Why the 5 cent bottle recycling rebate is a joke

I read the opinion piece “Why a 5 cent bottle recycling rebate makes more sense for Hong Kong” (published on 6 March 2021) on SCMP with great amusement. With the government finally launching the public consultation on a Producer Responsibility Scheme for plastic beverage containers, the beverage industry lobbying group Drink Without Waste kick started their PR campaign by claiming that a 5 cent rebate would “get over 70% of consumers to recycle”. The 5 cent coin, however, was last minted in 1979 and ceased to be recognized as a legal tender in 1989.

The lobbyist based its claim on its own survey. According to that survey, “Over half of the survey respondents claim they [currently] recycle all or most of their bottles”. However, according to the HKSAR government’s waste statistic for 2018, only 0.2% of the beverage plastic containers are being recycled. How can the recycling rate be 0.2% if over 50% of people are recycling? This seems to be a clear case of the well-known phenomenon of virtue signalling – or simply put ‘what people say on surveys and what people do are two entirely different things’.

The lobbyist supplemented their claims by referring to a pilot scheme currently in progress. Without citing any data, they claim that this unpublished scheme supports their assertion that a 5 cent payment can motivate consumers and waste collectors to keep 70% of plastic beverage bottles out of the landfill. The question is why the lobbyist is referring to this incomplete, unpublished scheme when data is available from a trial conducted in 2018 by the local green group, Green Earth?

During that trial, conducted over five Saturdays, the green group provided a 20 cent rebate for each bottle brought to a collection centre set up at a school in Kwai Fong. According to their report, a total of 14,072 PET bottles were brought in by 155 people. 20% of the people were waste collectors that contributed a stunning 80% of the total bottles collected. The lobbyist may have chosen to ignore this trial, because it clearly contradicts their claims.

When the minimum amount that an Octopus card can transfer is 10 cents, may I suggest the bottle drink industry hand out real 5 cent coins? These antique coins can be resold for $100 on Upper Lascar Row.

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