The controversial 50-cent plastic bag tax will be implemented as soon as the end of next year despite strong opposition from the bag manufacturing industry. The government also rejected concern groups' calls to direct the estimated annual HK$200 million in tax revenue into environmental protection works. The decision was announced yesterday after environmental protection officials had finished studying views collected in a two-month public consultation, which ended in July. The Environmental Protection Department said it hoped the tax could be introduced at the end of next year, pending the passage of a product responsibility bill, set to come before the legislature this year. The first phase of the scheme is expected to apply to supermarkets and big chain stores, which will pass the 50-cent levy on to customers. It is estimated that the tax will reduce the number of plastic bags handed out by those retailers by about half, to 1 billion. Officials said the next phase would be decided based on a review to be conducted a year after the tax is implemented. Citing findings of a recent department poll, officials said yesterday that the government's move had obtained wide public support, with two-thirds of the 1,102 respondents in favour of the tax. But on the subject of how the money will be used, a government spokesman said: 'We would not like to give the public a wrong impression that they are contributing to environmental protection by paying 50 cents for a plastic bag. Otherwise, some may want to buy 10 bags if they think they are contributing HK$5 to environmental protection.' The spokesman insisted the scheme was not to generate more government revenue, but to discourage people from using plastic bags unnecessarily. According to the department, more than 23 million plastic bags are disposed of in landfills daily, equivalent to three bags per person per day. But plastic-bag manufacturers yesterday warned the levy could kill their industry and lead to mass layoffs. Luk Fong, a vice-president of the Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers' Association, said that many Hong Kong businessmen had invested in plants making plastic bags on the mainland and that the levy could force small and medium-sized plants to shut. The association also said taxes on plastic bags had been proved a failure in many countries. Friends of the Earth environmental affairs officer Michelle Au Wing-tsz said the government should use all the tax collected on bags for environmental protection. Richard Welford, of the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Urban Planning and Environmental Management, described the decision as a small first step in a process that needs to be broadened to include all disposable materials. 'On everything environmental, we are shockingly behind the times,' he said. 'Plastic bags are the easiest thing to deal with, but it is not tackling the fundamental use of plastics,' Professor Welford said. 'Overall, we need an integrated look at all disposable materials, from Styrofoam to paper cups and items that are given away for no reason.'