The early morning hours are not an ideal time for legislators to push through new laws that touch our daily lives. The latest instance is an exception, given the need for the law in question. Since a proposal for a levy to discourage the wasteful, polluting use of plastic bags was put to a public consultation nearly two years ago, Hong Kong people have used and discarded as many as 15 billion bags. Meanwhile, argument for and against has generated enough hot air to inflate every one of them. Therefore, it came as a welcome relief at about 2am yesterday when lawmakers, having just passed the government's budget, finally approved regulations that clear the way for a 50 HK cent levy that could apply from early July. This should sharply reduce the volume of environmentally damaging plastic bags going into our scarce landfills. More importantly, however, the levy represents the first step towards urgently needed recycling programmes for polluting materials. Governments worldwide have struggled with a range of solutions to the plastic-bag problem, ranging from disincentives such as a levy to voluntary measures to discourage use and encourage recycling by retailers and consumers. Major Hong Kong retailers argued for a voluntary scheme, under which shoppers would have to ask for bags. The levy will be more effective, though it is good to see the industry already taking an environmentally responsible approach. Hopefully, it will continue to do so, with the emphasis on recycling initiatives. Now the way is clear to focus on more complex recycling and waste questions that must be resolved to meet popular demand for a better environment. It is time for the government to make some progress towards developing 'producer responsibility' schemes under eco-responsibility legislation. Issues include how to administer product collection, deposit refunds, advance recycling fees and environmental levies for electronics, car tyres, plastic products and other waste materials. Public support for the bag levy is a positive signal to the government of community expectations.