiency of styrofoam is thus comparatively low in general. There is no large-scale commercial operation on styrofoam recycling in Hong Kong, and so the EPD does not have any statistics on local recycling or export of styrofoam.
Currently, the local recycling of styrofoam adopts different technologies, which mainly include hot-melting, cold compaction and dissolving with chemical solutions. In general, styrofoam waste is recycled into plastic pellets as the final product. In response to the recent surge of disposal of styrofoam boxes, the EPD has liaised with a number of local recyclers and collaborated with them in supporting and enhancing their capacity of recycling styrofoam boxes. The overall recycling capacity of styrofoam boxes will thus be significantly increased by several folds, from less than one tonne per day in the past to around seven tonnes per day. The EPD will continue to actively liaise with different local recyclers to increase when it is cost effective, our relevant local recycling capacity.
(2) The Government has all along encouraged the reduction of use of styrofoam at source. With various publicity and education efforts, the EPD has been striving to encourage the public and different sectors to reduce the use of single-use plastic items, especially styrofoam products, and promote the use of more environment-friendly substitutes. To this end, the Government conducted a public consultation on the proposal of a phased Scheme on Regulation of Disposable Plastic Tableware (the proposed Scheme) from July to September 2021 and invited the Council for Sustainable Development to conduct a public engagement on the control of single-use plastics from September to December in the same year. Having regard to the imminent problems arising from disposable plastic tableware and the overall positive feedback from the community on the proposed Scheme, the EPD is actively considering advancing the implementation of the first phase of regulation before 2025, the year originally suggested under the proposed Scheme. The Government plans to introduce the relevant amendment bill to the Legislative Council within this year.
Moreover, given the positive feedback from the community on controlling single-use styrofoam items, the EPD is actively considering the implementation of administrative and legislative measures, with a view to reducing the disposal of disposable plastic tableware at source as soon as possible, thereby easing the burden on the environment. Besides, the Government is pressing ahead with the preparations on implementing the Municipal Solid Waste Charging Scheme, under which financial incentives are provided to further encourage the public as well as the commercial and industrial (C&I) sectors to reduce waste at source by using less plastic products and materials, including those made of styrofoam.
On promoting local recycling, the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) has provided funding to support a styrofoam recycling project since 2015-16 to try out the recycling of styrofoam. The project covers not only collection of styrofoam from the C&I sectors and educational institutions, but also collaboration with various community groups and certain ECF-funded Community Recycling Centres to set up collection points across the territory for the public to recycle styrofoam. As at mid-April 2022, the total quantity of styrofoam recovered under the project was approximately 400 tonnes (i.e. less than an average of 0.2 tonnes per day). Besides, the Standard Projects under the Enterprise Support Programme of the Recycling Fund allow recyclers to apply for subsidies to procure different recycling equipment such as hot-melting machines and cold compactors for processing styrofoam, as well as air filtering equipment, etc. Recently, the Recycling Fund has approved a new recycling project on styrofoam boxes to process them by cold compaction on site at various sources of waste styrofoam boxes, such as markets and shopping malls. The volume of the waste styrofoam boxes will then be significantly reduced before being delivered to recycling sites for recycling.
To enhance the plastics recovery, the EPD has commenced progressively the pilot scheme on waste plastics collection and recycling in three districts since 2020, to collect non-C&I waste plastics for proper recycling. As at April 2022, about 3 700 tonnes of non-C&I waste plastics were collected under the pilot scheme, including around 54 tonnes of styrofoam (around 1.5 per cent). The pilot scheme has been extended to nine districts progressively since March 2022, covering over half of the population in Hong Kong.
(4) Styrofoam cannot be decomposed readily and will affect the marine ecosystem once it enters the marine environment accidentally. The EPD has been monitoring the marine environment, and unmanned aircraft systems are used for regular surveillance of our shorelines, including those of outlying islands and remote coastal sites, etc. So far, no recent increase in styrofoam refuse at sea has been observed.
There are currently not many plastics factories in Hong Kong and their local production of plastics products is not high. The Mainland has also put in place more stringent control on the import of waste plastics from other parts of the world. Therefore, the Government has put forward various policies in recent years to facilitate the recycling of local waste plastics into raw materials. These secondary raw materials, upon shipment to the Mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), can be reused as raw plastics, which will in turn support the GBA in promoting a circular economy of plastics and hence the realisation of resources circulation.
Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:30
Issued at HKT 15:30