Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Written by Isaac Pound and Food Made Good Team in collaboration with Andrew (renamed for anonymity)

This month we will be focusing on Value Natural resources so it is fitting to share our experience visiting a recycling centre.

Have you ever tried recycling electronics in Hong Kong? If you have ever attempted it, you’ll know it’s no easy task. The importance and benefits of recycling are common knowledge and even a hot topic nowadays. Despite this, recycling your e-waste (electronic waste) is no easy task in Hong Kong, one of the most high-tech places in the world.

In 2019, Hong Kong produced 153,000 tonnes of e-waste or about 20kg per person, but despite the efforts of Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the vast majority is left unrecycled. This is despite the fact you save precious materials by recycling electronics that otherwise require harvesting directly from the earth. While benefiting the environment simultaneously, you would hope recycling e-waste would be easier than Andrew found it to be.

Andrew was only trying to recycle his old webcam but quickly discovered it was a lot harder and a lot more effort than it should be. One of the most significant barriers to e-waste recycling, and recycling in general, is convenience. For the average environmentally conscious person, doing the extra leg work to recycle something is not too much to ask. However, as that difficulty increases, fewer and fewer people are willing to make that effort.

WanChai Southorn Center, photo by Minghong, GNU Free Documentation License

When trying to find the nearest e-waste recycling point, Andrew unsurprisingly struggled to find his on the sixth floor of the WanChai Southorn Center- tucked away in yet another unassuming skyscraper in Hong Kong. Having travelled for 20 minutes just to find the place, you can imagine the hassle it would be to try and recycle anything bigger, and that’s assuming you’re an able-bodied adult like Andrew.

Once Andrew got there, he was met with a small box and a five-item recycling limit that applies per visit. Luckily, he only had the webcam with him, but a couple of broken chargers and a few old electronics and you’ll easily be over your limit and have to come back later. You’d have to pay for transport again on top of another 20 minute trip for a singular pair of headphones you could have just placed in the same box yesterday.

All of this amounts to numerous and quite inconvenient steps complicating the route to recycling your old electronics in Hong Kong. Though again, for the more environmentally conscious this is all doable, provided you have the physical and financial ability, as well as the time. To actually increase the recycling of e-waste in Hong Kong, ease of access is the key. Not everyone is as able and willing as Andrew to find their nearest recycling point online, let alone recycle their e-waste when there’s a bin in the kitchen..

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Thankfully the EPD does offer free collection services, but this assumes your first instinct isn’t just to throw it in the bin. For many people, this simply is not the case. Even if you imagine it was everyone’s first thought, according to the EPD, Hong Kong only has the capacity to recycle one-fifth of its annual e-waste. That still leaves over 120,000 tonnes of e-waste not being recycled.

To improve e-waste recycling in Hong Kong, what needs to happen is clear direction: make it easy and make it obvious. But this needs to be met with a commitment by the government to expand Hong Kong’s capacity for electronics recycling sustainably and safely.

People want sustainable practices to be easy to action!

You can find more information about recycling your e-waste, including collections, on the EPD website.

Image: Hong Kong waste reduction website

Currently, Hong Kong is committed to using a levy on imported electronics to help fund its recycling programmes. However, a great deal of e-waste is exported to developing countries where the electronics are reused or broken down in less than safe ways. Meanwhile, the e-waste that remains in Hong Kong is largely broken down in similar unsafe ways.

As the e-waste problem increases with consumer demand, companies need to incorporate recycling-friendly designs to reduce the complexity behind recycling the varying forms of e-waste and work with governments to re-use the precious recycled materials.
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