‘Will The Real Environmentalist Please Stand Up?’ Why Hong Kong’s 5 Cent Bottle Recycling Rebate Is A Joke

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By: Rachel Pang

This article originally appeared on Water For Free, a project launched by Hong Kong non-profit Go Green. Read the original article here.

I read the opinion piece “Why a 5 cent bottle recycling rebate makes more sense for Hong Kong” (published on 6 March 2021) on SCMP with great amusement. With the government finally launching the public consultation on a Producer Responsibility Scheme for plastic beverage containers, the beverage industry lobbying group Drink Without Waste kick started their PR campaign by claiming that a 5 cent rebate would “get over 70% of consumers to recycle”. The 5 cent coin, however, was last minted in 1979 and ceased to be recognized as a legal tender in 1989.

The lobbyist based its claim on its own survey. According to that survey, “Over half of the survey respondents claim they [currently] recycle all or most of their bottles”. However, according to the HKSAR government’s waste statistic for 2018, only 0.2% of the beverage plastic containers are being recycled. How can the recycling rate be 0.2% if over 50% of people are recycling? This seems to be a clear case of the well-known phenomenon of virtue signalling – or simply put ‘what people say on surveys and what people do are two entirely different things’.

Source: Water For Free

The lobbyist supplemented their claims by referring to a pilot scheme currently in progress. Without citing any data, they claim that this unpublished scheme supports their assertion that a 5 cent payment can motivate consumers and waste collectors to keep 70% of plastic beverage bottles out of the landfill. The question is why the lobbyist is referring to this incomplete, unpublished scheme when data is available from a trial conducted in 2018 by the local green group, Green Earth?

It’s not all at surprising that the beverage industry lobbyist are working overtime to exploit the local waste collectors to do their dirty work. But do these green groups also support their 5 cent money back scheme? Will the REAL Environmentalist Please Stand Up?

Rachel Pang, founder of Water For Free, in a social media post
Source: Water For Free / Rachel Pang

During that trial, conducted over five Saturdays, the green group provided a 20 cent rebate for each bottle brought to a collection centre set up at a school in Kwai Fong. According to their report, a total of 14,072 PET bottles were brought in by 155 people. 20% of the people were waste collectors that contributed a stunning 80% of the total bottles collected. The lobbyist may have chosen to ignore this trial, because it clearly contradicts their claims.

When the minimum amount that an Octopus card can transfer is 10 cents, may I suggest the bottle drink industry hand out real 5 cent coins? These antique coins can be resold for $100 on Upper Lascar Row.

About Rachel Pang: A lawyer by training, Rachel built her legal career across law firms, government and the business sector, both in Hong Kong and Beijing. She graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 1999, and earned her LLM from the University of Toronto in 2003. Today, she is the driving force behind the Water for Free initiative to reduce plastic waste pollution, and a columnist.

About Water For Free: Water For Free is a project of Go Green Hong Kong, which is registered as a non-profit organization under the Societies Ordinance (Cap 151, Laws of Hong Kong) and being a charitable institution is exempt from tax under Section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance (Cap 112, Laws of Hong Kong).


Lead image courtesy of Dickson Lee via SCMP.


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