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 relevant stakeholders including 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
Plastic Shopping Bag Charging
The Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme (the 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 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. There was a marked decrease in the disposal of PSBs originated from the regulated retail categories. The public consultation in 2011 revealed that the community generally supported expanding the scope of the Scheme. Following the scrutiny and passage of the relevant legislative amendment in the LegCo, the Scheme was fully implemented in the entire retail sector since 1 April 2015. Upon the Government’s invitation, the Council for Sustainable Development (SDC) conducted a public engagement in 2021 on control of single-use plastics. The SDC submitted 24 recommendations in April 2022, including 12 recommendations to enhance the Scheme. The Government accepted SDC’s recommendations and reviewed the operation of the Scheme, recommending to introduce the enhanced Scheme. The subsidiary legislation for enhancing the Scheme was passed by the Legislative Council. The enhanced Scheme is implemented on 31 December 2022. Details of the current phase of the Scheme can be found here.
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 were exported in the past for reuse or recovery of valuable materials. In recent years, 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 also declines over time due to economic development. Hence, it is not sustainable to rely heavily on the export of WEEE and a mechanism for the proper treatment and recycling of WEEE is needed in Hong Kong. Besides, WEEE contains harmful materials which, if not properly treated or disposed of, are 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.
Over the years, the EPD has accumulated practical experiences through various voluntary collection or recycling programmes which also raise the public awareness on the proper treatment of WEEE. The result of the public consultation conducted in 2010 shows that the proposal for a new PRS on WEEE (WPRS) was generally supported by the community. The enabling legislation for the WPRS, namely the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Electrical Equipment and Electronic Equipment) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 was passed by LegCo in March 2016. Subsequently in July 2017, the subsidiary legislation titled the Product Eco-responsibility (Regulated Electrical Equipment) Regulation (Cap. 603B) was passed by LegCo, to provide for certain operational details of the WPRS.
The WPRS has been fully implemented in 2018. Starting from 1 August 2018, suppliers of air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers, printers, scanners and monitors (collectively referred to as regulated electrical equipment or REE) must be registered with the EPD before distributing REE. Registered suppliers must also fulfill other statutory obligations, including the submission of returns to the EPD and payment of recycling levies, as well as providing recycling labels when distributing REE. At the same time, a seller must have a removal service plan endorsed by the EPD for selling REE. When a seller sells REE and if requested by the consumer, the seller should arrange for the consumer a free removal service to dispose of the same class of equipment abandoned by the consumer in accordance with the endorsed plan. The seller must also provide recycling labels to consumers purchasing REE, and receipts containing the prescribed wording on the recycling levies.
The disposal licensing control, import and export permit control and landfill disposal ban in respect of abandoned REE have commenced on 31 December 2018. Any person who is engaged in the storage, treatment, reprocessing or recycling of abandoned REE must obtain a waste disposal licence; a permit is required for the import and export of abandoned REE; and abandoned REE is no longer be accepted for disposal at the landfills and other designated waste disposal facilities (e.g. refuse transfer stations).
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Treatment and Recycling Facility (WEEEPARK), which was developed to underpin the WPRS, has been in full operation since March 2018. WEEEPARK has adopted advanced technologies and equipment for treating WEEE and turning the wastes into reusable materials such as plastics and metals through a series of detoxification, dismantling and recycling processes.
For details of the WPRS, please visit weee.gov.hk.
PRS on Glass Beverage Containers
Glass containers are widely used in our everyday life, and waste glass containers are often recycled and reused elsewhere in the world. Due to the low recycling value of waste glass containers and high collection and logistics costs, majority of the waste glass containers generated in Hong Kong are disposed of at landfills rather than being reused or recycled. The introduction of a PRS on glass beverage containers (GPRS) enables the concerned stakeholders to take their share of eco-responsibility for proper collection and treatment of waste glass beverage containers, turning them into resources for better utilisation and alleviating the pressure on landfills. This is also conducive to the development of circular economy locally.
The LegCo enacted in June 2016 the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Product Container) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 providing a statutory regulatory framework for the GPRS. Since then, the EPD has been making arrangements to put in place the GPRS progressively, including the appointment of Glass Management Contractors to provide regional collection and treatment services for waste glass containers across the territory, and the drafting of the relevant subsidiary legislation which provides for the operational details of the GPRS. The EPD also launched the Glass Container Recycling Charter in January 2019 inviting the community to join hands in promoting glass container recycling paving way for the full implementation of the GPRS.
The concerned subsidiary legislation, namely the Product Eco-responsibility (Regulated Articles) Regulation (Cap. 603C), was submitted to the LegCo for scrutiny in June 2022 and was approved by the LegCo in November 2022. The GPRS will be implemented in phases in the first half of 2023.
Starting from 1 May 2023, any person who manufactures or imports glass-bottled beverages in Hong Kong and distributes the beverages locally must first register with the EPD as a registered supplier. A registered supplier must fulfil its statutory obligations, including submission of returns, keeping records relating to the returns, payment of container recycling levies, submission of annual audit reports, etc. Starting from the same day, any person who stores, treats, reprocesses or recycles glass container waste must obtain a waste disposal licence, and any person who imports into or exports from Hong Kong such waste must obtain the relevant import/export permit.
For details of the GPRS, please visit the link below:
Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) on Glass Beverage Containers
PRS on Plastic Beverage Containers
Waste plastics constitute about 20% of our municipal solid waste disposal. EPD commissioned a feasibility study by a consultant in October 2017 on how to implement a PRS on suitable plastic product containers. Having considered the recommendations of the consultant, the Government has decided to press ahead with the introduction of a new PRS on plastic beverage containers which account for about 5% of the waste plastics disposed of at landfills in Hong Kong, underpinned by a rebate arrangement to encourage the public to return used plastic beverage containers for recycling. We will also consider the application of Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs), as appropriate, in Hong Kong to enhance the operation efficiency of the new PRS.
EPD had run a technical trial since June 2019 by installing 10 RVMs at 7 Recycling Stations. By the end of the trial in November 2020, a total of more than 1.2 million plastic beverage containers were collected. The RVM Pilot Scheme was subsequently rolled out for trial run in January 2021 to test out the practical application of RVMs in Hong Kong. For details of the pilot scheme, please click here.
Meanwhile, we also launched the Public Consultation on PRS on Plastic Beverage Containers (PPRS) on 22 February 2021 to solicit views from the public on the proposal. The 3-month consultation ended on 21 May 2021. Having consolidated and taken account of the views collected, we will map out the regulatory framework and way forward for the PPRS.