Breaking the Bottleneck: Green Glass Recycling in Hong Kong

By Caitlin Dwyer and Laura Morrison

Early in the morning, after the city’s bars have closed their doors and the revelers have headed home, April Lai can be found treading the empty pavements of Hong Kong’s bar districts, collecting glass bottles.

Lai is the project coordinator of Green Glass Green, a recycling initiative established in 2010 to collect and transport waste.

Several times a week, usually with a small team of volunteers but sometimes alone, Lai sets off with a truck in tow. The glass her team collects gets transported to Tiostone, a local factory that turns the recycled material into eco-friendly bricks for use in construction. A typical shift results in a full truckload of 6000 – 7000 bottles or almost three tonnes of glass.

Despite formal recycling systems in place throughout Hong Kong for paper, plastic, and metal, there is currently no policy for glass. Only around five percent of glass in Hong Kong is recycled, according to Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department. In contrast, 68 percent of glass is recycled in the European Union, according to the European Container Glass Federation. With Hong Kong’s landfills predicted to reach capacity anywhere from two to seven years from now, there is a need for the city to reevaluate its waste management.

Previously a labour organizer, Lai set up Green Glass Green with the Hong Kong Dumper Truck Driver Association.

Collectors haul the bottles in sacks from bars and restaurants. About 50 SoHo, Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong businesses partner with Green Glass. In Wan Chai, large wheelie bins are provided for participating businesses to fill.

Lai and her team empty the contents at the Luard Road Collection Point before turning their attention to general rubbish piles. They delve into garbage bags to separate glass from the rest of the discarded contents.

The work is dirty, physically tough and time consuming. Lai says it is extremely difficult to find willing helpers. Collectors must also face social snobbery about people who work with waste.

Lai is optimistic that as public awareness for glass recycling rises, more can be achieved. She says that for recycling to take off in Hong Kong, the government must take the lead and establish regular collection programmes. She hopes that one day there will be glass recycling bins on each corner. Until then, her crusade for a cleaner, greener Hong Kong continues.

Originally published at Westside Stories HK.

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