Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing called the breakthrough a “step forward for achieving sustainable use of resources” in the city, which has gained notoriety for one of the highest rates of e-waste generation per capita in Asia.
The producer responsibility scheme, whose enabling legislation and subsidiary laws were passed in 2015 and 2016, aims to promote recycling as well as the proper disposal of electrical and electronic equipment waste. It does so by making suppliers and sellers pay for the collection, handling and disposal of old, unwanted appliances.
From August 1 onwards, those who supply air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers, printers, scanners and monitors must have in place a free removal service for customers. Their service must be approved by the Environmental Protection Department.
In addition, sellers must clearly display recycling labels on the appliances and state on receipts the terms of their levies.
The charges have been set at HK$15 (US$1.90) per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air-conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. Sellers must pay the government on a quarterly basis.
“In future, members of the public who purchase these appliances will be provided a free removal service arranged by the seller to dispose of an item of the same class they intend to abandon,” Wong said. “The abandoned item will be sent to a recycler holding a valid waste disposal licence for proper disposal.”
About 70,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment waste is disposed in Hong Kong annually. Of this amount, 80 per cent is shipped off to regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia, while the rest is handled locally and dumped in landfills.
An investigation in 2015 by environmental group Basel Action Network found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the US.
Under the new rules, a permit will be required for the import and export of regulated e-waste.
Edwin Lau Che-feng, founder and executive director of environmental group The Green Earth, believed the long-awaited move was needed to improve what he called substandard handling, processing and storage of e-waste in Hong Kong.
“These materials are potentially hazardous and could pollute soil and groundwater, especially if handled improperly such as dumping at brownfield sites in the New Territories,” he said.
“Many residents like to take advantage of cheap collection services, but God knows where the waste is brought to in some cases.”
The government’s new integrated recycling plant, run by private company Alba IWS, has been running since last year and will help detoxify and dismantle e-waste. The plant turns e-waste into secondary raw material such as plastics, aluminium, copper or iron, which can be reused for manufacturing or sent to landfill locally.
But Lau said officials should ensure that over the long term the entire process of handling e-waste, including its collection and disposal, not be handled solely by the plant.
“It would be more efficient if they split some operations for other smaller operators in the city to handle such collections,” he added.