Stop dithering and extend bag levy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am


It has to be wondered how much public expenditure has been put into talking about widening the plastic bag levy rather than just doing it. Yet another consultation process has ended and, not surprisingly, most Hong Kong people are in favour of extending the two-year-old scheme from the present 3,000 shops to all 60,000. But despite the years of discussion and wide acceptance, environment minister Edward Yau Tang-wah still does not want to lay out a timetable for an extension, instead contending that more time is needed to work out the details. The lack of urgency about so basic yet necessary a step in making our city less wasteful raises all manner of questions about the government's claims to be dedicated to sustainability.

Environmental groups have been calling for a levy since the 1990s and Chief Secretary Henry Tang Yin-yen raised it in 2004 as finance secretary. Only in July 2009, after producers, retailers and the public had been repeatedly surveyed, was the 50 HK cents per bag tax finally introduced at supermarkets and other major outlets.

Authorities at the time said the scheme would most likely be reviewed after a year and, if judged a success, expanded. From the first day, that has been the case. Delaying the inevitable is unnecessarily harming our surroundings.

There is every reason to stop messing around. Plastic bags are a menace to our environment, taking decades to disintegrate, creating litter and endangering sea life. Our wastefulness and lack of recycling requirements mean that our landfills will have reached capacity in a matter of years. But while the tax has avoided the use of 253 million bags a year and sown the seeds of environmental awareness, there is still a long way to go: 4.4 billion bags were thrown away in 2010.

Fine-tuning is necessary. Plastic bags cannot be banned altogether, having uses in handling food and for hygiene. But these are matters authorities have had years to consider and should not be wasting any more time over. The next stage has to be implemented promptly so work can start on a fully fledged household recycling programme.