Hong Kong has apparently made plastic grocery bags big news [“Plastic bag tax debate polarizes Hong Kong,” April 24, Page 23].
What to do? Tax them? Establish “no plastic bag” days? Mount a drive for shoppers to bring their own bag?
Where was Hong Kong when the 2006 Global Plastics Environmental Conference concluded that scrap plastic film has doubled in value, a boon for recyclers?
According to Daniel Schrager, a speaker at the conference and president of NextLife Recycling in Florida, higher oil and virgin resin prices have broadened the market for used plastic films. At the same time, according to Schrager, the market has jumped from 11 cents a pound to 24 cents a pound, and current market drivers — oil and resin prices — aren't apparently likely to calm down any time soon.
You would think that Hong Kong recyclers would jump on the opportunity with both feet, given that the city generates either 1.76 million pounds per day (Hong Kong government estimates) or a more realistic 360,000 pounds per day (Hong Kong Plastic Bag Manufacturers Association estimates, based on government waste figures).
Even with a lackluster recycling rate of 5 percent, that's over $4,300 a day. Do the math: $1.6 million a year; another 2 cents a pound makes it $1.7 million. Or keep the 24 cents and up the recovery rate to 7 percent: $2.2 million.
Any way you look at it, recycling makes sense and money, reduces litter and extends landfill life.
So far, according to Hong Kong's PBMA, the government is dragging its feet on a recycling program, opting instead to drive for cutting packaging across the board. Or impose a bag tax, which San Francisco recently looked at and finally rejected in lieu of a program by grocers to reduce bag use — paper and plastic — by 20 percent by the end of 2006.
Opposing plastic bag usage is not the best program. Increasing plastic bag recycling is, instead, a win-win: more bags, more recycling, hence more money in the economy instead of in the landfill. And you would think Hong Kong would pick up on that.
Pete Block retired after 40 years in public relations for waste- and recycling-related corporations. He continues as Block Ink LLC, consulting to those industries.