Message in a bottle

Hong Kong takes first steps towards long-term glass recycling

By Fiona Donnelly (published in Glass International October 2016 – pdf)

Glass recycling is finally being discussed in Hong Kong in terms that many cities around the world can already relate to. Fiona Donnelly reports how a recent ruling will improve recycling rates.

Today in Hong Kong, only one glass bottle in 10 is recycled; the goal is that a new programme will improve recycle rates to at least five times that figure.

Sustainability consultants The Purpose Business co-hosted an information event with international law firm Baker & McKenzie and accounting firm Baker Tilly Hong Kong, to discuss the new Amendment Bill that will introduce a levy on glass containers in Hong Kong.

“Today the equivalent of some 400,000 regular wine bottles per day are thrown into landfills in Hong Kong. Glass bottle recycling is possible in the territory today; we all have a responsibility to change our behaviour and find and use glass container recycle bins.” Fiona Donnelly

The Hong Kong Government websites, EPD glass bottle recycling programmes and help people locate their nearest bins.

The Amendment Bill was only passed by the Legislative Council in May 2016, but guest speaker Dr Alain Lam of the Government’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) explained the bigger context and rationale behind it: “This is the latest legislation to be introduced that has the goal of creating a circular economy, where waste is transformed into resources. “This levy is in line with the over-riding ‘polluter pays’ principle that the Government has set out in Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022. The goal is the levy collected from glass containers will be remitted to the Government’s General Revenue and will be used to finance the sustainable collection and use of used glass containers.”

Glass container levy

The levy is to be paid by importers and manufacturers of glass-container beverage products, but will only apply to those that are distributed or consumed in Hong Kong. Exemptions may be provided, for example where glass containers are recovered for re-bottling.

The Bill is the next stage of Hong Kong’s efforts to improve the recycling of glass containers and thereby reduce glass containers filling increasingly precious space at landfills.

While this Amendment helps to build the preliminary framework for the ‘circular economy’ for glass containers, as Dr Lam acknowledges, “the devil is in the detail.” We do, however, already know some specifics.

Dr Isabella Liu from Baker & McKenzie explained two of the legal issues: “The Bill affects ‘regulated articles’ constituted by a beverage and a container that is: (i) a glass container, whether in the form of a bottle, jar or otherwise; and (ii) is airtight and sealed by machine or with a tool. ‘Beverage’ is defined broadly and includes a product that is a liquid or consists of liquid and is commonly served as a drink, after being diluted or reconstituted.” Definitions aside, another significant point is who will be responsible for paying the levy. Dr Liu stated: “The recycling levy will be collected from the registered suppliers of these regulated articles. This will affect local drink manufacturers and drink importers, in so far as their products are distributed or consumed in Hong Kong – regulated articles imported for re-export will not be included.”

The new Amendment Bill that will introduce a levy on glass containers in Hong Kong was discussed at a recent event, attended by government officials, legal professionals, and glass recycling initiatives.

While the actual amount of the levy has still to be finalized – a figure of around HKD1 (approximately US$0.13) per litre is the current best guess – the Administration has suggested that the levy will be computed on the basis of per litre-container volume instead of other criteria such as the container weight or a tiered levy rate for different weights/volumes of glass beverage containers. Andrew Ross from Baker Tilly Hong Kong stated: “This will probably mean that manufacturers and importers will need to modify their records, should they not already be recording total volume of contents of glass containers sold, rather than simply the number of bottles. This is because a registered supplier must submit periodic returns to the EPD, setting out the necessary information to compute the recycling levy payable.”

Registered suppliers

The new levy regime is likely to come into effect in 2018. While Dr Liu recommends that businesses review their sourcing and supply arrangements in the meantime to assess whether they will likely be regarded as ‘registered suppliers’, Andrew recommends that those who become ‘registered suppliers’ use this lead time to develop and test any process and record keeping changes that will be required. He added that an independent auditor will also be needed to conduct an annual audit of the periodic returns to ensure their factual accuracy.

While future ‘registered suppliers’ already have some strategic and operational details to figure out, Dr Lam’s team are now preparing the subsidiary regulations, including engagement with various stakeholder groups. This next legislation is likely to set out details of the regulatory requirements including registration, payment of recycling levy, submission of periodic returns and annual audit reports, and exemption arrangements.

Fiona Donnelly is a long-time volunteer around the issue of used glass bottles and Business Development Lead at The Purpose Business, Hong Kong

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