Ploys to dodge 50-cent bag law may be illegal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 June, 2009, 12:00am

The government is looking into whether retailers will break the law if they adopt ploys to get around the 50-cent levy on plastic bags when it takes effect next month.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said his bureau was studying the legality of 'tricks' such as pre-packaging products in plastic bags or offering different types of bags.

Mr Yau said the bureau would consider amending the relevant laws, although he did not believe such ploys would be prevalent early on.

'They will be going to an unnecessary extreme if they do this,' he said. 'It will ruin their reputation and put them at odds with the public who support cutting bag abuse through the levy.'

The Circle K convenience store chain has said it will challenge the levy by offering a free bag to any customer who does not want to pay the 50 cents, but the rival 7-Eleven chain has said it has no plans to follow suit.

Green groups are also concerned about possible abuse of pre-packaged products, some of which come in unsealed bags with handles.

Under the law, passed in April, the levy will not be imposed on products such as toilet paper rolls in plastic bags, while plastic bags without handles are also exempt.

While most such packaging originates with manufacturers, officials admit it will be difficult to tell if the retailers have put the products in unsealed bags, which customers can then use for other purchases as well.

More than 2,800 retailers affected by the levy have registered with the Environmental Protection Department, meaning free plastic bags at their outlets will be banned from July 7. The number was about 95 per cent of the targeted retailers - those that are operating at least five stores or a store of at least 200 square metres and selling food and drinks, personal care and beauty products, and medicine or first aid items simultaneously.

Mr Yau said the remaining 5 per cent, mostly small stores such as local groceries, might have decided against offering plastic bags any more or to switch to paper bags.

He urged customers to check whether the official logo of the plastic bag levy was displayed in a store before they asked and paid for the bags. He also reminded consumers that refusal to pay could be an offence but it was not against the law for a retailer not to issue a levy receipt.

Retailers not on the registry who collected the levy might be guilty of deception.

'I don't think people will take the risk of violating the law just for a plastic bag,' he said.

The department's inspection team will enforce the law at street level. Consumers in doubt can call the department's hotline, 3187 0333.

Mr Yau said he was unworried about confusion on July 7 as a series of publicity events were planned in the coming weeks. He called on consumers to take the chance to switch to a greener lifestyle and minimise excessive use of plastic bags.