Environment chief must say when he will extend bag levy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 July, 2010, 12:00am

I refer to your editorial ('We must build on this plastic bag success', July 7).

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association totally agrees that 'there is no reason why the scheme should not now be widened and promptly turned into a full-blown recycling programme'.

We are very disappointed that Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah has not committed to a firm timetable for extending the scheme, to achieve the goal of reducing total plastic shopping bag usage in Hong Kong.

Applying the levy to only 4 per cent of all retail outlets cannot be justified as an effective means to achieve the policy objective of reducing indiscriminate use of total plastic bags in Hong Kong. It should not be a matter of choice on whether to extend the scheme beyond the existing prescribed retail outlets, but how.

The figures on how many plastic bags were discarded from 2005 to 2009 - released last November by the Environmental Protection Department - reveal that voluntary efforts and education resulted in a reduction of 54 per cent of total plastic bags dumped into landfills during that period.

The total estimated usage of plastic bags has been reduced by only a further, modest 13 per cent since the levy scheme was implemented.

The EPD must release the latest landfill survey findings when completed at the end of July.

It should also review the scheme covering the following areas:

review the scheme's objectives;

define 'indiscriminate use' of plastic bags across Hong Kong;

set targets for the total number of bags to be reduced across Hong Kong;

measure switching behaviour as a result of the levy scheme; and

review administration costs incurred by retailers collecting the levy.

Extending the scheme to all outlets is the only way to reduce the indiscriminate use of plastic bags in a fair and effective manner.

According to a Nielsen survey conducted in April, about 80 per cent of the public supported the EPD in rolling out and promoting the levy scheme to other retail outlets, which are not covered under the current scheme.

We hope that Mr Yau can confirm the timetable as soon as possible and share with us more details about how the next phase can significantly increase the coverage of the levy and effectively reduce plastic bag usage.

Caroline Mak, chairman, Hong Kong Retail Management Association