Sunday, 24 June 2012

Paper Blues

Cardboard is now worth less... so is it still worth it to recycle?
Although the Euro crisis is on the other side of the world, it's already affecting the elderly men and women in Hong Kong who try to scrape a living collecting cardboard boxes and papers for recycling.

These scavengers used to earn HK$1 per kilogram of cardboard, but nowadays only get 70 cents per kg.

That's because analysts are projecting a subdued pre-Christmas peak season from July, which affects the demand of key users of recycled packaging like toy and electronics manufacturers.

As a result, people like Mrs Lau in her 50s who supplements her income as a janitor, can now only make about HK$20 a day collecting cardboard in places like Lan Kwai Fong in Central.

Hong Kong and Europe -- the UK and the Netherlands in particular -- are the biggest exporters of cardboard to China. However mainland Chinese cardboard manufacturers are reporting lower demands than expected for this coming Christmas, according to Steve Emington of letsrecycle.com.

"Chinese cardboard mills and box makers have good stocks of finished product so will not be buying as much used cardboard from Britain," he says.

"There are hopes that the market for used cardboard will start to stabilize, although it may fall below HK$968 a tonne in July, with some expectation that it could level off at around HK$907 for some time."

Waste-paper merchant Yong Xiaofang owns Fat Kee Environment Recycle Company in Hong Kong. She said she used to get 10 tonnes of cardboard and newspapers per day from collectors, but now only receives about 6 tonnes.

"A lot of the elderly who sell us cardboard were very angry that we don't pay as much now," Yong said. "They yelled at me and thought I was cheating them, until they learned from the news that it's the economy -- not us -- that decides this price."

And to make an extra dollar or two, some of the people sprayed water on the cardboard to make it heavier.

Just as we are having a protracted discussion about how the Hong Kong government should be doing more to encourage recycling in the city, now it's hardly financially feasible to do it.

The environmental movement is stalled yet again.

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