Earth Chat

Recycling without recycling bins

Have you noticed the streets have gotten emptier recently? It turns out that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) had been quietly removing the recycling bins from the roadside since June last year. By their own words, they decided to remove the bins due to the poorer quality of materials received and their expected demand for kerbside recycling declining as the Green@Community network gets up and running.[1]

While it is true that the roadside recycling bins are often misused,[2]these reasons feel like mere excuses when the decision came soon after—if not in direct response to—the ombudsman’s report on the management and effectiveness of said bins.

Poor condition of the roadside three-colour waste separation bins (Image source: HK01)

The report, which was published in April last year, did not call for a total scrapping of the recycling bins however, only recommending that the EPD provided clearer labels on what can be recycled and more transparency with the recycling data.[3] So I cannot help but feel that the reaction from the EPD is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

To be fair though, it is hard not to be somewhat sympathetic when they are dealing with a certain population of Hongkongers who see any kind of container on the street as a convenient waste receptacle. Already I have seen non-glass recyclables being put into the roadside glass recycling bins. Even the used clothes recycling bins get treated the same way.[4]

Non-glass recyclables in the glass recycling bin (Image source: FoE(HK))

But I highly doubt that replacing the one thousand and some bins with the 43 recycling stores and 130 mobile spots is the way to go about it. Just by the sheer difference in numbers alone, the Green@Community network has a much smaller coverage.[5]Not all mobile recycling spots open at times that are convenient for much of the working population either. The decision to contract out the management of the stores to various organisations also calls into question about the long-term sustainability and knowledge retention of the network.

Location of the 43 recycling stores and stations (Image source: FoE(HK))

The latest government waste statistics showed that we have returned to the highest point in waste disposal rates since 2018.[6]With the government intent on pushing through with waste charging in the second half of the year, the loss of roadside recycling bins will only create a further burden to families that do not live close to the recycling stores to practice waste separation.[7]

Per capita disposal rates of MSW, domestic waste and commercial & industrial waste (Image source: EPD)

If we want to encourage more recycling, it must be cheaper (both time and money-wise), easier, and more comfortable than the current default—which is just binning it. So what kind of message is the government communicating when the recycling bins are gone from the streets but the rubbish bins are still there?

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