Plastic bag tax must be extended to all fast food outlets and stores

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 July, 2010, 12:00am

When we have Caroline Mak, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, pushing Secretary for Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah over the bag levy ('Environment chief must say when he will extend bag levy', July 14), you really have to ask if the administration is serious about its commitment to sustainability and to achieving significant reductions in unnecessary waste.

As Ms Mak (together with Michael Chan Yue-kwong, chairman of Cafe de Coral Holdings), has been in the eye of the storm of the minimum wage debate, why has Mr Yau not taken advantage of circumstances to promote a win-win situation? He could have linked savings achievable through waste reduction to balance extra costs incurred through the implementation of the minimum wage legislation.

Extending the levy on plastic bags to all retail stores and fast food outlets would save these operators considerable sums of money throughout the year.

Further savings could be made through reductions in non-essential packaging, such as the elimination of paper covers on food trays and plastic bags for utensils, and replacing throwaway coffee stirrers with reusable spoons. Patrons who choose takeaway food could be encouraged to bring their own containers with them.

In view of recent extreme weather conditions, a shortage in rice supplies this year is inevitable and prices will rise.

Caterers like Cafe de Coral could give diners the option of a smaller serving of rice. This would reduce waste food and help the bottom line at the same time.

If the bag levy covered all retail stores, then operators would not be tempted to exploit loopholes that undermine its objective.

Cashiers at Oliver's in Prince's Building, a subsidiary of Dairy Farm Group, Ms Mak's employer, ask customers if they want a bag and advise that they are free of charge.

When I inquired why it was no longer charging for bags, I was advised that the store had reduced its stock of cleaning materials and this allowed it to be removed from the list of outlets covered by current legislation.

This is not the mindset one would expect from one of Hong Kong's oldest corporations.

When even the Retail Management Association is pushing for the bag levy to be fully implemented, there is no excuse for further procrastination on a sensible and popular formula that will benefit all parties.

I urge Mr Yau to act now.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan