Household Recycling: Papers and Plastics – Are You Doing It Right?

15 March 2018
CHOICE Issue
497
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In recent years, our society is paying greater attention to environmental issues, and people all want future generations to grow up in a healthy and beautiful environment. Hong Kong has a vibrant consumer market, but consumers inevitably produce a lot of waste every day during the consumption process, which needs to be disposed of in landfill. Avoiding unnecessary consumption is certainly the most direct and effective way to reduce waste. Apart from reducing pressure on landfill, it can also save money.  Equally important in achieving the “Use Less Waste Less” goal is to learn the proper way in sorting and recycling domestic waste. 

At present, more than 90% of Hong Kong’s recyclable paper and plastic waste are exported to mainland China. Since the beginning of 2018, Chinese authorities have tightened the requirements on the import of foreign waste, including banning the import of unsorted mixed papers and post-consumer plastics, and implemented a 0.5% contamination limit for all other solid waste imports. Therefore, we must emphasize more on source separation and clean recycling of paper and plastic waste, so to meet the relevant standard; and to avoid contamination and mixing of foreign substances, thus causing the entire batch of the recyclables to be rejected and ended up in landfill.

Currently, about half of the paper waste dumped in landfill belong to the "3 Recyclable Papers" – i.e. i) newspaper, books and magazines; ii) cardboard (corrugated fiberboard); and iii) office paper, that can still be export to mainland China.  On the other hand, despite being more common and having higher recyclability, only 10% of recyclable plastic bottles (i.e. plastic bottles for beverage and personal care products), are being sorted and recycled, and as many as 5 million plastic bottles are dumped in landfill every day! One way to increase the recycling rate of paper and plastic is to improve the quality and quantity of domestic paper and plastic waste. According to the recommendations of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), consumers can refer to the following tips to screen and sort domestic paper and plastic waste before putting them in the recycling bin.

Environmental Recycling Tips

Sort out these "3 Recyclable Papers" 
Newspaper, books and magazines: Remove plastic coated pages (e.g. front/ back covers, inner pages, etc.).
Office paper:  such as monthly statements, letter paper, envelopes, etc. Remove any plastic, clips, staples and other non-paper materials. 
Cardboard (corrugated fiberboard): Keep the waste paper dry and clean and remove any plastic tape 

Paper that should not be tossed in the recycling bin:
Plastic, wax or chemical-coated paper can no longer be exported to mainland China, such as pamphlets that contain plastic, Post-It notes, credit card receipts, bank deposit receipts, supermarket and ATM receipts, lottery tickets, thermal fax paper, Tetra Pak cartons, wrapping paper, paper cups and plates, shoe boxes, egg cartons, photos, toilet paper and hand towels.

Recyclable Plastic Bottles 
Plastic bottles for beverage and personal care products:  Remove caps and labels and give them a little rinse.

Plastic products that should not be tossed in the recycling bin:
Products made from composite materials such as toys, toothbrushes, ball pens, etc., and Styrofoam, because of their complex recycling process and hard-to-find recycling facilities.

 
Besides bottles, you can send the following clean plastic waste to the vast network of Community Green Stations (CGS) across the territory for recycling:
Plastic bags, plastic tableware, straws, food containers, disposable food containers (such as supermarket plastic bowls, vegetable and fruit plastic trays/boxes, sushi boxes), yogurt cups, plastic bottle caps, plastic buckets, CD disc/boxes and mobile phone cases packaging boxes.
The CGS network is funded by EPD and operated by non-profit making organizations (https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/tc/community/cgs_intro.htm)