The plastic-bag levy introduced two years ago has not helped protect the environment - in fact, the overall use of plastic has risen because of it, according to a manufacturers' group.
Although the use of conventional plastic bags had been on the decline, that of reusable bags, wrongly thought to have less plastic, had soared, said the Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers' Association.
The rise in the use of garbage bags, reusable bags - also called non-woven bags - and free plastic bags used in supermarkets for fruit and vegetables has increased overall plastic use by almost 30 per cent, according to the association's study.
Its survey of plastic-bag companies last month found that although the use of conventional plastic shopping bags had dropped by about 70 per cent, that of almost all other bags, some wrongly thought to be environmentally friendly, had risen markedly. For instance, the use of garbage bags has increased by more than 60 per cent since the plastic-bag levy came into effect in July 2009.
The association's vice-president Eric Lau Chi-leung said the increase in garbage bags was probably due to people no longer using plastic shopping bags for their trash, while the use of non-woven bags has almost.
'These so-called environment-friendly, reusable bags are made of plastic. But the government has not done enough to inform the public about this,' Lau said yesterday. 'That's why although we now have had the plastic-bag levy in place for two years, the amount of plastic we have used in bags has in fact increased by 27 per cent,' he said.
'Yes, we have done more business and made more money because of this trend. But we cannot let money blind our care for the environment.'
Reusable bags contain about 30 to 50 times as much plastic as conventional ones, and are more difficult to break down, and hence are more destructive to the environment, he said.
The association urged the government not to raise the current levy of 50 HK cents per bag to maintain its disincentive effect because that would fuel inflation. Lau suggested it should teach people to reuse the plastic bags they had.
A spokesman for the Environment Bureau said that was already being done, and its landfill survey had found that only 0.4 per cent of bags were non-woven ones.
He said 75 per cent of shoppers did not get plastic bags from registered shops, and since the levy most Hongkongers had supported the scheme and taken their own bags when shopping. 'We are currently consulting the public on whether to expand the scheme so that a levy will be imposed when shops give away non-woven bags,' he said.
Before the levy's introduction at 3,000 registered stores, plastic-bag manufacturers had worried that the industry would be hurt. Instead they have found that making reusable bags is more profitable.
The number of plastic shopping bags dumped in landfills every year before the levy, the Environmental Protection Department says