Shops to stop handing out plastic bags next month

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am

Plastic bags will no longer be handed out automatically in many shops across Hong Kong - people will instead have to ask for them.

The campaign, to be launched on March 3, essentially means the current 'No Plastic Bag Day', practised by major retailers will go from the current one day a week to every day.

Consumers won't receive plastic shopping bags at cashier counters unless they ask for them. There won't be a charge for the bags, although some retailers would continue to encourage shoppers to make donations to green groups.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association, which announced the measure yesterday, said it hoped the campaign would lead to 400 million fewer bags being used every year. That would be almost half the number of bags Hong Kong used in 2005, according to the association's estimates.

The campaign will involve 18 chains, covering about 2,000 shops.

The association said the reduction target was achievable. Retailers had cut the number of bags by 150 million in 2006 under various voluntary initiatives, it said.

Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the association, said the campaign was not aimed as an alternative scheme to the plastic bag levy proposal the government was now fine-tuning before introducing into the legislature. She did believe, however, that the campaign would show what could be achieved on a voluntary basis.

Ms Mak said it was hoped the new move would help nudge shoppers towards the habit of taking their own bags when they go out shopping.

'We believe the voluntary scheme, coupled with consumer education, is the most effective way to reduce plastic bag usage, and therefore more time should be given to the retail industry and customers to prove that voluntary efforts are effective,' Ms Mak said.

Under the government's levy proposal, customers would have to pay 50 cents for each bag they request. The Legislative Council subcommittee that is charged with studying the levy proposal is due to meet today.

Ms Mak refused to say whether the levy should be delayed to see what a voluntary scheme accomplished. But she said the campaign would end once lawmakers endorsed the levy.

A spokesman for Wellcome said that the introduction of No Plastic Bag Day, along with other incentive schemes, had saved the chain about 50 million bags between 2006 and last year.

The total donations they received from customers who asked for bags was HK$160,000 last year.

Vincent Fang Kang, a lawmaker representing the retail and wholesale trade, pledged support for the trade's initiative. But he believed it had come too late as most of the groundwork and support for the new levy was in already in place. 'It has come too late and it is unlikely that the government would change its plan,' he said.

But he suggested delaying the tax until the economy gained a better footing.

Edward Yau Tang-wah, secretary for the environment, also welcomed the retailers' move but stressed that the government would press ahead with the levy.

'The issue has been discussed widely in the community and the public has indicated their support for the levy. We will table our legislation hoping to implement the levy as soon as possible,' he said.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said there should not be any delay in the plastic bag levy. 'We have publicised 'bring your own bag' since 1993 and there has been little behavioural change. Without a financial incentive, it would be difficult to make substantial cut in plastic bag abuse,' he said.

Joining the cause

Retail chains that will take part in the campaign

7-Eleven, China Resources Vanguard, City'super, Fusion by ParknShop, GNC, Gourmet, Great, International by ParknShop, Mannings, Marketplace by Jasons, Oliver's the Delicatessen, ParknShop, Taste, ThreeSixty, Vango, Watsons, Wellcome