Backing for widening plastic bag levy
Most people favour extending the levy on plastic bags, which they believe has been effective in curbing abuses, the environment minister says.
Edward Yau Tang-wah was speaking at the end of a three-month consultation yesterday in which more than 1,000 submissions were received on a proposal to extend the 50 HK cents levy from major chains to all 60,000 retailers.
'Most people believe that the first stage of the plastic bag levy was effective and their initial views support expanding the levy,' Yau said.
But he said it would take more time to work out the details of what exemptions should be given for food and hygiene-related purposes.
The timing of the change would hinge on discussions with those affected.
It is understood that some submissions raised questions over whether a free bag could be issued to carry a lunch box or herbal medicine, while other people expressed unease over whether reusable shopping bags should be handed out for as little as 50 cents.
While the levy, introduced in July 2009, is said to have reduced plastic bag handouts by up to 90 per cent at the 3,000 retail outlets now covered by the law, surveys of landfills found that people were dumping more of the so-called environmental reusable bags, which are also plastic. The Hong Kong Retail Management Association, which represents major retailers such as supermarket chains, department stores and convenience stores, has pledged support for the extension, but it has called for careful consideration of the various exemptions.
Under the proposal, retailers will be able to keep the money they collect instead of handing it over to the government, provided they charge at least 50 cents a bag.
The current practice that allows people to freely take plastic bags without handles at supermarkets for fresh fruit or vegetables might also be regulated under the expanded scheme.
While environment officials say the public favours an extension, other surveys carried out by a political party and concern group have raised issues.
Just 45 per cent of the 514 people polled by the Democratic Party early this month agreed that the levy should be extended to all retailers and about 65 per cent of respondents also wanted the government to keep the levy proceeds.
The party said while it supported expanding the levy, it would be more desirable to endorse a dual system under which existing prescribed retailers should continue to hand back the levy revenue to the government while others, mostly smaller retailers, could keep the money to save on administrative costs.
The party said the results underlined the need for careful planning or the government would face more political obstacles ahead in implementation of the levy.
In another survey, conducted by the Ever Green Association, more than half of the 50 retailers questioned at five public housing estates in Hung Hom said they wanted to keep the levy, but 26 per cent said they would consider not collecting the levy from customers.
The number of disposable plastic bags that Hongkongers threw away last year. A total of 17.7 million reusable bags were thrown out