By Karen Pong | 18 July 2018
Amid the upsurge in waste reduction regulations around the world, Hong Kong will see the implementation of the first producer responsibility scheme (PRS) on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), regulating the management of e-waste. It has been long-awaited, especially because the city’s affluent population has been found to produce the most e-waste per capita in the region.
Figure 1 E-waste arising per capita in East and Southeast Asia (2016)
Starting from 1 August 2018, the disposal of eight types of electrical equipment (REE), namely air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers (including desktops, laptops and tablets), printers, scanners and monitors will be regulated. Manufacturers and importers of these eight types of REE would be required to register with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and pay a recycling levy for REE distributed in Hong Kong in the course of their business. A permit will be required for the import and export of abandoned REE.
Individuals who wish to dispose of any of the eight types of WEEE can either contact the authorized partner, ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions, of the EPD to arrange a free collection service or request the seller to organise a free removal of the WEEE if they buy a new electrical equipment after 1 August 2018. The EPD has also set up the e-waste collection vehicle stations in 18 districts to collect e-waste from the public on weekends. For more details of the collection stations, visit here.
Companies that handle mentioned types of WEEE for its own operation or its tenants or clients should inform related employees of the new procedures because one can no longer dispose of the said types of WEEE at public waste disposal facilities or the landfills. If the companies work with a recycler, it should ensure that the recycler has obtained the WEEE handling licenses for the storage, treatment, reprocessing or recycling, or the permit to export the type of WEEE in concern.
WEEE has long been an environmental concern because of its hazardous components, such as lead, mercury and greenhouse gases emitting substances. Proper treatment process would typically involve collection, sorting, dismantlement and detoxification. Prior to the launch of the scheme, the EPD has invested to build the 6-hectare WEEE recycling facility, WEEE·PARK. The WEEE·PARK can handle 30,000 tonnes of regulated e-waste in a year at its current capacity, achieving a recycling rate of around 80%. It could be seen as one of the city’s latest landmark waste management infrastructure facilities, alongside the first waste-to-energy sludge treatment facility, T∙PARK that was opened in 2016, the first food waste pre-treatment facilities at Tai Po Sewage Treatment Works and the first Integrated Waste Management Facilities located at Shek Kwu Chau that are underway.
Figure 2 Overview of WEEE Park facilities
Four different production lines and technologies are in place to process the eight types of regulated WEEE. First of all, appliances in good condition will be sorted and repaired by technicians at the Park, and would be donated to people or NGOs in need. WEEE that cannot be reused would be dismantled to remove elements of the equipment, for example, compressors, cable, capacitors and coils, for recycling. Toxic substances such as refrigerants, mercury-containing backlight of flat panels and leaded glass of cathode ray tube televisions will be removed in a controlled environment and sent separately to contractors for proper treatment. The remaining recyclable components will then be shredded and sorted into different types of useful materials, such as metals and plastics for reuse as secondary raw materials. From its pilot operation in November 2017 up to April 2018, 169, 56 and 59 tonnes of iron, cooper and plastics respectively have been recovered from the 479 tonnes of WEEE it processed. However, it was unclear whether these secondary raw materials would be absorbed by the local recycling market or exported overseas.
Figure 3 WEEE Processed and materials recovered as of April 2018
The PRS on WEEE is the third mandatory PRS passed in Hong Kong, the other two being the environmental levy on plastic shopping bags and PRS on glass beverage containers. This is hoped to set the scene for the fourth proposed PRS scheme on waste plastics, more specifically plastics containers, which makes up 10% of the city’s overflowing landfill. The PRS scheme on WEEE is hoped to be able to increase the awareness, incentives and convenience of recycling of e-waste, all of which are important reasons why previously e-waste recycling had not been effective. However, the government may soon need to explore expanding the PRS to other common types of WEEE such as mobile phones, batteries and electrical vehicles as they all contain hazardous heavy metals such as Cadmium or other polluting chemicals. The e-waste and secondary materials flow should also be traced and reported transparently to allow public oversight on the effectiveness of the recycling facilities and whether hazardous components are probably handled.
Reference and further readings:
- WEEE Park (link: https://weee.gov.hk/page.php?id=3&content=1)
- Introduction video to WEEE Park (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTXJgPHef18&feature=youtu.be)
- Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia (link: http://ewastemonitor.info/pdf/Regional-E-Waste-Monitor.pdf)
- Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia
- ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong Limited
1Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia, Shunichi Honda, Deepali Sinha Khetriwal and Ruediger Kuehr (2016)
2Information shared by WEEE Park at a site visit on 23 June 2018