Plastic-bag levy runs into obstacle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am

A resolution to implement a levy on plastic bags from the middle of the year has been withdrawn because lawmakers have decided to set up a scrutinising committee.

The move may mean the government cannot launch the scheme in July as targeted. It had planned to take the subsidiary legislation for the levy scheme, under the Product Eco-responsibility Bill, to the Legislative Council today for a 'negative- vetting' process, in which a proposal is passed if no lawmaker objects.

But it withdrew the proposal this week because members have decided to set up a subcommittee to examine the law in detail.

The Liberal Party's Vincent Fang Kang, representing the retail sector, was one of the lawmakers who opposed the negative-vetting process. He denied deliberately delaying the scheme but said supermarkets were not yet ready to charge customers the levy of 50 cents because they needed time to upgrade their cashier systems.

'We suggest postponement not because of the economic downturn, but simply because of technical problems,' Mr Fang said.

He further recommended the government delay implementation until next January.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, a member of the subcommittee, opposed delaying implementation of the levy.

Democrat Kam Nai-wai said any attempt to delay the scheme would be inappropriate.

The scrutinising subcommittee will first meet on February 19.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said the government would work with the subcommittee and strive to complete the process 'within the shortest time'.

It still hoped to launch the scheme in July, he said.

The levy is being introduced to encourage customers to use fewer plastic bags.

It will require customers to pay for plastic bags at shops such as supermarkets, convenience stores and outlets of beauty and health care chains of a certain floor size and scale of operation, and which sell food, medicine and hygiene products.