Don't recycle fee back to customers!

Editorial | Mary Ma 2 Aug 2018

After a long wait, the laws regulating the disposal of electrical and electronic waste have finally come into effect.

For the first time, disposal and recycling of harmful electrical and electronic substances are subject to legislative control. It's appropriate to call yesterday a milestone in the SAR's fight against environmental pollution.

But success of the program hinges on how quickly old appliances can be collected from households and reprocessed at the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Treatment and Recycling Facility in Tuen Mun, which became fully operational in March.

A failure to collect waste like refrigerators or computers efficiently could deal a blow to the ambitious scheme.

The concern is justified because some retailers of electrical goods have warned there's only one recycling contractor, and consumers would have to keep their old equipment for several days before they will be removed.

If that's the situation, this would form a bottleneck - potentially a problem that Secretary of the Environment Wong Kam-sing must tackle.

It's timely to take the right step, since the city can no longer depend on sending waste to the mainland, as they are no longer welcome there either. The SAR must look internally to solve its annual production of 70,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic waste.

The final piece of the regulation was passed in 2017. A year has passed and the trade can't say the government hasn't given them enough time to prepare for the changes.

They involve two key features.

First, suppliers must be registered with the authority and pay a recycling levy for every air-conditioner, refrigerator, washing machine, television, computer, printer, scanner and monitor sold. The levy varies from HK$15 to HK$165.

Second, vendors are required to remove old appliances from their customers for free in accordance with plans preapproved by the authority. The abandoned items will be collected by contractor.

The plan is as good as it sounds. However, there are problems. As said, the need to wait at least three days before a family can dispose of an old electrical or electronic appliance is undesirable. That can be a nuisance for families living in tight quarters. Will the old items be dumped all over the streets as a result?

It will be essential to introduce additional recycling contractors to shorten the wait. Ideally, it would be great if an old appliance is removed at the same time the new purchase is delivered.

There is also growing concern merchants are passing the entirety of the levy - which is supposed to reflect on their responsibility as waste producers - onto customers. On the first day of the scheme's implementation, it was reported some irresponsible traders raised the prices by HK$200 to HK$300, which is way above the levy.

That's an unfair and unethical departure from the spirit underlying the policy.

When businesses on different tiers of the chain make profit from the sale, wouldn't it be more fair for them to share the extra cost too? It was plain dumb of Wong to defend the trade's swift move to jack up the prices.

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