Hong Kong recycler sees pyrolysis as hedge against China's 'green fence'

By Steve Toloken
Staff Reporter / Asia Bureau Chief

Published: July 11, 2013 1:42 pm ET
Updated: July 11, 2013 1:46 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Public Policy, Sustainability, Recycling

While China's "green fence" crackdown on recycled material imports has caused some painful adjustments for recyclers, one Hong Kong company is suggesting some relief could come from building a pyrolysis factory to convert plastic waste to fuel oil.

Hong Kong Telford Envirotech Group Ltd., which has three plastics recycling plants in Hong Kong and two in neighboring Guangdong province in China, is proposing to build the pyrolysis plant, which would have an initial capacity of processing 7,200 metric tons of waste plastic annually.

It would start operations in 2015 in Hong Kong's Tuen Mun section, according to an application Telford filed with local government officials.

The company sees it partly as a hedge against recent restrictions on waste material imports into China — including the so-called "green fence" crackdown that began in February, said Joanne Lee, project manager for Telford, in a July 11 interview with Plastics News.

Those February restrictions, which are in many ways the toughest yet in China, have had an impact broadly on Hong Kong's plastics recyclers.

One Hong Kong recycling industry trade group said earlier this month that an estimated 10,000 metric tons of waste plastic that in the past would have been sent to China for recycling has instead been landfilled in Hong Kong.

Officials with the Federation of Hong Kong Recycle told the South China Morning Post newspaper that Hong Kong plastic recycling companies are losing on average HK$200,000 (US$25,800) to HK$300,000 (US$38,700) per month because of the new policy.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory of 7 million people, lacks enough of its own capacity to process the materials, the group said.

Lee said Telford believes its pyrolysis plant can make Hong Kong less dependent on mainland China and other markets for its waste plastics.

Lee said even before the "green fence" restrictions, mainland Chinese government officials would once or twice a year implement new policies that would make it more difficult to bring in waste materials, even for companies like Telford that have proper licenses.

She said the company would likely send lower-value materials like low density polyethylene bags or PVC to the waste-to-fuel plant, but continue to recycle higher-value materials like PET bottles.

She said the material that's now being thrown away in Hong Kong is probably lower-quality plastic: "If the 10,000 tons is PET bottles, it would not be thrown into the landfill."

Telford could eventually triple the capacity of the pyrolysis plant, Lee said. Initially, the operation would produce up to 4,300 metric tons of fuel oil a year.

The company is proposing building the facility at an industrial park for environmentally oriented businesses in Tuen Mun, where the company already has an existing plastics recycling operation.

The project is currently undergoing an environmental assessment, Lee said.

Beyond the new restrictions from mainland China, Hong Kong also faces home grown pressures on waste issues. The territory's environmental protection department says that its three landfills will run out of space in the next six years.

In Telford's initial proposal to the Hong Kong government in January, it said the plant could also help Hong Kong more broadly meet its waste reduction goals, including further developing its local recycling industry.


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Hong Kong recycler sees pyrolysis as hedge against China's 'green fence'

By Steve Toloken
Staff Reporter / Asia Bureau Chief

Published: July 11, 2013 1:42 pm ET
Updated: July 11, 2013 1:46 pm ET

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