hong kong cloudy
Hong Kong is ramping up its capacity to recycle plastic and process food scrap via anaerobic digestion.
Photo by Brian Taylor.

Hong Kong seeks public-private means to boost recycling rate

The city’s government is funding increased collection, while a three-company partnership prepares to open an rPET and rHDPE facility.

September 24, 2020

The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has two prominent projects ready to come online designed to boost the city’s recycling and landfill diversion rate in 2021 and beyond. Presenters at the G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality 2020 Conference, which was held online for members of Hong Kong’s travel and leisure sector, said food scraps and plastic are the targeted materials.

Shirley Yuen, of the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (EPD), said the city currently has a 30 percent recycling rate, with metals and old corrugated containers (OCC) making up a large percentage of what is currently recycled.

Two investments underway are intended to address waste fractions currently headed to landfills: food scraps (31 percent of Hong Kong’s waste) and plastic bottles.

A food scrap processing facility in the Siu Ho Wan section of Hong Kong has been built to handle industrial and commercial food waste, converting some of it into compost and extracting energy via anaerobic digestion (AD) technology.

The facility is a timely addition, as Hong Kong’s remaining landfill capacity is set to be shut down soon, leaving only incineration as a disposal. High-moisture-content food waste is typically a poor match with incineration.

Yuen said the Hong Kong EPD also has been active in placing more recycling bins throughout the city, including a program using some 1,100 bins to collect glass bottles and jars from the hospitality sector and a program to ensure collection of and payment for old corrugated containers (OCC) at 22 different depots in Hong Kong.

On the plastics front, a facility being built in the Tuen Mun region of Hong Kong will accept polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles so they can be converted into recycled PET (rPET) flakes and rHDPE pellets.

That plant will be operated by a corporate consortium consisting of waste and recycling collection firm Baguio, the Coca-Cola bottling division of Swire Corp. and Germany-based recycling company the ALBA Group. It will operate under the name New Life Plastics.

Some 5 million PET bottles are discarded every day in Hong Kong, according to Nigel Mattravers of New Life Plastics. “We’re not going to downcycle these materials, but make rPET that will be food-grade that can be used to make food [or beverage] containers,” he remarked.

The New Life facility will have 35,000 metric tons per year of capacity, “or about 100 tons per day,” said Mattravers. The resulting rPET flakes and rHDPE pellets will be offered on the export market, as Hong Kong has no bottle plants of its own. He expects about a 70/30 ratio in rPET to rHDPE output.

David Bishop, the founder of Hong Kong-based Soap Cycling, said the projects can provide better outcomes, but messages to reduce, reuse and recycle could use more reinforcement in the city. “I don’t think there is any evidence that people are more conscientious about their sustainability or footprint.  You can’t recycle your way out of this problem.”

Yuen of Hong Kong’s EPD said financial costs attached to disposal in places like South Korea and Taipei, Taiwan, had benefitted the volume of recycling versus disposal in those localities. She said the Hong Kong government “might have to” consider a similar surcharge. Such a system was proposed in 2017 but withdrawn by 2019.

In the meantime, Mattravers says the partners running New Life Plastics will try to offer a transparent system that can assure Hong Kong residents that if they place a PET or HDPE bottle in a recycling bin, it will in fact be recycled. “We want to stop the material from going into the ocean,” he stated.