Should supermarkets offer a cash rebate to shoppers who use their own bags?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am

Matthew Murchie, 15, St Joseph's College

Offering a cash rebate for shoppers who bring their own bags may seem like a good idea, but how effective is it really?

Shoppers who do not bring their own bags still get free ones, and a cash rebate of less than HK$1 is hardly an overwhelming incentive to bring a bag.

Charging extra for plastic bags, on the other hand, is unlikely to be popular, but that's exactly the point. The less people like such a system, the more effective it will be. If people find paying for bags annoying, they are more likely to bring their own shopping bags.

It is also worth considering how feasible rebates are in the long term. In future, if bringing your own bag becomes the norm, supermarkets can hardly be expected to provide a cash rebate for everyone who brings their own bag. But charging for plastic bags is a sustainable long-term solution. It provides a constant reminder for those who forget to bring their own bags.

In fact, most laws in society are similar. We get fined for littering and we get parking tickets.

A penalty system, in other words, is a more efficient way of changing the public's shopping habits - a bitter dose of medicine, but effective.

Cheryl Wong, 18, Shun Lee Catholic Secondary School

Around 8 billion plastic bags end up in Hong Kong's landfills every year. But both the ideas of imposing a levy on plastic bags or stopping their distribution have not received positive feedback from the public.

The public has also asked what will be done with the proceeds from plastic bag sales.

The implication is that shoppers receive no benefit from the reduction of plastic bags. If the money went directly back to the shoppers' pockets on the other hand, they will see the benefits of reducing the use of plastic bags.

The most frequent supermarket shoppers are housewives, who always compare prices. They will quickly see how the cash rebates mount up and start bringing their own bags whenever they go shopping.

Cash rebates are effectively a way of sharing the good news about less plastic bag waste with the public. People would have something personal to gain from it and are more likely to participate.

Whatever policy the government and shops adopt, it is shoppers who will determine its effectiveness. I think rewarding shoppers, rather than penalising them, is the solution.