An article by the Green Earth
Translated by Ecolusion
(Newsletter, 13 March 2021) The Environmental Protection Department issued the public consultation documents for regulating manufacturers of plastic beverage containers, and suggested a ten-cent rebate for every plastic bottle returned. The Green Earth pointed out, during the latest advisory meeting for environmental organizations, that many representatives are still questioning the effectiveness of the ten-cent rebate rate being too low. The Green Earth also mentioned that “The government abandoning the globally accepted bottle deposit refund system, and going for the rebate system, is only to convenience itself in administration, but sacrifices the initial aim of reducing plastic waste.”
Senior Project Officer at The Green Earth Mr. Edmond Lau states that the local recycle rate of PET beverage containers in 2019 is less than 0.5%. In other words, for every 100 plastic bottles, not even one is recycled. A ten cents rebate for each plastic bottle returned may be able to attract the homeless or low-income households, but not the majority of society in mid to upper class. The rebate does not act as an incentive for most people, and will not contribute to increasing the recycling rate of Hong Kong.
The Green Earth also questions whether the options of rebate in the public consultation documents are all too low (ten cents, twenty cents or thirty cents). Moreover, there was a lack of justification of those options, both from an economical and scientific standpoint. The Green Earth also urges the public to fill in the public consultation questionnaire, and voice out their preference of the deposit refund system over the rebate system, and to set the minimum deposit price as fifty cents. With a deposit-return system, it is projected that the recycle rate of Hong Kong could skyrocket to an internationally accepted level of 70% or more.
In the previous advisory meeting for environmental organizations, The Green Earth tried to get an explanation from the government for the choice of using the rebate system and not the deposit refund system, and which country’s system they were trying to emulate. All these questions were unanswered by the government. They were hesitant when pressured to give an answer, at first saying that the two systems were similar, then changing their stance on the spot and admitting that the two systems have their differences. The government claims that their proposed system was formulated based on the deposit refund system, and they have put into consideration the successes of other countries’ implementation of the system. In addition, the government has yet to justify their decision of the ten-cent rebate, and this has made the public skeptical about the effectiveness of the system.
Mr. Edmond Lau also reinforced the idea that “deposit” and “rebate” are two totally different concepts of incentive, deposit being an extra fee consumers pay upon purchase of the plastic bottle, and the fee will be returned when the bottle is recycled at the recycling point. Even with a higher deposit rate, it will only increase the incentive for recycling, and if the bottles are recycled, it will not negatively affect the consumer’s expenses. On the other hand, rebate is similar to corporates offering monetary reward, but this reward system reduces the consumer’s responsibility to recycle plastic bottles, thus making it ineffective in increasing recycling rates.
The Green Earth has been investigating the different systems implemented worldwide, including those in Germany, Denmark, the United States (New York) and Australia (New South Wales), and have discovered that the deposit rate ranges from 0.3 HKD to 3.14 HKD, with the average rate being 0.93 HKD. Most countries have a clear recycling target, and the average recycling rate of these countries are all above 70%.
A recycling target is the cornerstone in determining the effectiveness of the proposed deposit or rebate amount. The Green Earth expected the consultation documents to have a recycle target and have more than a 10 cents rebate incentive, but the government failed to include this in their proposal, which makes it hard to be supervised by the society. As for the Consultation documents of “Public Consultation of a New Producer Responsibility Scheme on Glass Beverage Bottles” issued in 2013, the government set a clear recycling target of 70%. This reflects the deteriorating quality of the public consultation documents in recent years.
Information on Deposit refund system
The deposit refund system has been used by 290 million people by the end of 2018. It will be used by 500 million people by 2023. Including West Australia (2020), Jamaica (2021), Malta (2022), Portugal (2022), Scotish (2022), Romania (2022), Singapore( 2022), New Zealand (2022), Turkey (2023), England, Wales, Ireland (2023).