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
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.
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 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.
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 the proposal for a new PRS on WEEE (“WPRS”) was generally supported by the community. In March 2015, the Government 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 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 will be 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 have been registered the EPD before distributing REE. Registered suppliers must also fulfill other statutory obligations, including the submission of returns to 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 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 a receipt 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 will commence 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 will be required for the import and export of abandoned REE; and abandoned REE will 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 (WEEE·PARK), which was developed to underpin the WPRS, has commenced full operation in March 2018. WEEE·PARK has adopted advanced technologies and equipment for treating WEEE and turning the waste 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. 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 costs, 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 conducted by EPD in 2013, the direction for introducing the PRS on glass beverage containers was affirmed. The Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Product Container) (Amendment) Bill 2015, which sets out a legislative framework for the implementation of the PRS, was introduced to LegCo in July 2015. After scrutiny, LegCo passed the enabling legislation in May 2016. EPD is currently undertaking the preparatory works for the implementation of the PRS on glass beverage containers. Amongst others, through open tenders, EPD appointed suitable contractors to undertake the glass container collection and treatment services for the catchment regions of Hong Kong Island (including Islands District), Kowloon and the New Territories respectively. The contracts for Hong Kong Island and the New Territories regions were commenced in November 2017 while that for the Kowloon region was also commenced in May 2018. Besides, we are also preparing the subsidiary legislation to set out the operation details for the implementation of the PRS for submission to LegCo for scrutiny.
PRS on Plastic Product Containers
Waste plastics constitute about 20% of our municipal solid waste disposal, amongst which about 10% are plastic containers. Given their non-degradable nature, once disposed of at the landfills, the plastics will remain there for years and put on a long-term environmental burden on the landfills. Besides, there is also high aspiration in the community for plastic container recycling through implementation of PRS. To this end, EPD commissioned a consultancy study in October 2017 on how to implement a PRS on suitable plastic containers, mainly those carrying beverages or personal care products.
Having reviewed the experience and practices in other jurisdictions and considered the local situation, the consultant has affirmed the feasibility to introduce a PRS on plastic beverage containers, and is of the view that we should take forward the PRS on plastic containers by phases, targeting first at plastic beverage containers which account for about 60% of plastic containers disposed of at landfills. These plastic beverage containers are of a higher recyclable value and are relatively easy to be cleansed for proper recycling. The consultant has also recommended that we should consider introducing similar arrangement to that of “deposit-refund system” implemented in other jurisdictions by providing a cash rebate as economic incentive to encourage public to return used plastic beverage containers for recycling, and to consider the application of Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) to enhance the recovery efficiency of plastic beverage containers, taking into account the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using such equipment and the space constraints of Hong Kong.
The consultant is seeking the views of relevant trade associations and stakeholders on the initial recommendations. After consolidating their views, the consultant will submit to EPD its detailed recommendations on the PRS on plastic beverage containers. EPD will continue with the remaining assessment and evaluation, and proceed with the public consultation on the recommended proposal. In parallel, EPD will implement a pilot scheme on the application of RVM to assess its effectiveness in collecting waste plastic beverage containers, so as to lay the groundwork for the future implementation of the PRS on plastic beverage containers.