Forced recycling of bags could defeat purpose of legislation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am

It was reported that lawmakers have suggested using the revenue generated from a proposed 50-cent tax on complimentary plastic carrier bags from supermarkets and retail chains to subsidise recycling ('Bag recycling urged', April 8). I urge lawmakers to review the rationale behind the proposed levy.

As several critics and correspondents have clearly pointed out in these columns, the proposal was based on a dubious number of plastic bags being disposed of daily and, flawed allegations of their 'indiscriminate' use - an issue that even the Environmental Protection Department's assistant director was not able to substantiate in his letters ('Survey shows public backs levy on plastic shopping bags', January 14 and 'Effective waste management starts with reduction at source', March 18). In your report, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said: 'We believe the 50-cent tax ... will be an effective way to reduce the abuse of plastic bags.' Again, he should substantiate what he meant by 'abuse'.

Supermarket bags have been shown not to be a contributor of any significance to the problem in our landfills. As the EPD's own survey stated, 93 per cent of respondents reuse the bags as rubbish bags, without using additional purpose-made plastic bin-liners. The use of additional bin-liners will exacerbate the problem of waste.

However, when supermarket bags are being used sensibly as rubbish bags, they cannot be recycled. As such, there is no point for legislators to suggest recycling used bags. If bags have to be recycled, people will switch to bin-liners, thus defeating the objective of reducing the number of bags used.

Mr Yau also said the government had discussed bag recycling with the relevant sectors but this did not seem very popular.

People should be encouraged to continue using plastic bags in an environmentally friendly manner as a substitute for bin-liners. But used plastic containers, utensils, parts, advertisement light boxes and banners can all be recycled conveniently - only if there is a correspondingly convenient collection system to help households and recyclers do so.

Alex F. T. Chu, Clear Water Bay