Hong Kong’s only drinks carton recycler will continue to collect cartons and other plastic-coated paper products “until the last moment,” its co-founder has said, after its lease, which was supposed to expire at the end of the year, was extended by six months.

Mil Mill Harold Yip recycle
Harold Yip, co-founder of Mil Mill, on September 27. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The government-backed Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) published a statement on Thursday night, announcing that after a series of “active discussions” with the Environment and Ecology Bureau, it would offer a six-month grace period to its tenant Secure Information Disposable Services Limited (SSID) – the parent company of recycling plant Mil Mill – ending June 30, 2023.

“This grace period is on top of its current year-long extension ending 31 December 2022,” the statement read. The landlord also reiterated it had offered rental relief exceeding HK$1 million to Mil Mill during the pandemic.

Soon after HKSTP released the statement, the Environmental Protection Department issued a statement saying it “has along been encouraging the recycling of waste paper and beverage cartons.”

However, Mil Mill’s co-founder Harold Yip said on a radio programme on Friday morning that the lease extension was “no different” to a previous offer extended by the HKSTP. “I don’t see sincerity in their move at all,” the co-founder said.

Mil Mill Harold Yip recycle
Harold Yip, co-founder of Mil Mill, on September 27. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

In a Facebook post on Thursday night, Mil Mill claimed to have found out about the six-month extension from reporters.

Speaking on the radio, Yip claimed that HKSTP had initially suggested a six-month grace period when it said it would not renew Mil Mill’s lease. The landlord later change the grace period to three months, Yip said, then extended it again to six months on Thursday, calling it a “final offer.”

Mil Mill
Beverage carton processing machineries in Mil Mill. Photo: Mil Mill, via Facebook.

Regarding the HK$1 million rental relief, Yip said he did not understand why HKSTP described it as a exclusive privilege for Mil Mill. “All government property owners were required to offer rental subsidies to their tenants during Covid-19. It was not just us that was subsidised,” Yip said.

New paper pulp mill in 2025

Tse Chin-wan, secretary for environment and ecology, said on on RTHK radio programme on Friday that he understood HKSTP’s difficulties, while hoping Mil Mill could continue to serve Hong Kong.

Tse said he had received postcards from Mil Mill’s supporters made out of drinks cartons, and would continue to look for suitable land for the recycling plant to relocate to.

Mil Mill carton postcards
Supporters of Mil Mill are sending out carton-made postcards to the Environment and Ecology Bureau, urging the bureau to help the recycler. Photo: SheepPoo, lokyisham via Facebook.

However, he added that Mil Mill was too small to handle all the drinks cartons used in Hong Kong, adding that the Environment and Ecology Bureau had already tendered a larger paper pulp mill which will begin operations in the EcoPark in 2025. The bureau was preparing to cooperate with other contract recyclers if Mil Mill ceases operations, Tse said.

“Any regular paper products plants can recycle cartons too if additional machinery is installed,” Tse said, adding that the installation would only take a few months.

HKSTP Albert Wong
Albert Wong, the chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, meets the press on September 27. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

In response to Tse’s comment, Yip said Mil Mill took nine months to build its recycling mill, and that he believed it was the only plant recycling plastic-coated drink cartons in Hong Kong.

“If they say they can build a recycling mill in just a few months, I can only express my admiration. I really don’t know how,” Yip said.

Mil Mill would continue collecting cartons “until the last moment,” after previously announcing the plant would stop receiving cartons on October 1 when it was still thought that Mil Mill would have to vacate its premises on December 31.

The lease

Mil Mill announced last week that it faced closure after HKSTP did not renew its lease at the Yuen Long Industrial Estate.

Yip said the lease had been altered to facilitate “re-industrialisation” projects such as the development of microelectronics. The recycling facility could be forced to close or relocate by the end of the year.

Mil Mill Harold Yip recycle
Harold Yip, co-founder of Mil Mill, on September 27. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Albert Wong, CEO of HKSTP, told the press on Tuesday that it had been “working hard to help” Mil Mill’s parent firm from the beginning, and that they had made it clear to the recycling firm that the initial lease was set to expire in three years.

Meanwhile, Yip denied HKSTP’s claim that both parties had only agreed on a short-term lease in 2018.“[I]f the agreement was only three years all along, we would not have invested 10 million [dollars] in the first place,” Yip said in reference to the factory start-up costs.

With the city’s landfills nearing capacity, the government has set a target to gradually reduce per capita municipal solid waste by 40 to 45 per cent, and raise the recovery rate to around 55 per cent by encouraging recycling and charging for disposal.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.