Could Australia’s cash for plastic collection scheme be a model for Hong Kong?

Linda Lew

Leading drinks companies have proposed a bottle deposit scheme for Hong Kong which aims to help reduce drinks waste by up to 90 per cent by offering financial incentives to the public.

Customers would be encouraged to return containers to the producer with a cash reimbursement, under the proposal from the Single-Use Beverage Packaging Working Group, a coalition including firms such as A S Watson and Swire Coca-Cola HK, as well as recycling groups and NGOs.

Proposing a target to reduce 70 to 90 per cent of waste drinks packaging through the deposit scheme and other measures by 2025, the coalition urged the government to adopt a similar model for all plastic containers.

“We want to minimise the costs, maximise the convenience, and minimise the impact on choice,” said Paul Zimmerman, the chairman of the working group and a Southern district councillor.

(Left to right) Jeff Maguire, from Coca-Cola Amatil, Edwin Lau, from The Green Earth and Paul Zimmerman, of Drink Without Waste, are part of the push to introduce a bottle deposit scheme to Hong Kong to slash drink-related waste. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The next step for the working group is to formulate a plastic collection plan, including how much to pay for each container returned and how many collection points to set up.

They are looking to Australia’s experience for a solution.

“You can see all the different systems from around the world, what works better than others. Queensland in Australia seems to be quite good,” Zimmerman said.

Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department is also working on a plastic container producer responsibility scheme, which aims to reduce waste through a “polluter pays” principle.

A scheme targeting glass containers is being rolled out, where producers and importers are charged HK$1 (US$0.13) for every one-litre bottle.

There are shortcomings associated with this system, which is essentially a tax on producers, Zimmerman said.

An over-spilling recycling bin in Wan Chai could be a relic of the past with a proposed scheme looking at allowing customers to return plastic bottles via reverse vending machines. Photo: Edmond So

Littering of bottles may not be reduced as the public does not have an incentive to recycle, the working group chairman added.

It was not clear how the levy of HK$1 for the glass bottles was set and if this would be enough to cover the cost of processing and recycling glass bottles, Zimmerman added.

Over 80 per cent of all beverage containers end up as waste in Hong Kong landfill sites, according to a report by the working group.

This figure is almost reversed in South Australia, where a container deposit scheme has been running since 1977. The return rate for drinks packaging there is 78 per cent, statistics from the state’s government show.

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Queensland, South Australia and three other states in the country pays AUS$0.10 (HK$0.5) for every bottle returned.

“It’s all about encouraging the public to bring containers back,” said Jeff Maguire, the group head of container deposit scheme implementation at Coca-Cola Amatil in Australia.

The executive was invited by the working group to speak about Australia's plastic collection to government and industry bodies in Hong Kong this week.

The scheme in Australia is legislated by state laws, with infrastructure such as collection points built by beverage companies including Coca-Cola Amatil and the Lion Group, which bear the cost of setting up and running the scheme.

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The government is progressing a producer responsibility scheme for plastic beverage containers, but the Environmental Protection Department did not specify if a levy will be imposed on manufacturers similar to that for glass bottles.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "We will also consider ... providing a cash rebate as an economic incentive to encourage the public to return used plastic beverage containers for recycling.”

The scheme could include reverse vending machines that allow people to return the bottles, the spokeswoman added.

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