The plastic debate

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

After a 14-hour budget debate, the Legislative Council late last month passed a 50 HK cents levy on plastic bags, to be introduced on July 7, but a retail association argues that reduction of plastic bag use should be voluntary.

The new law requires any retail chain with five or more stores and any individual shop with a floor size of more than 2,000 square feet to charge the levy if they sell food, medicine and personal care products. It is estimated that more than 2,000 shops will be affected.

But, in the meantime The Link REIT and the Hong Kong Retail Management Association have carried out their own campaigns to reduce plastic bag use.

The association's 'no plastic bags every day' campaign, which began on March 3, for example, brought together more than 2,100 shops, decreasing the number of bags handed out from 47.5 million to 28.8 million a month.

The association said the voluntary action by shop owners has had an enormous impact on the use of plastic bags and said it is inviting 70 more retail chains to join the campaign.

'We have never changed our stance from the very beginning that voluntary efforts are the most effective means of cutting plastic bag use,' said association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king.

Ms Mak pointed out that some shops - such as Bonjour and Marks & Spencer - only recently discovered that they fell within the scope of the new ruling. She urged the government to review the effectiveness of the levy.

Green group Friends of the Earth is worried as to how effective the levy would be in changing attitudes, which it says is key to lowering the number of plastic bags being thrown away in Kong Kong.

The Link REIT also took voluntary action between March 3 and April 3, launching a 'Shopping Bag Borrowing Service' at 33 of their malls. Customers paid a deposit to borrow the bags and a refund was available if they returned them before April 3. The Link is planning to hold the campaign again in July after the plastic bag levy is imposed. The Link and Greeners Action also kicked off a nine-month 'Hong Kong Plastic Bag Action-Reload' programme in March, setting up booths in shopping centres to collect plastic bags.

As July 7 draws nearer, there are likely to be more campaigns to cut plastic bag usage by shops opposed to the government levy.