Bag makers mount thin argument against levy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am


The so-called environmentally friendly bags, also referred to as non-woven bags, are made from the same kind of plastic as the thin plastic shopping bags used by supermarkets and convenience stores, but they are thicker and more durable. So was it clever businesspeople who gave these bags such a green name?

Soon after the plastic bag levy took effect in July 2009, even some of the retailers that were not covered by the legislation replaced their conventional thin plastic bags with either paper bags or these 'environmentally friendly bags'.

The Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers' Association recently released the findings of a study it commissioned, which found that the overall material used for the production of these and other bags has grown by 27 per cent.

They said it took 30 to 50 times more plastic to make the 'green' bags than the thin bags; and production rose from 9.88 million bags made in 2009 to 17.74 million bags in 2010. The association concluded that the levy legislation had made the situation even worse for the environment.

It is an interesting conclusion but illogical.

Since the legislation, the association's members - mainly plastic bag manufacturers and distributors - and retailers and exhibitors have simply switched to using another type of bag that is outside the scope of the law, without any genuine concern about the excessive use of plastic bags.

Their action simply works against the aim of the legislation, where our government tried to use financial disincentives to change the public behaviour of taking free shopping bags from retailers.

Today, many of us are in the good habit of taking along our own bag when shopping. The number of plastic bags used per day by the retailers covered by the legislation has dropped more than 90 per cent since the levy's introduction in mid-2009.

The government is conducting a public consultation - which ends on August 16 - on the extension of the bag levy legislation.

I believe the legislation should be extended to cover all retailers and other types of bags - even those called 'environmentally friendly bags' - to prevent excessive use.

However, merely relying on the plastic bag levy legislation won't solve the city's enormous solid waste problems. This requires our government to implement a basket of measures, such as charging for waste; landfill bans; and producer responsibility for product packaging.

As responsible citizens, we should also play our part to change our wasteful approaches and refuse to accept the next bag we are offered.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of Friends of the Earth (HK)