Retailers back charges for non-woven bags

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2011, 12:00am


Retailers have shown support for the idea of charging customers for a widely used type of plastic bag in the next phase of the bag levy scheme.

They say they are aware of the abuse of non-woven bags - so called because they resemble fabric, but are made of plastic - that are handed out at shops and are ending up in landfills along with the common plastic bags that are subject to a 50 HK cent tax.

They also acknowledge the increasing use of plastic.

'Apart from public education, we should charge customers for obtaining non-woven bags to stop the abuse,' Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Shui-king said. 'The levy for these bags can be set even higher.' She was spelling out the association's views in a public consultation, due to end next month, on the next phase of the scheme.

The government proposes to extend the levy - now applied only by supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies - to all retailers, while allowing them to keep the money.

Since the scheme began in 2009, non-woven bags have become a substitute for plastic bags with handles.

The Environment Bureau found in a survey that only 0.4 per cent of bags disposed of in landfills were non-woven, but the Plastic Bags Manufacturers' Association found in its survey that overall plastic use had increased almost 30 per cent as a result of the rise in the use of non-woven bags, rubbish bags and small bags that supermarkets provide to package fruit, vegetables and raw meat.

While non-woven bags are reusable, they contain 30 to 50 times as much plastic as conventional ones and are more difficult to break down after disposal.

Mak welcomed the idea of letting retailers keep the levy, saying it would avoid high administration costs to retailers, especially small shops.

She urged the government to clarify the definition of a retailer and asked whether it would cover clinics, banks and travel agencies, and if it would offer exemptions for hygiene and safety reasons.

Apart from allowing bags to be used for fresh and cooked food, Mak hoped the government would also exempt plastic bags used for carrying frozen food, hot drinks, takeaways and medical prescriptions.

'Small plastic bags used to hold pills should be exempted as they are necessary for hygiene,' she said. 'They also bear useful information, such as a patient's personal data and medical instructions. However, the extra plastic bag given to carry all medicines away is unnecessary.'