Drink Without Waste: Re-Thinking Single-Use Plastic Beverage Packaging In HK

By Sophie le Clue 17 January, 2019

Hong Kong is facing a plastic waste crisis. ADMCF's le Clue expands on the working group set-up by corporates & NGOs

Over 80% of the packaging used for beverages ends up as waste in HK’s landfills. In 2017 this amounted to >1.7bn units & by 2030 set to swell to >2bn units per year
Waste problem is reaching critical mass & impacting businesses that leading bottlers & producers with local NGOs launched the Single Use Beverage Packaging Working Group
Aiming for a circular economy with a 70%-90% recovery rates of used beverage packaging (PET) and in the meantime pushing 4 key strategies & actions

Over the past 12 months or so, across the world we have seen a tidal wave of discussion and some notable action on stemming the steady flow of plastic waste into our oceans, despite the crisis being evident for many years.

Although invented as recently as the late 19th century, plastics are now ubiquitous and have plunged our once pristine oceans into crisis: polluting seas; killing marine life; and coming back to haunt us as micro particles in the fish we eat.

Plastic waste in Hong Kong

Over 80% of the packaging used for beverages ends up as waste in Hong Kong’s landfills. In 2017 this amounted to over 1.7 billion units. On the current course, by 2030 the numbers will swell to over 2 billion units per year.

Recovery rates however are dismal & much lower than many countries around the world

Recovery rates however are dismal and much lower than many countries around the world, amounting to 9% for PET and 0% for liquid cartons. The majority of this waste ends up in our landfills, with an un-quantified volume evidentially ending up as litter and marine pollution.

The good news is, not only that global action is gaining momentum, but that Hong Kong’s community has joined the fight.

Hong Kong Single Use Beverage Packaging Working Group

In September 2017, local NGOs together with Hong Kong’s leading beverage producers and bottlers, representing nearly half of bottled water and soft drinks sold in Hong Kong, joined major retailers and the waste industry to announce the formation of the Single Use Beverage Packaging Working Group (SUBPWG).

Its goal is to work together to develop and facilitate strategies and actions to significantly reduce waste from beverage consumption arriving at landfills and polluting Hong Kong’s environment. Also, the creation of the group was timely, with the government currently examining the possibility of introducing producer responsibility schemes for plastic bottles.

The Working Group is advocating for a circular economy

The Working Group is rightly ambitious, advocating for a circular economy where used packaging has a market value that incentivises recovery, recycling and re-use. It has pledged to work towards 70%-90% recovery rates for PET containers and liquid cartons by 2025 and states that the key to success will be working together: government, producers, retailers, recyclers and consumers.

Strategies and actions

One year on in December 2018, the Working Group launched its Drink Without Waste positioning paper, outlining strategies and actions to address the increasing mountain of waste from sealed single use beverage containers in Hong Kong.

Although not new, the key strategies and actions are clear and logical and apply to us all – as consumers, as industry and as NGOs.

  • Reduce single-use packaging: Install beverage dispensers. Bring your own bottle.
  • Redesign single-use packaging: Regulate packaging standards.
  • Recover single-use packaging: Implement a cash-on-return scheme.
  • Recycle single-use packaging: Build state-of-the-art recycling facilities.

According to the group, regulations to homogenise all plastic bottles and liquid cartons allows used packaging to be processed into valuable feedstock such as PET and paper for new packaging and other products.

A levy should be collected from producers & importers to cover the cost of cash-on-return schemes

Furthermore, the group supports the HKSAR government call for cash-on-return schemes to increase recovery rates of plastic bottles and calls for these schemes to be extended to other packaging, including liquid cartons. Currently the recovery rate for used metal cans in Hong Kong is 85%, demonstrating the effectiveness of a monetary value. The group also proposes that a levy should be collected from producers and importers to cover the cost of cash-on-return schemes and to help subsidise logistics and local recycling.

Major beverage producers & corporations committing

“Through 2019 we will complete the conversion of all our ‘Bonaqua’ Mineralised Water packaging to 100% rPET. In addition, we will launch 300 Bonaqua water stations across Hong Kong to promote the Bring Your Own Bottle Initiative.”

Neil Waters, Director and General Manager of Swire Coca-Cola Hong Kong and President of the Hong Kong Beverage Association


“As of 2018, Airport Authority Hong Kong has installed 104 drinking fountains and 23 hot water dispensers in 13 locations throughout the terminal buildings.”

Mike Kilburn, Assistant General Manager, Sustainability at the Airport Authority Hong Kong


 “We have voluntarily taken steps to transform our packaging to 100% recycled PET material since 2015… this not only reduces the production, use and wastage of plastic, but also helps with cutting carbon emissions.”

Edmond Yu, General Manager – Marketing of A.S. Watson Industries


With momentum ramping up, the Working Group is asking that we all take action and pledge support and commitment to the four Drink Without Waste Strategies and Actions.

ADMCF is an active Single Use Beverage Packaging Working Group member and part of the Drink Without Waste Initiative’s secretariat.

Further Reading

  • Portfolio Water Footprinting: Investors’ Visual Path To Water Risk & Exposure – Pressure to mitigate & value water risk is rising. Ceres’ Investor Water Toolkit is one tool investors can use. Their Hugh Brown Jr. expands and shares their latest developments on visualising risk
  • Financial Water Risk: A Unique Investment Opportunity – The first water risk index has been launched by TSC. Founder, Thomas Schumann, explains how the waterBeta model benefits investors and why we should mainstream water risk into portfolios
  • Blended Finance For Water – Oxford University’s Dr Alex Money shares a new blended finance approach that could help attract finance for difficult to finance water infrastructure projects, while also delivering high returns
  • Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’: Where Are We Now? – Daily & agriculture water use restrictions and the return of rain have bought time but is Cape Town really past ‘Day Zero’? Ahmed Khan from the Department of Environmental Affairs shares his views & lessons learnt
  • The Future Of Low Carbon Cities In China – China has launched 42 low carbon city pilots. Who is doing what and who is doing the best? Get the latest from Professor Andreas Oberheitmann of FOM University


  • Eight Million: China & The Global Plastic Challenge – Sustainable Asia’s Marcy Trent Long & Sam Bekemans share their new podcast series “Eight Million”, which looks into the plastic waste pollution issue globally & in China and what is being done. China Water Risk is featured in episode 2
  • The Water Footprint Of Hong Kong’s Diet – Urban centres are very much dependent on distant resources and as a result, their populations are unaware of their indirect water footprint. Davy Vanham from the European Commission looks at Hong Kong’s diet’s high water footprint
  • Plastic, China & The Circular Economy – Can we avoid more plastics than fish by 2050? Only around 10% of plastics gets recycled, but this is where opportunities lie. Woodring, founder of Plasticity Forum, shares key points from the 5th annual forum on the circular future of plastic
  • Plastic Waste: The Vector For Change – USD13billion is the annual cost of impact of plastic pollution to our oceans. Doug Woodring, founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, shares challenges ahead and strategies for a plastics-free ocean
Sophie le Clue
Author: Sophie le Clue
Sophie is a Director of ADMCF and is responsible for the Foundation’s environmental investments, including the identification/evaluation of projects and aligning financial investment with strategic philanthropic objectives. Sophie has worked for the past 20 years in the field of environmental protection and conservation, principally in the Asia Pacific region. She started her career in the UK working in London for an international engineering consulting firm as an environmental consultant, before moving to Hong Kong in 1992. Since then, Sophie has directed and managed consultant teams working on a range of projects for both public and private sector organizations, including environmental impact assessments, environmental management, policy and strategy development, as well as undertaking research projects in the Asia Pacific region.
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