HK recycling industry needs upgrading

Updated: 2017-09-15 07:21

(HK Edition)

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"One man's trash is another man's treasure" may no longer be true with regard to those involved in collecting waste paper in Hong Kong. So far this involves not much more than collection points for discarded cardboard and other paper products, which are collected mainly by poor elderly women to supplement their meager existences.

Much as the practice has often been lamented for being unjust, these collectors are actually Hong Kong's unsung heroes. They are making quite a contribution by ensuring our streets are not littered with waste paper and cardboard. But now the situation is changing as the Chinese mainland authorities have imposed new restrictions on importing unprocessed raw waste paper and other solid waste. Because of that, collection points in Hong Kong will stop collecting waste paper for a period of time starting today (Friday).

The government has been rightly urging the industry to take advantage of the situation to upgrade their operations with the help of the Recycling Fund. But there is concern about the industry's ability to adjust in time, considering that the import restrictions will take effect at the end of this year.

The Environmental Protection Department and the Marine Department have set aside 16 berths in the Public Cargo Working Area exclusively for bidding by paper recyclers, so they can sort, process and prepare waste paper for shipment before export. There was also a lot of it at EcoPark in Tuen Mun, which has recently been made available for tender by recyclers involved in waste recycling and recovery operations.

However, our long-term strategy in minimizing paper waste should lie with building paper-recycling factories in Hong Kong. This could ultimately mean we may not have to export such waste. It could also lead to a big reduction in transport costs and the need for storage space for unprocessed waste paper.

A side issue, but a very important one, is the near-term impact on our mostly poor elderly collectors now that their service would be temporarily suspended, if not halted for good. Let us hope that those officials whose portfolio covers welfare for the elderly would in their wisdom, perhaps in collaboration with some NGOs catering for elderly services, devise a stop-gap measure to tide the collectors over the immediate economic hardship. This is an extraordinary situation which calls for an extraordinary solution. Capable and efficient officials won't insist on doing things by the book. They will always act flexibly to achieve the desired result. Let's see what we can do to dispose of our waste paper in an environmentally friendly manner, while keeping our streets uncluttered and our elderly people who used to do that taken care of.

(HK Edition 09/15/2017 page12)