Plastic bag tax just first step in waste disposal
The government clearly wants to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags being disposed of in our rapidly filling landfills. Less than 31/2 months after it opened consultation on a proposed tax of 50 HK cents per bag, it has swept aside objections and announced that the plan will go ahead.
If legislators act with the same urgency, the law could be in place as early as the end of next year. For a government that has acted slowly on environmental issues, this is obviously a welcome step.
It must be remembered, though, that it is just a step - and a small one, at that. Although we throw away 23 million plastic bags each day, this is only a small amount of the rubbish from disposable plastics that Hong Kong produces. The law will do nothing about the daily tonnes of plastic bottles, cups, spoons and styrofoam containers. Nor does it touch on the wider issue of recycling, which remains low in community consciousness. Glass bottles and cans are as problematic.
Even when the law is in place, the government has to make a concerted enforcement effort. In Taiwan, where the final stage of a scheme aimed at eliminating plastic bags was implemented in 2003, tough fines have been substantially lessened, many small restaurants and shops ignore the rules, and plastic producers have maintained output by ensuring that magazines and a range of other goods are now plastic-wrapped.
The government, being unelected, has to tread carefully with such matters, of course. Consultation will be necessary, as will increasing awareness of the need for action.
Waste disposal is a pressing issue, and getting all sectors of the community on board, from companies to consumers, so that we have an integrated approach is a matter of urgency. Refunds on glass and plastic bottles and perhaps even compulsory recycling with fines for those who do not comply have to be considered.
The tax on plastic bags is a sound move, and the government is to be commended for acting so decisively. Now that the step has been taken, it has to continue the impetus through more far-reaching policies to create a truly environmentally friendly Hong Kong.