Reverse vending machines may reverse decline in local recycling industry

Have you wondered where the recyclables collected by recycling bins will go? Are they really recycled at the end of the day? In Hong Kong there are 2800 recycling bins and they collect 4 tonnes of disposals every day, out of which 1.5 tonnes are non-recyclables that’ll end up in landfills. But the 2.5 tonnes of recyclables may just share the same destiny as the local recycling industry is facing a serious decline.

In the past the collected recyclables were exported, especially to mainland China. For example in 2011, 98.5% of collected waste was exported to the mainland. However over the past years, the mainland has been tightening their waste import regulations. The prices of waste exported from Hong Kong have been dropping, causing a serious blow to the recycling industry. This year China further imposed a regulation banning the import of 24 types of solid waste, making it harder for local recyclers to survive.

The problem with the local recycling industry is that it is too dependent on waste export markets and that the recycling culture in Hong Kong is not mature enough. To improve local recycling, in 2007 some local catering enterprises launched a batch of reverse vending machines (RVMs) to facilitate recycling. RVMs are vending machines that collect used plastic bottles or other recyclables, and reward users with coupons. This encourages recycling and more importantly, it automatically processes and sorts recyclables. Countries like Norway, Finland, Germany, America, China, etc are adopting RVMs to their benefits. However unlike these places, the practice didn’t work well in Hong Kong because of its voluntary nature, insufficient reward initiatives and a lack of promotion.

If recycling with RVMs is encouraged or even made mandatory by the government, RVMs will work as well in Hong Kong as in other cities. This year a mandatory producer responsibility scheme on glass beverage containers will go into effect, which will enforce the “polluter pays” principle in treating and recycling glass beverage containers. The scheme can in fact be implemented on other recyclables like plastics, cans and so on to share the responsibility of recycling among producers, retailers, consumers, etc. RVMs can complement the scheme to ensure the quality of recyclables. This can help establish a self-sufficient local recycling eco-system and develop Hong Kong into a green smart city.


逆向自動售貨機能逆轉香港回收業困境? 

全港有2800個分類回收桶,平均每天收集4噸回收廢棄物,但當中有1.5噸是不可被回收的,要被送到堆填區,然而另外2.5噸回收物料可能亦難逃棄置堆填區的命運,因為本地的回收業正面對嚴峻的回收市場,收回的回收物料可能前無去路。

以往香港的回收物料會出口到外地,尤以中國內地市場為主,在2011年,本港出口到內地的回收物料就高達98.5%。然而,近年內地提高入口物料要求,各類回收物料價格驟跌,對本地回收業造成嚴重打擊。今年內地更進一步禁止二十四種洋垃圾進口,讓本地回收商更難經營。

從回收商面臨的困境可見,最大的問題在於香港回收業過份依賴內地市場,加上本港回收風氣亦不盛行。為了改善回收風氣,2007年幾所大型餐飲企業推出了一批逆向自動售貨機,以積分制鼓勵市民回收飲品膠樽。逆向自動售貨機 Reverse Vending Machines(RVMs),又稱智能回收機,能自動收集、分類膠樽及其他回收物品,市民投入膠樽後,售貨機會回贈現金、積分或禮品劵等。RVMs現時有多個國家採用,如挪威、芬蘭、德國、美國、中國等等,成效顯著。然而RVMs在香港卻不像在這些國家般成功,2007年的回收計劃就因自願性質、缺乏宣傳、獎勵不夠吸引等原因成效不大。

現時政府正擬議塑膠產品容器生產者責任計劃,強制性讓污染者負擔處理及回收廢棄物的責任,相信屆時RVMs能成為有效的輔助工具,不但方便市民回收廢棄物,同時提高物料的質素,幫助回收業建立一個自給自足的生態環境。