Glass Warriors in Hong Kong

25 10 2011

By Penny Zhou | published Oct 20, 2011 

http://hk.asia-city.com/city-living/article/glass-warriors

Ever wonder where all the wine bottles, beer bottles and bits of broken glass go at the end of your boozy nights on the town? Penny Zhou talks to the minds behind a recent campaign among bars in SoHo that calls attention to the city’s glass recycling woes.

Since mid-September, twice each week, participating bars in SoHo have been keeping their waste glass from the night before and dropping the bags at four specific collection points to be picked up by trucks and sent for recycling. The project was initiated by The Globe, a pub on Graham Steet, and is the first time that bars in the area will be able to have their glass recycled.

But it’s not the first time that someone has tried to recycle their glass. For years, attempts were made but never realized, due to the near non-existence of glass recycling in the city. “All the glass just went to the bin like any other kind of garbage. It’s been that way forever,” Patrick Gatherer, assistant manager of The Globe, recalls of the old days. “A lot of people have looked into ways to recycle the glass. Toby [Cooper, manager of The Globe] did it six, seven years ago and found nothing. It has never been commercially viable so no one’s been interested in doing it.”

Fifteen months ago, upon overhearing customers chatting about the possibility of glass recycling in Hong Kong, Gatherer started researching and got in touch with Green Glass, an initiative started by the Hong Kong Dumper Truck Association and funded by the government’s Environment and Conservation Fund.

The association is a union of local truck drivers, many of whom haul waste from construction sites to transfer stations and landfills. Witnessing firsthand the amount of waste glass dumped at the fills, the Association launched Green Glass in February 2010. With the aim of raising awareness about the problem of waste glass while advocating glass recycling, Green Glass actively collects glass and bottles, the main target of glass collection being bar operators since bars produce most of the waste glass.

April Lai, the project coordinator of Green Glass, says the association would like to place collection bins at the most convenient spots for bars and where the glass can be collected in an effective way, but it has been extremely difficult to get permits from the Lands Department to set things up.

“They have a thousand concerns, such as the glass being used as a weapon. But even when we told them that the bin lids would be closed and we’d make special entrances for the collection points, they just wouldn’t say yes,” she says. One government official even told Lai that Hong Kong people are not ready for glass recycling, stating that the current paper and plastic recycling bins around town are not working.

“But if we want to teach the citizens the importance of recycling, the [best] way is to provide a means for them to do so and to correct their thinking, instead of not facilitating, assuming that they’ll misplace the recyclable waste anyway,” she adds. Right now, there are only two approved glass collection points open for the public.

It also took a year for The Globe and Green Glass to get the government approval for the SoHo campaign. Two previous applications were both turned down by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and District Council, whose reasons vary from the noise disturbing the residents, broken glass cutting people, to hygiene problems.“Which is ridiculous because the glass is going out there anyway even if we don’t collect it,” says Gatherer. Succeeding after the third attempt, they went door-to-door and talked to the bars about the project. In the first week, California Vintage, Hush, Life Café and Eclipse Group agreed to join. The number of participants quickly rose to 25 by the third week, and is still growing.

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