By Angus Ho

In July 2017, China announced the Sword Policy which aims to ban imports of 24 types of solid waste, including recyclable materials starting 2018. For years, countries have been abusing “recycling” and have been exporting their trash to China. It is therefore not difficult to understand why China has made such a move and will eventually stop all imports.

In Hong Kong, the government tried to respond to this new policy by asking people to recycle less. They want to only accept cardboard, newspaper and office paper, and plastics of drink containers and personal care products. They think non-bottle plastics and glossy paper are highly contaminated and will affect other recycling export. However, they are not willing to educate the public about clean recycling practices. This, while the whole world is talking about environmental protection, circular economy, and waste reduction.

It is ridiculous that the government responds like this, requesting the public to recycle less and not more. Hong Kong has very scarce land but its population keeps growing. The government has not managed to provide enough land for the recycling industry and everything either ends up in landfills or gets exported to China, but export is no longer an option.

After an outcry from environmental groups and media and meeting with the ministry, the government fine-tuned their policy but only in a few specific places. The message is very confusing now, discouraging people from recycling. We keep monitoring the government to make sure they have long-term vision to deal with our own waste, but town planning, EIA and building recycling plants take times; we cannot wait any more.

The Hong Kong experience is a typical example of how the China policy is impacting other places. Many places have reported their recycling cannot find a way out and are piling up or have been even landfilled or burned. We have been taking the issue of waste for granted many years and this is the time every country, every government must take responsibility for their own problems and their own waste.

Let’s act now! Urge our government to deal with our own waste through reject, redesign, reduce, reuse and recycle, by practicing clean and proper sorting before recycling and by making sure that we can manage our own waste and not ship them to other developing countries—not Thailand, not Vietnam, not the rest of Asia.

Let’s not give the incinerator (waste to energy) industry fuel to burn those “non-recyclable” materials.

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Angus Ho is the Executive Director of Greeners Action, an environmental NGO based in Hong Kong.

This article appears in the first issue of Waste Not Asia, the official quarterly publication of GAIA Asia Pacific.

(Waste Not Asia, Volume 1, Issue 1, January to March 2018, p. 35.)