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. 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 (WEEE·PARK), which was developed to underpin the WPRS, has been in full operation since March 2018. WEEE·PARK 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.
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 recycling value of waste glass containers and high logistics costs, in the past, most of the waste glass containers generated in Hong Kong were 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 the EPD in 2013, the direction for introducing the PRS on glass beverage containers was affirmed. The amendment bill, which sets out a statutory regulatory framework for the implementation of the PRS, was introduced to LegCo in July 2015. After scrutiny, LegCo passed the enabling legislation, namely, the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Product Container) (Amendment) Ordinance 2016, in May 2016. The EPD has been implementing the PRS on glass beverage containers progressively and, through open tenders, has appointed Glass Management Contractors to undertake the glass container collection and treatment services for the 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 commenced in November 2017 while that for the Kowloon region also commenced in May 2018. Besides, we are preparing the necessary subsidiary legislation to provide the operational details for the implementation of the PRS for submission to LegCo for scrutiny with a view to implementing the scheme as soon as practicable.
For details of the Glass Management Contractors, please click here.
The EPD launched the Glass Container Recycling Charter in January 2019 inviting the community to join hand in promoting glass container recycling paving way for the full implementation of the PRS on glass beverage containers.
PRS on Plastic Beverage Containers
Waste plastics constitute about 20% of our municipal solid waste disposal, amongst which about 10% are plastic containers. Plastics are difficult to degrade in the environment, once disposed of at the landfills, they will remain there for years putting 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, the 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, we have decided to press ahead first with the introduction of a PRS for plastic beverage containers which account for about 60% of the overall waste plastic containers disposed of in Hong Kong. These plastic beverage containers are of a higher recyclable value and are relatively easy to be cleansed for proper recycling. We will also consider providing an economic incentive to encourage the public to return used plastic beverage containers for recycling, and to explore the application of Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) to enhance the recovery efficiency of waste plastic beverage containers.
The EPD is preparing to launch a pilot scheme on the application of RVMs to examine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using RVMs in Hong Kong where space is a constraint, and to ascertain the appropriate incentive and its level. We plan to install 60 RVMs at different locations primarily at public places or government facilities with higher foot traffic. It is expected that the pilot scheme will be launched in the 2nd half of 2020.
Besides, our consultant has engaged relevant stakeholders on their initial recommendations regarding the study and will submit their detailed proposal to the Government after consolidating relevant information. Meanwhile, we have been maintaining close liaison with stakeholders on their views towards the future regulatory regime and related issues. After taking into account the consultant’s recommendation and the views of stakeholders, we will map out the way forward and consult the public thereafter.