GH x Environment and Conservation Fund: Challenges and Solutions for Glass Recycling in Hong Kong
Updated: Apr 25
This article is a part of a six-part series: each article offers a glimpse of one of the six reports we put together to conclude our findings from our “Zero-waste to Landfill for the F&B Industry” project, detailing the handling of six common types of waste that the hospitality and F&B industry produces, including glass, metal, paper, plastic, food, textile, electronics, and other waste. You can find all these reports on our website here.
Throughout 2022, GREEN Hospitality worked on the "Zero-waste to Landfill for the F&B Industry: Creating Circular Systems Through Education, Practice & Partnerships" project, which was funded by Environment and Conservation Fund*. The project entailed familiarising 20 F&B outlets in Hong Kong’s SOHO area with the upcoming municipal solid waste (MSW) charge and providing them with training on waste monitoring and waste segregation practices, so as to divert the amount of waste going to landfills and promote the culture of “use less, waste less, and recycle”.
One of the common types of waste we looked at was glass.
The transition from plastic to glass is often the first step in creating sustainable zero-waste operations. However, glass requires more fossil fuels to produce and ship, and therefore recycling is essential to avoid waste mismanagement.
Hong Kong generated 183 tonnes of glass waste daily in 2020. Unfortunately, the majority of glass waste in Hong Kong does not reach recycling facilities due to the low residual commercial value and high collection and logistics costs. Only 14.7 thousand tonnes of waste glass were recycled in 2020, which represents 1% of total glass waste.
What’s more, we found that glass was the biggest waste category for the 20 restaurants that participated in our trial. In total, we were able to divert 10,347kg of glass from the landfill. Still, on average, each F&B generated 5.5kg of glass waste per day, as the unavailability of closed-loop recycling systems and options for restaurants to replace glass containers with alternatives or reverse logistics remained a challenge.
The Hong Kong government has implemented multiple measures to improve glass recycling systems, including waste glass bottle recycling plants, implementing a Producer Responsibility Scheme on Glass Beverage Containers, and a charging scheme for glass beverage containers. Having said that, there is still room for improvement in infrastructure to reach its desired goal of zero-waste to landfill by 2035.
Fortunately, the success of circular economy initiatives in many other countries offers abundant lessons to learn from. For example, in Næstved, Denmark, glass waste is recycled at the Glass Cluster, which not only produces new glass, but also supplies a local city with heating with the insulation generated as a byproduct from the production process . Additionally, Germany has also implemented its successful Pfand municipal deposit return scheme, where shoppers pay a deposit on top of the cost of the beverage itself, and can get their money back when they return their bottles and cans to the store.
Many businesses, regardless of their size, have taken similar approaches. The Ancolie café in New York encourages patrons to return their glass jars for reuse, with incentives such as a credit and a free meal. In Stuttgart, the Tin Tin bar implemented a deposit system for their reusable glass bottles, which customers can return for a small refund. The largest shift will come with initiatives by big corporates. For example, Coca-Cola France aims to soon distribute all their beverages to hotels, restaurants, and cafés using a deposit system, with empty bottles being returned to the factory for cleaning and refilling. This is an indication that these strategies are deemed by companies as both scalable and implementable.
F&B businesses, customers, and the government can all take steps to address this issue. Restaurants can consider using recyclable plastic containers instead of single-use glass containers. While the carbon footprint of glass decreases with each cycle of use, reusing plastic containers means keeping them in use instead of putting them through recycling, which requires energy and emits carbon footprint. Customers can choose to say no to single-use glass containers and instead drink tap water, draught beer, or sparkling water from a soda maker. Refillable glass bottles, plastic bottles, or carton packages are preferable to-go options provided they can be recycled. For both restaurants and customers, glass containers that are no longer used for beverages can be repurposed for storing other items, and waste glass should always be recycled.
The government can provide convenient glass waste collection services and implement a Charging Scheme for Glass Beverage Containers to streamline and drive down the cost of glass recycling, the revenue from which can be used to reinforce infrastructure and implement environmental policies. The government should also promote the reuse of glass bottles and incentivise consumers through schemes like deposit return systems. Optimising transportation to recycling facilities will help minimise carbon emissions, and give the hospitality sector an opportunity to improve reverse logistics for glass-packed products.
Overall, glass reuse and appropriate glass recycling is an important step towards a sustainable and zero-waste future. While the Hong Kong government is taking steps to improve the infrastructure for glass recycling, more needs to be done sooner. It's crucial that individuals and businesses take responsibility for their waste and recycle whenever possible. We encourage you to check out the full report to gain valuable insights on glass recycling and learn more about what you can do to help.
Check out our YouTube video about glass waste management here.
*Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material/event do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Environment and Conservation Fund.