Bag levy cuts shopping purchases

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am

Consumers were buying up to one item less in each purchase since the introduction of the plastic bag levy last year, retailers said yesterday.

Caroline Mak Sui-king, from the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said some major retail chains affected by the 50 HK cents levy per bag had reported a decline in 'basket size' between July last year and May this year.

Basket size refers to the number of items bought by each shopper. Some retailers had warned that consumers might choose to buy less if they had to pay for plastic bags or in case they forgot to bring their own bags.

Mak said there was a decline between 0.5 and 1 item per basket size among retail chains. She did not provide further details, such as the average basket size, as this might involve sensitive business information.

'Don't underestimate this small figure as these chains have very large people flow and that will add up to a great number,' Mak said.

Apart from turnover volume, Mak also said sales value at supermarkets had grown at a slower rate than at other retail outlets.

A spokeswoman for Wellcome said it had noticed consumers buying fewer items because they did not have sufficient bags, but they could not tell whether the average basket size had dropped.

The levy was introduced on July 7 last year after years of preparing the legislation. It is the first environmental levy related to waste reduction, apart from the construction and demolition charges imposed in 2006.

About 3,000 registered outlets, mostly large supermarket and personal store chains and convenience stores, are required to collect the levy for each plastic bag handed out.

The money collected goes to the government.

Since the levy was introduced, plastic-bag use has dropped by up to 90 per cent as more people now bring their own bags to shops.

By the end of March, a total of HK$19.8 million had been received from the levy, meaning about 39 million bags had been issued.

The income collected is far less than the estimated HK$200 million a year that had been anticipated by environment officials.

In the past year, at least two retailers deregistered and resumed handing out free plastic bags after they stopped selling one of the three items - food, medicine and personal care - the law specified as requiring an outlet to become registered and to collect the levy.

Mak said they were still pressing the Environmental Protection Department on how to carry out a review of the scheme after 12 months of its implementation.

A spokeswoman for the department said the government was consolidating and analysing data on the levy, as well as studying similar situations in other countries.

Positive cash flow

The money collected from the levy goes to the government, and for July 2009 to this March, it was, in Hong Kong dollars: $19.8m

Far fewer plastic bags

Usage of plastic bags is now far less than before the levy was introduced, with a reduction of: 90%

Plenty of collectors

The number of registered outlets now collecting the plastic bag levy has reached: 3,000

But low reward

The government had expected the levy to bring in an annual total of, in Hong Kong dollars: $200m