The Legislative Council recently passed a bill imposing a new glass recycling levy, which proposes to charge $1 for every one-liter glass bottle . Set to come into place in 2018, the levy was introduced in an effort to reduce waste as well as to encourage glass recycling in the city.
April Lai, co-founder of Green Glass Green, explains the benefits of glass recycling, the difficulties in implementing it in Hong Kong, and what you can do to help.
April Lai was originally a labor activist who worked with the Hong Kong Dumper Truck Driver Association on improving driver welfare. After realizing that the drivers were collecting huge amounts of glass bottles that were going to waste, she established Green Glass Green in 2010. A non-profit dedicated to reducing and recycling glass bottles in Hong Kong, it runs a glass collection service around town with the help of volunteers, and also puts on campaigns to educate members of the public on glass recycling.
1. There are many hurdles to implementing glass recycling in Hong Kong
My motivation came from seeing glass bottles go to waste. I found it wasteful that glass bottles weren’t being recycled. There is a market for recyclable goods like newspapers, books and such — but not for glass. People who work with waste also don’t necessarily like glass, because it’s so heavy. Essentially, no one likes dealing with glass.
When Green Glass Green was first founded, we got in touch with the Environmental Protection Department and were encouraged by them to apply for the Environment and Conservation Fund. After we were granted with the fund, we set out finding places to put glass recycling stations. We talked to the Lands Department, and they said, “There is no recycling policy in place — why are you asking us?” At the time, you also had to pay to have your glass to be recycled. We thought that was probably the end, because it seemed like there was no way recycling could be carried out.
The short-term solution was to borrow spaces at the FEHD rubbish collection points for our recycling stations, but it wasn’t easy getting approval from the government for this.
2. The mentality towards our waste needs to change
People tend to think that, when you throw something out, someone else is going to take care of it. Some bar owners have said to me, “Why would you bother recycling? We put out bags of used bottles, and there are dumpster divers who would pick them up.” As part of the community, we have a responsibility to do our part. We all live on the earth and the resources are for us to use together. If we continue to overuse existing materials and end up dumping them, it doesn’t make for an ideal living environment.
3. It is fundamentally difficult for businesses to carry out recycling
On some level, I do feel sorry for business owners, because they have to strike a balance. It’s hard to keep a business running if you’re losing money. We looked to put glass recycling stations near in Central and Wan Chai near bars and restaurants, but this proved difficult. Space is at a premium everywhere, and most establishments don’t have room to accommodate a recycling station. We manually collect them from bars and restaurants, but then residents near them have complained before when we showed up with our trucks collecting them at night.
We collect recycled glasses three to four days a week, and on average, we collect around 7,000 to 8,000 glass bottles a day — and that’s on our fairly limited capacity. Some people want us to start expanding to areas like Sai Kung, but we are unable to. Our lack of resources have stopped us from going to the next level — we have to be able to make a living. We’re understaffed and it’s hard for us to recruit drivers to help.
4. The good news is, things are getting better
The glass recycling levy shows that the government has started taking the matter seriously. After the levy is imposed, the percentage of recycling is expected to be at 50 percent, which is a positive thing. Hong Kong people have also reacted positively to glass recycling efforts. Our current recycling station in Wan Chai was originally placed there to cater to bars and restaurants, but members of the public have also been using it. It shows that people are less willing to throw glass bottles away. In 2009, the percentage of recycling done in Hong Kong was 1 percent. Now it’s 10 percent. In just six years, it’s gone up quite a lot — but having said that, 90 percent of glass bottles still end up becoming rubbish.
5. Recycling glass has way more benefits than you realize
If we don’t treat glass bottles like rubbish, they can have a lot of different uses. Glass is made with sand and limestone. Sand is an important element in the environment — flooding can happen if there isn’t enough by the riverbeds. There are also species that live in sand — it’s no good if we keep removing sand and spoiling their natural habitat. Destroying glass also requires burning them at high heat, so recycling them would mean a reduction in energy usage. The energy saved from recycling a single glass is enough to light a 60-watt lightbulb for 100 minutes, or run a washing machine for 10 minutes. You can’t underestimate a glass bottle.
It’s up to the government to help with the glass recycling issue. They can offer businesses incentives to manufacturers and suppliers to recycle, or implement rules where liquor licenses will only be granted if bars and restaurants recycled glass bottles. In the future, I hope for these to one day become compulsory. I would also hope for Green Glass Green’s glass recycling stations to be as popular as the ones you see around town now.
Regular Hong Kong people can help by using environmentally friendly products, which are more expensive. They should try to take extra steps to recycle where they can. We shouldn’t throw out things that can still be used. You could say that there is no trash — everything has a use. People should actively ensure they do all they can to reuse materials and think about the effects this has on our future.