10 Cents? What a joke!

An article written by Hahn Chu (Green Earth)

Translated by Ecolusion

(April 02, 2021, Column) The government has come up with a plan to give people 10 cents for every plastic bottle they return in order to promote recycling. However, the public generally think that the amount is too low, the effect is limited, some Facebook users even leave a message "they have 50 cents out of a post, Hong Kong people back to the bottle to get 10 cents".

In Hong Kong, there is an imbalance between the rich and the poor, social security seems to be available or not, many grassroots do care about 10 cents; but for the general middle class or above, they may not bother to pick up a dime or a few cents dropped on the road; that is, unless they are very environmentally friendly, how many people would care about the 10 cents coins that even the market stalls refuse to accept?

Some people may think that it's a bit of a "toast but not a drink" to offer a favor that is too low. After all, raising the rebate amount to 50 cents or even a dollar will promote recycling, but the cost of beverage manufacturers will increase significantly.

I don't like the idea of manufacturers "cutting corners" either, so why not just adopt the internationally proven per-bottle system? Add the deposit to the sales price of the plastic disposable beverage and get it back when the bottle is returned? In this way, even if the deposit fee is set at a high level, it is only the consumer's loss if he or she does not return the bottle.

The "innovative idea" of a 10% rebate comes from the Producer Responsibility Scheme for Plastic Beverage Containers launched by the Environmental Protection Department in recent months. When the authorities consulted with environmental groups a while ago, they were repeatedly asked why the rebate program was adopted and how the amount was determined, and were questioned why they did not use the per-bottle system. Officials initially argued that the rebate was "more or less the same" as the per bottle system, but after reading the above explanation, everyone should understand that the two are very different. In the end, the officials said that the rebate measures were based on the "per bottle" system, and that they had made a basket of considerations.

If we have made reference to the per bottle system, we should know that the global average per bottle amount is close to HK$1, so how can we come up with a rebate plan that is only one tenth of the amount? In the mid-1970s, a bottle of Coke or Vitasoy cost three cents, while a bottle cost 20 cents, the latter being two-thirds of the price. At that time, I never heard any complaints from the residents about the high deposit, and most of them returned the bottles obediently; the per bottle system not only provided financial incentives to promote recycling, but also created a chance for customers to return to the store. In 1977, Coca-Cola ran a full-page ad advertising its new one-liter glass Coke product, which cost $2 and $1 per bottle, the latter being 50% of the list price.

In other words, it was once a social responsibility that businesses were aware of, and a daily habit of the public. Why is it that after almost 50 years, the sales price of beverages has doubled in line with inflation, and today the price of a bottle of Coke is about $9. How is it that the amount of refunded bottles has gone backwards in an absurd way? Some groups including those in the beverage industry have advocated a rebate amount as low as five cents. This is a way to encourage recycling, and it is called "rebate", which seems to be a good intention of the merchants, but in reality it is just a gesture. If this is the case, why don't we be honest and admit that the rebate is not a good deed at all, but a responsibility of all parties, including the manufacturers who make money from the sale of beverages but leave the plastic bottles to the society to pay for, the consumers who enjoy the convenience of plastic bottles, and the government who has been dragging its feet and not doing its best to implement real waste reduction by law and regulation?

In the face of the plastic bottle disaster, if the government and the beverage industry give up the more effective bottle-counting system only for administrative convenience and operational costs, and suppress the amount of bottle-counting or rebate, they are undoubtedly putting the cart before the horse, sacrificing environmental benefits, and only attracting the stigma of greenwashing for corporations.