What happens to all that plastic that we try so hard to recycle

If you’re anything like us, you always make sure to carefully separate your trash and dispose of it in the correct recycling bin. You feel like you’ve done your part, but what really happens to it after it’s supposedly sent to be magically repurposed into something else? 

There were rumours that waste destined for recycling is simply sent to landfills because it’s less trouble.

This was confirmed when an investigation last year discovered that nearly two-thirds of housing estates in Hong Kong surveyed were sending plastic bottles collected in recycling bins, to landfill! 

In its 2013 waste reduction plan, the Hong Kong government set a target that, by 2022, each person would throw away no more than 0.8kg of waste per day, but this target is unlikely to be reached because… 

“In 2018, Hong Kongers sent an average of 1.53kgs per person of solid waste to landfills every day; just 30% of this was recycled.”

How has this happened? 

Some say that it’s because of the low value of plastics in Hong Kong. 1kg of collected, separated and processed plastic waste may give recyclers just HKD$0.30- $0.50, lower than a few years ago. Also, most plastics are not recyclable in Hong Kong, of the seven types of plastic materials, only three are able to be recycled by local plants through the government scheme. 


How can we fix this?

Hong Kong plans to build adequate waste-to-energy facilities so that it no longer needs to rely on landfills by 2035. Aside from this sizeable goal, the government needs to provide monetary subsidies to recyclers to encourage proper collection and recycling. 

Basically, we (as in you and me) need to start getting smart about how we manage our own waste and look beyond our rubbish bins. We know it’s hard to figure it all out, but thankfully Hong Kong is working hard to develop an effective recycling system that is easy to use.

Not only do we have the likes of independently operated Love Recycling Plus and other smaller scale recycling entities, the Environmental Protection Department are finally stepping up. The GREEN @ COMMUNITY initiative launched in late 2020, a community recycling network that is available on a broad scale across the city with 133 recycling points in total for you to access.

Click here to find your local recycling point.


What can we recycle?

  • Glass bottles
  • Beverage cartons
  • Fluorescent lamps and tubes
  • Metals (tin and aluminium cans)
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Small electrical appliances (even your mobile phones)
  • Plastic bottles & bags
  • Paper 

If you want to learn more about using the GREEN @ COMMUNITY check out our bestie’s page to find out more.

As it turns out, there are some great initiatives tackling Hong Kong’s waste problem; after all, if the rest of the world produced waste like Hong Kong, we would need more than four planets to live… Yikes!

Love recycling in Hong Kong

Plastics have been dominating the headlines in recent years, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s an epidemic we are facing as a global population, with certain countries making strides in recent years to combat; either through elimination altogether or recycling programmes. What we have on offer in Hong Kong is, frankly, dismal, with options few and far between, and much confusion to go along with it. However, there is hope on the horizon, with new avenues for us to explore.

Love Recycling Plus was founded by a former UK resident, who was used to an extensive recycling habit and upon return to Hong Kong, was sorely disappointed to find that while people were willing to recycle, the government’s free service was both inefficient and almost completely ineffective. Collection points were not tended to often enough and led to over spilling – as a result, recycling matter was simply being diverted to general waste. Whatever was in the recycling bins was deemed unfit for recycling due to dirt or contamination and as a result, was just taken straight to the landfill.

Frustrating, indeed. 


Providing customers with their own bins, Love Recycling Plus accepts the following:

  • Glass: wine and beer bottles, glass jars.
  • Metal: aluminium drink cans, food tins, metal biscuit tins.
  • Cardboard and paper: newspaper, cardboard, A4 paper, magazines, toilet roll tubes.
  • Plastic: type 1-7 plastics, bar type 3.
  • Tetra Paks: milk or drink cartons, paper cups.
  • Miscellaneous: cup noodle pots, sweet wrappers, Styrofoam lunchboxes, crisp packets.

Here are the different types of plastics to help you get familiar with the acceptable and the bad:

  • Type 1 (Polyethylene Terephthalate a.k.a. PET or PETE): the most widely used plastic in the world including water bottles, soft drink bottles, mouthwash bottles.
  • Type 2 (High-density Polyethylene a.k.a. HDPE): another versatile, durable plastic found in shampoo bottles, milk bottles, cleaning product bottles.
  • Type 3 (Polyvinyl Chloride a.k.a. PVC): the only plastic that is not recyclable and should be avoided in the first place, it tends to end up in the incinerator or landfill where its dioxin production is toxic to humans and animals. These include: toys, baby dishes, PVC pipes, clingfilm, vinyl flooring, blister packs and clamshell containers.
  • Type 4 (Low-Density Polyethylene a.k.a. LDPE): squeeze bottles, bubble wrap, six pack rings.
  • Type 5 (Polypropylene a.k.a. PP): plastic straws, yoghurt pots, ice cream containers.
  • Type 6 (Polystyrene or Styrofoam a.k.a. PS): egg cartons, disposable cutlery, disposable cups.
  • Type 7 (Miscellaneous Plastics a.k.a OTHER): all rigid, unlabelled plastic can be considered a miscellaneous plastic, such as: baby bottles. CDs, water cooler bottles.

As you can see, it can be easy to recycle properly but it takes commitment (and a little extra cash to subscribe). If it means your next trip to the beach doesn’t leave you wading through plastic, surely that’s worth it?

New Year, New Me… Really

Chinese New Year is a joyful time rife with festivities, frivolities, family time and some incredibly full bellies, but as we dive into celebrations this year, it’s worthwhile to identify and solve certain problems that have grown over time, intertwined with traditions and sheer habit. There are customs you’d be hard pressed to battle with, but there are ways to actively be more sustainable this year – no excuses! 

It is often the most challenging to convince previous generations to alter a lifetime of tradition, but with careful explanation, a helping hand and at times, some cajoling, you’d be surprised how receptive they can be. By shifting our ways and those of others in our lives, there is hope for our future generations to take on these new, more sustainable methods to celebrate this time of year, who eventually, won’t know it any other way.


1

Lai see, yes please, but…

A local study performed in 2014 revealed upwards of 16,000 trees were sacrificed to make lai see packets for just one year in Hong Kong alone.

Tradition is tradition and we love it, but maybe it’s time to, well, get with the times. Lai See packets are an inevitable joy for those receiving and pain for those doling out and of course, the poor environment suffers like no other! Be sure to purchase lai see packets that are not specific to the year, better yet, custom made using recycled FSC paper, and tuck the flaps in so they can be reused the following years. Ask your local bank if they have any lai see packet recycling programmes; many do. Take it upon yourself to research e-payment companies as well as banks, where interest in electronic lai see is burgeoning. 


2

The gift of giving

Going through the motions and gifting mindlessly means a gargantuan increase in packaging tossed in the rubbish.

Instead of buying snacks and other edibles, why not make it from scratch at home? It will decrease your consumption of packaging and who doesn’t adore a homemade treat?


3

Out with the old, in with the new

The age-old adage of spring cleaning en masse only to head straight back out to purchase new things to replace whatever we’ve just eliminated is mind-boggling and simply a vicious cycle we need to break.

When clearing clutter from your home, be mindful with your disposal – sort out recycling and donating thoughtfully and responsibly. Let this be an opportunity to streamline your belongings, appreciate them and identify what really needs to be kept, tossed or replaced.


4

Decoration nation

Decorations are one of the worst offenders during Chinese New Year, as they are rarely kept and used again. 

Instead of buying cut flowers, which wilt away all too soon, consider a potted variety which last long after celebrations have ended – surely a much better omen for the new year. You could also make your own festive decorations using repurposed materials and fabrics; a fun activity for adults and kids alike.


5

All gluttony, no glory

Food wastage is not only terrible for your conscience, damaging to the environment but could be eradicated completely while helping those in need.

Donate excess food to family service centres, nursing homes or any non-profit organisations who are open to donations. Food Wise Hong Kong provide a lengthy catalogue of options. The word “excess” runs rampant during Chinese New Year, especially when it comes to food, so it’s worth taking the time to carefully plan meals ahead of time so that just enough is made, with not too much to spare.