Refusal to pay bag levy may count as shoplifting

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2007, 12:00am

The bill that imposes a levy on plastic bags will be tabled for first reading by the Legislative Council next month, the environment chief said yesterday, adding that people unwilling to pay 50 cents per bag will have to bring their own once the levy takes effect, probably in 2009.

The progress was made after the Executive Council approved the draft legislation this week. The Product Eco-responsibility Bill that targets plastic bags will later also cover other products such as tyres, rechargeable batteries and electronic appliances.

In the bill's preliminary stage, the levy will involve about 2,000 large retail outlets. It is estimated that the number of bags will be reduced by 1billion and the levy will allow the government to take in HK$200 million each year.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said the levy would go directly to the Treasury. But he stressed it was not the government's goal to increase its revenue by imposing the levy.

'If the bill is implemented successfully, the levy will drop because people bring their own bag,' he said.

Retailers affected include those that sell three categories of products in the same shop - food and drinks, medicine and dietary supplements, and personal hygiene and beauty products - and are either a store of more than 200 square metres or a chain.

Large supermarkets, convenience stores, personal health shops and beauty stores are required to register with the government within three months after the law takes effect. Supermarkets inside department stores will not be exempted.

However, bin liners, bags for packaging fresh food and sealed bags applied before goods are put on sale can be exempted. Shops that fail to collect the tax for the government will be fined up to HK$200,000. Those that break the law twice will be fined as much as HK$500,000.

According to the law, the director of the Environmental Protection Department will supervise the collection of the levy. An appeals board chaired by a legal professional will be set up to handle controversial cases arising from levy collection.

'Customers who refuse to pay the levy will be regarded as shoplifting,' Mr Yau said, stressing the shops are charged with seeing the levy is paid.

Apart from environmental levies, Mr Yau said the bill, which aims to reduce municipal waste, could also take the form of advanced recycling fees, and deposit-refund and product take-back schemes.

Fine for failure

About 2,000 retail stores will be involved in the first phase of the plastic bag levy

Those that fail to collect the levy could be fined, in HK dollars, for a second offence up to $500,000