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Tommy, another team member says the most significant reward is the extra cash he can earn. He gets HK$120 per hour for helping to collect waste glass bottles. “I’d like to give some of my salary to my mum,” he says.

Brought together by glass recycling, the four former offenders have discovered a sense of community through their work.

They are not the only people to benefit from taking part in glass recycling. The Hong Chi Association, which works with people with intellectual disabilities, has launched a three-year Glass Bottle Recycling Campaign. Its goal is to reduce waste and provide job opportunities for Hong Chi trainees.

The trainees are divided into small groups and some are designated as ambassadors to promote the campaign in road shows and in schools.

One of the trainees Hui Yuk-po, follows the project van to different collection points to haul recycle bins full of glass bottles. He takes them back to Hong Chi’s Fanling unit for rinsing and delivers them to the eco-brick factory in Clearwater Bay.

Hui enjoys his duty and even considers rinsing glass bottles to be an eye-opening experience. “I can see a lot of beautiful bottles that I have not seen before,” he says.

When the recycle bin is too heavy, he and his partner Chan Kai-lun, help each other to lift it up. They load and unload the recycle bins efficiently and safely, without the assistance of their instructor.

Apart from learning independence and team spirit, Chan has also improved his communication skills while interacting with the public to promote glass recycling. “I was shy and quiet before. I didn’t know how to express myself. Now, when I see strangers while I am working, I will greet them,” he says.

When the pilot programme on Source Separation of Glass Bottles in Housing Estates ends, the EPD will analyse its effectiveness to decide if it is possible to launch a territory-wide glass recycling campaign.

According to the EPD’s Alain Lam, the target of the pilot programme is to collect 250 tonnes of glass bottles a year.

“Just 14 to 24 tons of discarded glass bottles are recycled, which is only one per cent of the amount generated,” says Lam.

To tie in with the scaling up of glass recycling, the government plans to negotiate with China’s Ministry of Environment Protection, to allow washed, categorised and crushed glass to be exported from Hong Kong to the mainland.

Lam says discarded glass bottles can be used as raw material for glass production factories in the mainland, which has a larger market for glass.

However, the ultimate way to minimise waste production is to reduce consumption. The government is actively considering if there is a need to make glass recycling mandatory under the “user pays” principle.

It will require public discussion, interaction and citizens’ participation if glass recycling is to really take-off in Hong Kong, says Tony Wong Shek-chung, executive committee member of Hong Kong Dumper Truck Drivers Association and a sponsor of the Green Glass Green project.

“There must be some sacrifices when promoting environmental protection,” he says.