Pre-bagged goods defeat spirit of levy
Amy Nip and Cheung Chi-fai
The introduction of the plastic bag levy in supermarkets next week is aimed at stopping a flood of plastic pollution - but Hong Kong consumers are still being deprived of the option of making environmentally friendly shopping choices by manufacturers and suppliers who insist on prepackaging goods in plastic bags.
Plastic-encased products remain in abundance on supermarket shelves although those outlets will be liable to a penalty if they offer free plastic bags in any form after the 50-cent bag levy is introduced on July 7.
Supermarket spokesmen said such packaging had nothing to do with them. The South China Morning Post inspected four outlets - a Wellcome, ParknShop, Jusco and an Apita - and found many examples of both small and large products offered with their own plastic bag.
A Purina brand dog food pack was found inside a plastic bag, the only one on a shelf full of pet food. The bag contained a single pack of pet food and weighed 1.81kg, much lighter than a 5kg plastic pack of rice that comes equipped with a handle.
Lion Japan's Shokubutsu shampoo refills were packed in self-sealing plastic bags, and the brand's washing detergent promotion package was also in an unsealed bag which customers could use to carry other things.
A box of Knorr chicken powder with a gift macaroni pack was on offer in a plastic bag, as were two Speed Tox wash foams not much heavier or bulkier than two canned soft drinks.
Bottled water joined several other drinks being offered in plastic bags. Doll brand instant noodles were marketed with a gift recyclable bag - all inside plastic packaging.
Greeners Action project manager Kwok Ying-ying said that while it was difficult to tell if the practice had proliferated ahead of the introduction of the plastic bag levy, her organisation feared that more suppliers might opt for such undesirable practices.
'Is it necessary to adopt such a practice to boost sales?' she asked. 'The prepackaging will certainly defeat the purpose of the plastic bag levy. We are worried there will be more copycats after the levy comes into force.'
Suppliers contacted by the Post said promotional items offered in plastic bags were not uncommon and were not designed to evade the bag levy. Knorr chicken powder distributor Unilever said it had provided its plastic-wrapped gift pack in early May for a two-week promotion. Nestle, the distributor of Purina dog food, said the plastic packaging around its dog food had been in use for more than a year and was designed as a convenience to shoppers.
Lion Japan said it would review its packaging to see if its unsealed bags met levy law requirements, but it had yet to receive any updated information from retailers on packaging.
Doll brand distributor Winner Food Products said its bags had not been requested by retailers, although it said it was in constant communication with supermarkets about special promotions.
Ho Suk-ching, a marketing professor from Chinese University, said that while there was no clear evidence to suggest prepackaging had anything to do with the levy, it was possible suppliers might be testing consumer responses.
'The suppliers might want to see to what extent consumers are receptive to the practice. If they are proved successful, more might follow suit,' she said.
Shopper Jean Fang was one consumer who said she found prepackaging useful. 'If it's big items, I support [its sale in a prepacked plastic bag]. You just carry it and go,' she said.
Another shopper, Andy Wong, said that if items did not come in a prepacked plastic bag, people might buy fewer items. Other shoppers said price, not the levy or how a product was packed, was the determining factor in their shopping decisions.
An Environment Bureau spokesman said consumers were encouraged to choose environmentally friendly products through civic education. 'If it is obvious that the packaging is unnecessary and produces unnecessary waste, consumers will know how to make an environmentally friendly choice,' he said.