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Mining Profit from Hong Kong's Mountains of Plastic

As economies and populations grow, so too does consumption. In most countries, the waste generated has outpaced the waste management and recycling infrastructure. This is exactly what is happening today in Hong Kong, where the government has announced a HK$31 billion plan to solve the pending landfill capacity crisis.

To solve this problem, we need to play as a team. We need education; the government has to set policies that are long term and transparent; and businesses can engage employees while producing goods that utilise reverse supply chains - that is, by using used materials as resources.

At a recent Business Environment Council meeting on waste issues held in Hong Kong, the one concern that stood out for Singapore was that plastic is the hardest to recover, with food waste a close second. When both get contaminated with each other, no one wants to do the expensive sorting. One possible easy solution would be to promote "wet and dry" waste. Nearly 19 per cent of Hong Kong's waste is plastic, according to the latest figures, or over 1,600 tonnes per day. Some interesting business opportunities exist in reusing this material.

In the US, billions of dollars every year are spent on packaging that turns into non-recycled waste. Roughly 85 per cent of the plastic used in products and packaging is not recycled, and this is a global opportunity - an opportunity for cleaning our countrysides and waterways, while creating jobs and innovation.

One new focus could be to see plastic in similar terms to carbon disclosure. Today, many companies know what their carbon and water footprints are, but in a growing world of waste generation, most don't know what their plastic footprint is. The Plastic Disclosure Project is a global programme that can help focus the business community's attention on plastic as a waste stream that can be turned into a resource revenue stream.

Discussions about plastic innovation, design, recycling and solutions don't happen enough, yet the benefits are broad. The Plasticity Forum, to be held in Hong Kong tomorrow, is a unique global event designed to create dialogue, so that brand managers, marketing departments, designers, specialists, managers and government leaders can see what is already happening, and how new products and solutions can be used in their own settings.

In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman was told that the future of the world was in plastics. Today, that still holds true, but the future is in the proper management and reuse of plastic, so that none of it ends up in our ecosystem.

Doug Woodring is the founder of the Plasticity Forum and co-founder of the Plastic Disclosure Project

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as How to mine profit from our mountains of plastic


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