Hong Kong government implements new recycling scheme for e-waste

It was announced in a recent report that the government of Hong Kong has initiated a new recycling scheme for computers and four types of electrical equipment. The move came into effect earlier this week and is entitled the ‘Producer Responsibility Scheme’.

Buyers of certain types of electrical items can request a free removal service for old gear of the same type at home. Accredited collectors will then take the items away for recycling.

The scheme will cover air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers, printers, scanners, and monitors. Sellers of the new equipment will need to pay the government HK$15 to HK$165 per item to finance the removal service, though some have said they will transfer the cost to consumers via a price hike.

Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing said that the rationale behind the scheme is that throwing away old equipment after the purchase of new ones damages the environment. These waste electronic devices may often contain heavy metals and harmful chemicals.

The Secretary said that most sellers of the regulated equipment have already registered with the government. The sellers will notify customers about the scheme and will pay a quarterly recycling levy to the Environmental Protection Department.

Responding to concerns that the removal service may be too slow, Wong said that – in most cases – collectors will arrive three days after a purchase is made. He also said the collectors, including a government-approved contractor, have enough capacity to handle demand.

Usually, consumers can coordinate with the store to arrange for delivery of the new equipment and removal of the old one to fall on the same day. He added that most consumers will only need same-day removal in extreme cases.

The scheme only regulates sellers, not buyers. It is not illegal to dispose of old electrical equipment like regular trash. However, the Secretary urged citizens to exercise “self-control” and use the removal service instead as it is more sustainable and will have a better effect on the environment.

The Founding President of the Hong Kong WEEE Recycling Association, Jacky Cheung Yiu-shing said that 90 per cent of appliance buyers want a removal service, but the figure may be lower for computer buyers.

He said that the price increase for computers will be limited and that for the average consumer, paying HK$15 to fulfil their civic duty is not too much to ask. Moreover, it is better for the environment and is less time-consuming than disposing of the e-waste personally.

The Secretary said that the prices of electrical equipment fluctuate regularly and depend on many factors. He said that there is enough competition between sellers so that consumers need not worry about a price hike.

The scheme comes at a perfect time as Hong Kong’s current e-waste condition is in need of some revamping.

A report stated that about 70,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment are disposed of in Hong Kong each year, 80 per cent of which is shipped overseas to Africa or Southeast Asia, while the rest is dumped locally in a landfill.

This e-waste contains harmful materials which, if not properly treated or disposed of, is hazardous to the environment and human health.

The government says exporting the waste is not sustainable because demand for second-hand products overseas will ultimately decline. The private company contracted by the government says it can handle about 95 tonnes of waste a day – or 30,000 tonnes of waste a year.

With the new recycling scheme, e-waste will be greener than ever, and the onus will be on the producer of the electronics and not the consumer.

Once the e-waste is collected from the consumer's house, the contractor will bring it to the WEEE-PARK Treatment and Recycling Facility at the EcoPark in Tuen Mun.

The products will then be detoxified, dismantled and turned into secondary raw material such as plastics, alumina, copper or iron, which can be reused for manufacture or landfilled locally “in a clean manner”.

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