Government 'covered up statistics' on plastic bags

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am

The retail sector is angry with the government for keeping it in the dark over a large drop in the number of plastic bags being thrown into the garbage before the bag levy was introduced in July.

Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king said that had the public or the sector known the figures earlier, they would have seen the 50 HK cents per bag levy was not needed.

She was speaking after the Environmental Protection Department reported the results of a landfill survey completed in June, which found that the volume of plastic bags discarded at waste dumps had dropped by 66.5 per cent compared to 2005 figures. About 4.6 billion plastic bags - a figure projected from counting bags from randomly chosen loads of waste taken to landfills - were dumped a year, the latest survey found. The previous projection in 2005 put the figure at 8.7 billion.

Of the bags counted in June, 657 million, or about 14 per cent, were from supermarkets, convenience stores and personal-care stores - the retailers that collect the levy. This was also down from the 1.9 billion bags, or 22 per cent, projected in 2005. The city dumped about 11 million reusable shopping bags a year, 29 million paper bags and 11.3 billion plastic garbage bags, the survey found.

Mak said she was puzzled as to why the survey figures had not been released until now, saying the numbers confirmed previous doubts that officials might have exaggerated the extent of plastic-bag abuses.

Even without the levy, Mak said the voluntary efforts of the retail sector had already achieved the reduction of more than the 50 per cent that the government had anticipated before the bag charge was introduced. 'The figures show the government misled the public and the legislature in endorsing a wrong piece of legislation that discriminates [against] the retail sector. Had these figures been known earlier, the levy would not be needed at all.'

An environment official said yesterday the levy was needed to curb abuses even though the number of bags thrown away on average had fallen from three to 1.8 per person per day - still higher than 0.9 bags in Ireland, 0.2 in San Francisco and one in Australia. 'There was still a need to take decisive action to stop the bag abuses, and this could not be achieved without the levy legislation,' said the official, who requested anonymity. The official said 13.46 million plastic bags were sold to shoppers between July 7 and November 30, and HK$6.7 million was collected from the levy.

The latest estimate showed that no more than 54 million bags would be issued in the year following the introduction of the levy, which translates into a reduction of more than 90 per cent of the 657 million bags distributed by authorised retailers.

Good start

The levy on plastic bags was introduced in July this year

The number of bags thrown into the garbage has fallen from an average of three per person per day to: 1.8