Hongkongers’ attitudes divided over plastic bottle recycling World Green Organisation supports increasing number of recycling bins and offering incentives to cultivate recycling habit

Launching territory-wide ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’
to educate and encourage the public to recycle

While there is an increasing demand to go plastic-free in Hong Kong, the World Green Organisation (WGO) has committed to further promote recycling. A recent survey commissioned by the WGO, which interviewed 800 people in Hong Kong, found that over 90% of respondents agreed that PET (polyethylene terephthalate) beverage bottles create a heavy burden on the environment. Yet, due to the inconvenient location and insufficient quantity of recycling bins, people in Hong Kong have polarised attitudes towards plastic bottle recycling.

In order to help cultivate the habit of recycling and educate the public on clean recycling, the ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’, organised by the WGO and supported by The Coca-Cola Foundation (CCF), aims to collect and recycle 200,000 PET1 beverage bottles from different brands through a total of 200 planned roadshow events all over Hong Kong.

According to the latest issue of the Hong Kong Solid Waste Monitoring report[1] from the Environmental Protection Department, an average of 10,733 metric tons of municipal solid waste was disposed every day at landfills in Hong Kong in 2017. Plastic waste was the third largest component of that municipal solid waste with an average of 2,124 metric tons per day, of which, 137 metric tons were PET. Assuming there are about 40,000 plastic bottles per metric ton, people in Hong Kong are disposing of 5.48 million plastic bottles at landfills every day – which is a significant amount, with a cumulative negative effect on our environment.

Although the amount of PET waste in 2017 was less than in 2016, which was 158 metric tons, the recycling rate of PET was far less than that of other recyclable materials. Taking 2017 as an example, the recycling rates for metals and electrical appliances and equipment, which have a higher recycling value, were 90% and 65% respectively. Paper, which has shown a declining recycling rate in recent years, also had a 46% recycling rate while plastic waste only had 13% in 2017.

Easy to Understand but Hard to Implement

In view of this, the WGO commissioned Consumer Search Group (CSG) to interview 800 Hong Kong people over the age of 18, on the street, in February this year. The respondents were invited to respond whether or not they agree plastic bottles constitute pollution and cause damage to the environment and score how they rated this. Of all respondents, 99.3% agreed, with 91.3% giving a score of 6 or above on a scale of 1 to 10, clearly showing that the public has a deep understanding of the environmental impact caused by plastic bottles.

Dr. William Yu, CEO of WGO, said,

Unfortunately, there are not a lot who are willing to put their words into action by recycling or reusing plastic bottles. The survey also showed that the public’s attitude towards plastic bottle recycling is very polarised. Only 43.8% of respondents reported that they recycled all the PET beverage bottles they consumed, while 40.8% of them said they did not recycle any plastic bottles at all. This reflects that the public has a clear sense of recycling yet they don’t have enough incentive to take the action.

Poor Locations and Insufficient Quantity of Recycling Bins

The survey also found that most of the respondents (76.1%) agreed that inconvenient locations and an insufficient quantity of recycling bins are the major reasons for them not to recycle plastic bottles. A second common reason was the sake of convenience and they just forgot about it (30.7%). Regarding the factors cited which would encourage them to put the used bottles into the recycling bins, the majority of respondents stated convenient location (77.5%) and increasing the number of recycling bins (4.1%). This clearly indicates that convenient locations and increasing the number of recycled bottle collection points can help increase the public’s intention to recycle[2].

The government data is also in line with the survey results. According to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the number of recycling bins located on the roadside in 18 districts decreased slightly from 1,991 in 2013 to 1,981 in 2017. So, rather than increasing, the total number of recycling bins decreased by 10 over the 5-year period[3]. While the quantity of recycling bins remained constant or even decreased in most districts, only Kowloon City and Wan Chai added 1 and 5 recycling bins respectively. Although the government plans to increase the number of recycling bins in public areas by 45% to 4,000 and reduce the number of garbage bins by 50% to 24,300, the current number of recycling bins only accounts for less than 17% of the number of garbage bins[4]. As well as increasing the number of collection points for recycled bottles, WGO hopes the government will also improve the location of collection points, including placing the recycling bins in prominent and high foot traffic areas. This can help remind people to consider sorting and recycling before disposing of the bottles as waste.

Rebate of HK$0.20 Could Encourage Recycling

In addition to the quantity of recycling bins, another recommendation the respondents said could encourage the intention of recycling was a monetary rebate (7.3%). Over 56.4% said that HK$0.20 is the minimum amount to encourage recycling while 13.8% of respondents would choose between HK$1 and HK$1.50. Less than 10% chose HK$0.30 – $0.50, HK$2 or HK$2 or above.

In fact, in many places in the world such as Norway, The Netherlands and Finland, the recycling rate for plastic containers has increased to over 90% since implementing a recycling deposit scheme. Germany even has a recycling rate of up to 98% while many other places have a recycling rate of up to 80%.

This reflects that offering even a small economic incentive, e.g. HK$0.20 per bottle, would be sufficient to encourage the public to establish a habit of plastic bottle recycling.

Roadshows to Help the Public Cultivate the Habit of Clean Recycling

As a result, WGO will organise the ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’ from 1 April to 30 November 2019[5],A series of PET recycling roadshows will be conducted in Yau Ma Tei, Kwai Tsing, Ma On Shan and Aberdeen, covering multiple primary and secondary schools, housing estates, shopping malls and community centres to collect used PET1 bottles and educate the public about clean recycling. Each bottle is equivalent to a HK$0.20 monetary rebate (the monetary rebate will be replaced by book vouchers in schools). The WGO is committed to taking this event to other districts in Hong Kong, and achieving a total of 200 waste PET beverage bottle collection events and collecting 200,000 beverage bottles from different brands in 2019.

The Business Sector, Academia and the Public Join Hands to Promote Clean Recycling and Environmental Protection

Ms. Page Guillot, General Manager and Vice President of Coca-Cola China Limited – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Mongolia, said,

We have been supporting different community organisations to promote beverage packaging recycling. This is a journey Coca-Cola Hong Kong has been on for a number of years, and we will need to embark on this next phase in collaboration with key stakeholders like WGO in order to continue to make aggressive progress. This year, we will be promoting clean recycling and helping consumers cultivate the habit of recycling in the community by supporting WGO’s ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’, and working toward the global goal set by the Coca-Cola Company in 2018 to create a World Without Waste. We are committed to working with partners and stakeholders to collect and recycle the equivalent of every package we sell, be it our packaging or others – and to create our packaging with at least 50% recycled material by 2030.

Ms. Wong Lai Fan, who is Principal of Hong Kong Baptist Convention Primary School and an enthusiastic supporter of this project, said,

As citizens of the Earth, protecting the environment is our duty. Also, as a teacher and a principal, I believe we must also educate our next generation on how to cherish the environment. In addition to educating our students on environmental protection, our school will organise a green festival to encourage students to practice green living, value the resources of the planet and develop the habit of protecting our precious resources. We also hope that they can influence their families and the community. We are very happy to participate in this meaningful programme.

The school will showcase the results of their green festival, the environmental protection game booths created by their students, and student performances, from 10:00am to 3:30pm, 30 March 2019. Admission is free and everyone is welcome to come along.

In addition to Hong Kong Baptist Convention Primary School, a total of 20 organisations have confirmed their participation in the ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’ to date. (Please refer to the Appendix for the list of organisations.) For more information about the programme, you may visit the WGO website at wgo.org.hk/reg/plastic-bottle-recycling/ or the WGO facebook fanpage. Organisations interested in joining the programme should please call 2391 9163 or email enquiry@thewgo.org to contact Ms. Choi.

World Green Organisation

The World Green Organisation (WGO) is an independent non-governmental organisation concerned with environmental conservation and environmentally related livelihood and economic affairs. We aim to improve the economy, the environment and people’s living through science-based public policies and comprehensive community projects, helping all sectors especially the grassroots to meet the challenges and implement the vision of sustainable development. For more information about our organisation, please view our website: http://www.thewgo.org/

Media Enquiry:

CEO: William Yu
Phone:2391 1693
Senior Communications Manager: Noel Wong
Phone:2991 9119

[1] https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/sites/default/files/msw2017tc.pdf
[2] Respondents could choose more than one answer to this question. So the total percentage is more than 100%.
[3] https://www.fehd.gov.hk/tc_chi/legco/2018-19/FHB(FE)308.pdf
[4] https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201702/10/P2017021000789.htm
[5] Please follow the Facebook fanpage of WGO for the latest information about ‘Recycle Together – Clean PET Bottle Reward Programme’.