If green groups have done their sums correctly, each resident of Hong Kong uses an average of 1,300 plastic bags a year. Add it all together and that makes more than 24 million bags a day, or 9 billion a year. This liberal and unthinking use of plastic is an environmental disaster, but also costly to taxpayers. Rather than foot the bill for the boats that trawl our harbour to scoop up used bags or shell out more money every decade to create landfills, we should be looking for ways to reduce the number of bags people take home in the first place. The campaign to do this has so far begun and ended with the city's two dominant supermarket chains, both of which feel that a minimally effective 10 cent rebate already in place is more than enough. These programmes are barely promoted and have reduced plastic bag consumption by perhaps a few dozen per store each day, while the busiest outlets see thousands of plastic bags march out the door each day. To be fair, these chains account for only a percentage of the plastic bag use in Hong Kong, and any serious effort to cut the total will have to branch out beyond the main supermarkets. As businesses, retail shops would be hard-pressed to refund more than the cost of the bags. Wellcome and ParknShop say their rebate already reflects both net cost and the presumed landfill charge. However, relying on this rebate alone is obviously far from enough to change consumption patterns, while the stores are unwilling to charge for bags for fear of driving customers away. If Hong Kong is serious about tackling this problem, something more will be needed. The good news is that the government seems to be taking seriously the Green Student Council's call for a 50 cent tax on each bag issued at stores. Apparently, the call for a levy has the support of both the Environmental Protection Department and Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. Money raised could go into a fund set up to promote recycling and environmental programmes. With any luck, the proposal will survive in a meaningful form by the time Mr Tang's budget comes out, despite opposition from the major grocery chains. It is only sensible to include as many retail shops as possible in this scheme, and that, too, will bring opposition. The government should be prepared to weather these complaints. In other cities where adequately high charges have been introduced, plastic bag use has been cut by up to 90 per cent. Even if Hong Kong's use fell by a third, that would be 3 billion plastic bags a year - not a negligible result at all. As for the revenue raised, the Green Student Council's estimate comes to $2.2 billion each year, assuming a 50 per cent reduction in use. This could go some way towards helping the woefully underdeveloped recycling business finally get off the ground in the city, not to mention offsetting the cost of those landfills. This editorial was published in the South China Morning Post on November 30, 2004 Activity Project Bagbuster: The goal is to raise awareness of plastic bag use at school and in the community. Step A: Your class is organising a publicity campaign to educate fellow students and the community about reducing the use of plastic bags. Work in groups and discuss activities that should be included in the campaign. How can you make the campaign effective? What measures should you adopt? How long should the campaign run? Step B: You will have to carry out some of the ideas that you propose, so be practical. Step C: Display some of your ideas on the school bulletin board.