Shops might get to keep plastic bag levy
Retailers might be allowed to pocket a plastic bag levy they collect from shoppers under a revised scheme being considered by the Environmental Protection Department.
Environmentalists said this might enable the department to net as many retailers as possible by eliminating the need to return the levy to the government, but it might create enforcement problems, too, because of the vast number of retailers.
'How can they enforce the law and make sure retailers collect the levy they are asked to? What if a retailer offers a rebate in the price of their products to offset the levy?' said Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive officer of Green Power.
At present, only about 3,000 retail outlets are required to collect the 50-cent levy, most of them being large supermarket chains, personal care stores or convenience stores. They account for only 4 per cent of total retail outlets.
Last year, these 3,000 outlets collected HK$24.9 million in the levy from shoppers, far less than the HK$200 million that was originally anticipated.
Another thorny issue in expanding the levy scheme is to what extent exemptions should be given. There is little dispute over giving an exemption to cooked food or wet items. But whether an exemption should be granted to wet markets as a whole or small operators could be a controversial issue.
Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said the department should clearly spell out what the 'discriminatory use' of plastic bags, as stipulated in the levy law, meant before proposing any exemptions.
'Keep as few exemptions as possible. I am fine with giving out bags for cooked food but if you give wet markets an exemption, please give us it, too,' said Mak who has accused the existing levy scheme of being biased against some retailers.
Mak said the department had not had any dialogue with the association over the past six months regarding the next step in the levy. 'We feel like we are being treated like a transparent plastic bag,' she said.
Michelle Au Wing-tze, a senior environmental affairs officer for Friends of the Earth, said the government should give wet markets an exemption since most of the retailers were just small vendors. Au said the government should also expand the levy scheme in one go, instead of in phases as that would create more confusion among shoppers.
Angus Ho Hon-wai of Greeners' Action, which was the first group to launch a 'No Plastic Bag Day' before the levy law came into place, said there should only be an exemption for wet items.
Plastic bags sent to landfill
2009: 4.67 billion
2010: 4.4 billion
Reusable bags thrown away
2009: 10 million
2010: 17.7 million
Revenue from plastic bag levy since July 2009: HK$38 million
Retail outlets registered as collecting the levy
Retailers who have left the scheme: 7
Enforcement action taken:
HK$8,000 in fines