Written Question on Legislative Council Meeting – Handling of waste styrofoam

LCQ13: Handling of waste styrofoam

Question by the Hon Chan Chun-ying :

It has been reported that there was a phenomenon of “styrofoam sieges” in many districts in Hong Kong last year. To address such phenomenon, the Hong Kong Waste Association Limited launched in May last year a scheme subsidized by the Recycling Fund to facilitate the efforts of local recyclers to recover and process styrofoam. The relevant scheme will be concluded in August this year. With the styrofoam boxes which have been used for carrying fresh produce being allowed to be transported back to the Mainland for reuse since 8 January this year, some recyclers are worried that such arrangement will affect their recovery quantity of styrofoam boxes, making it difficult for them to continue their operations. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)since the aforesaid scheme was launched, of the respective numbers of styrofoam boxes (i) recovered by local recyclers, (ii) delivered to landfills for disposal and (iii) unprocessed for being unable to be transported back to the Mainland for reuse;

(2)whether it has studied the follow-up arrangements for the aforesaid scheme; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3)whether it has formulated medium- and long-term policies regarding the recovery of styrofoam, with a view to avoiding the reoccurrences of the phenomenon of “styrofoam sieges”; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan:

Our consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon CHAN is set out below:

(1)In the past, styrofoam boxes used for supplying vegetables and fruits to Hong  Kong were mainly returned to the Mainland for reuse,  but the arrangement has been  suspended since early 2022 due to the pandemic. The delivery of loads of styrofoam boxes to local refuse transfer stations(RTS)had severely affected their normal operation(e.g. overloading the refuse compactors, occupying too much space in waste  containers, causing heavy traffic and hence long queues to RTS, etc).To address the emergency conditions, the Environmental Protection Department(EPD)thus engaged contractors to provide recycling services for styrofoam boxes through the RTS in  early 2022. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Agriculture,  Fisheries and Conservation Department also liaised with several local recyclers to  collaborate with other non-governmental organisations and private enterprises to enhance the recycling capacity for styrofoam boxes. So far, the recyclers have recycled about 2500tonnes of styrofoam boxes in total.  Styrofoam boxes temporarily kept  at different locations (such as wholesale food markets and markets)due to the pandemic have also been properly handled. Making reference to practices of other economies, the EPD has simplified the waste classification since 2020 when compiling  annual statistics on the disposal/recovery of solid waste in Hong Kong.  Waste types  of similar natures are grouped together to enhance the precision of estimation. Therefore, the quantity of waste styrofoam boxes disposed of at landfills has been  incorporated into the overall amount of “Plastics -Others” since 2020and there is no separate breakdown.

(2)The Recycling Fund has funded a recycling project on styrofoam boxes that involves the collection of waste Styrofoam boxes from various sources and their subsequent delivery to local recycling sites for recycling since May2022.As at end-January 2023, approximately 650tonnes of styrofoam boxes have been recycled under the project,  which is still in progress and will be completed in mid-August. By then, if the project applicant puts forward any follow-up proposals, the Advisory Committee on Recycling Fund and the EPD will examine the application, taking into consideration the specific proposals submitted, overall community needs, change in the amount of Styrofoam boxes, etc.

(3)From the perspective of environmental performance,  reusing styrofoam boxes is far better than recycling. With the resumption of normal travel between the  Mainland and Hong Kong on 8 January2023, the previous arrangement of returning, to the Mainland, the styrofoam boxes used for supplying vegetables, fruits and other  commodities to Hong Kong has gradually resumed. The quantity of abandoned styrofoam boxes received in RTS, public markets and wholesale food markets is also decreasing gradually. Balancing the cost-effectiveness and the long-term development of the industries, we will continue to maintain dialogue with the food and recycling industries, encourage the food industry to switch to stackable, durable and easy-to-clean plastic boxes for transportation of goods in the long-run as far as practicable, and support the development of local styrofoam recycling technology to enhance the operational efficiency in recycling styrofoam products that are no longer usable.