Producer responsibility scheme (PRS) is a key policy tool in the waste management strategy in Hong Kong. Enshrining the principle of “polluter pays” and the element of “eco-responsibility”, the PRS concept requires manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers to share the responsibility for the collection, recycling, treatment and disposal of end-of-life products with a view to avoiding and reducing the environmental impacts caused by such products at the post-consumer stage.
Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance
Riding on broad public support, the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance (Cap. 603) (PERO) was enacted in July 2008 after scrutiny by the Legislative Council (LegCo). The PERO is a piece of “umbrella” legislation which provides the shared core elements of all PRSs and the fundamental regulatory requirements in respect of individual types of product, with operational details to be set out in the Ordinance and its subsidiary legislation.
Mandatory Producer Responsibility Scheme
The Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags
The Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags (PSB Levy Scheme) is the first PRS introduced under the PERO. It aims to reduce the excessive use of plastic shopping bags (PSBs) through a direct economic disincentive imposed on consumers as a mandatory charge. The first phase of the PSB Levy Scheme was implemented between 7 July 2009 and 31 March 2015, covering some 3,000 retail outlets which are mostly large supermarkets, convenience stores and medicare and cosmetics stores. Upon implementation of the first phase, the amount of PSBs disposed of at landfills by the regulated sectors has dropped significantly from some 660 million in 2009 to some 120 million in 2013.
Despite the success in reducing PSBs disposal at landfills by the regulated sectors, the disposal figures were on the rise for retail categories other than the regulated sectors. As a result, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) consulted the public in 2011 and on the whole, the community was supportive of full implementation of the PSB Levy Scheme to cover all retail outlets. Legislative proposals were tabled to the LegCo in 2013, and after scrutiny, LegCo passed the Product Eco-responsibility (Amendment) Ordinance 2014 in March 2014 such that the PSB Levy Scheme was fully implemented to cover all retail outlets with effect from 1 April 2015. The Product Eco-responsibility (Plastic Shopping Bags) Regulation (Cap. 603A) sets out the implementation details of the scheme. More information on the full implementation can be found here.
Mandatory PRS on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
About 70,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment ("WEEE") are generated in Hong Kong annually, most of which are exported to other places for reuse or recovery of valuable materials. In recent years, however, there is a growing trend to tighten the trading control over WEEE in the international community, whilst the demand for second-hand products in markets outside Hong Kong will also decline over time with economic development. Hence, the existing practice of placing heavy reliance on export of WEEE is not sustainable and a mechanism for proper treatment and recycling of WEEE will need to be developed in Hong Kong. Besides, WEEE contains harmful materials which, if not properly treated or disposed of, will be hazardous to the environment and human health. It is necessary for Hong Kong to properly manage the environmental challenges arising from WEEE by implementing a mandatory PRS, in line with the practices of neighbouring regions.
Over the years, EPD have accumulated practical experiences through various voluntary collection or recycling programmes which also raised the public awareness of proper treatment of WEEE. The results of the public consultation conducted in 2010 showed that a new PRS for WEEE (“WPRS”) was generally supported by the community. In March 2015, we introduced the legislative proposal for the regulatory framework for the WPRS into LegCo and after scrutiny, LegCo passed the enabling legislation, namely the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Electrical Equipment and Electronic Equipment) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 (“Amendment Ordinance”) in March 2016. Subsequently in July 2017, the Product Eco-responsibility (Regulated Electrical Equipment) Regulation was passed by LegCo, to provide for certain operational details of the WPRS regarding suppliers and sellers of REE. For details, please refer to L.N. 142 of 2017 and L.N. 143 of 2017 of the Government Gazette.
Under the WPRS, suppliers of regulated electrical equipment (“REE”) are required to register as registered suppliers and pay a recycling levy for REE distributed in Hong Kong, while sellers of REE are required to arrange free removal service for consumers on the old equipment they dispose of. We plan to commence the relevant legislative provisions in the third quarter of 2018. In this regard, to facilitate sellers of REE to provide the statutory removal service as required under the WPRS to be implemented, EPD and the trade jointly launched the Removal Service Trial Scheme (Trial Scheme). Details of the Trial Scheme and the list of participating sellers are available here.
At the same time, any person who is engaged in the storage, treatment, reprocessing and recycling of certain regulated e-waste must obtain a waste disposal licence. Besides, a permit will be required for the import and export of such regulated e-waste. Such licensing and permit control are planned to be commenced in December 2018 and details are available here.
EPD has also obtained funding support from the Finance Committee of LegCo in February 2015 for the development of a WEEE Treatment and Recycling Facility (“WEEE · PARK”) in EcoPark at Tuen Mun, with a capacity of handling 30,000 tonnes of WEEE per year to provide collection and proper treatment of regulated e-waste. The facility will make use of relevant technologies in the detoxification, dismantling and recycling processes to turn waste into different kinds of reusable materials such as plastic and metals. Construction works have officially commenced in January 2016 and is near completion, and the facility will commence full operation shortly.
Glass containers are widely used in our everyday life, and waste glass containers are often recycled and reused elsewhere in the world. There are also applications which turn waste glass containers into building materials, concrete and paving applications, in place of river sand and other natural resources. Yet, due to the low residual commercial value of waste glass containers, high logistics cost and the limited number of local recovery outlets, at present, most of the waste glass containers generated in Hong Kong are disposed of at landfills rather than being reused or recycled. To this end, a mandatory PRS will align statutory and administrative measures to create a circular economy, providing practicable solutions in source separation, collection logistics, proper treatment and recovery outlets for the waste glass materials.
On the basis of the positive response from the public consultation in 2013, EPD has developed the necessary legislative proposals for the mandatory PRS on glass beverage containers. The Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Product Container) (Amendment) Bill 2015, which proposes a legislative framework for the implementation of the mandatory PRS on glass beverage containers, was introduced to LegCo in July 2015. After scrutiny, LegCo passed the enabling legislation in May 2016. EPD is carrying out other preparatory works for the implementation of the PRS, including drafting the necessary subsidiary legislation, preparation for the open tender for glass management contractors, and sustaining our support in glass container recycling, with a view to implementing the scheme as soon as practicable.