Plastic bag levy to be extended to all
The plastic shopping bag levy will be expanded to all of the city's 60,000 shops, who will be allowed to keep the fee instead of giving it to the government.
Under the new scheme announced on Monday, shops - regardless of their size and nature of business - will have to charge a 50-cent levy for each plastic bag unless the bags are provided for food safety and hygiene reasons.
Plastic bags with pre-packaged products and paper bags with plastic lamination will also continue to be exempt. But officials plan to charge for the free, handle-less bags now widely available in supermarkets if they are not used to carry food.
The scheme will go through a three-month public consultation. The government hopes it will be tabled in the Legislative Council by 2013.
Some 3,000 shops, mostly chain supermarkets and convenience stores, have been covered by the scheme since it was introduced in July 2009. The scheme netted HK$25 million for the government last year.
Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said earlier that the first phase of the scheme cut the number of bags distributed by about 90 per cent. But statistics released last week showed that the number of plastic bags dumped in landfills fell by just 5.7 per cent last year. This is because the 3,000 shops in the scheme are just a small fraction of the total in the city.
Yau said the retailers could keep the levy because it would be a huge burden for the government to handle the submissions. 'It will be a heavy burden for them [retailers] and we will have to handle as many as 250,000 submissions annually,' he said.
Speaking on a radio programme yesterday on the matter of whether shops should hand over the levy, Yau said there should be a balance between the difficulty in implementation and social recognition. He said retailers on the mainland and Taiwan could also pocket the plastic bag levy, making it easier to implement the scheme.
Angus Ho Hon-wai, executive director of Greeners Action, said it would be ideal if the levy collected was allocated to environmental activities, but it was not feasible given the amount of work involved.
He said the government should increase its manpower to check if any retailers break the rules and set up a hotline for people to report any breach.