Time to take tougher action on plastic bags

The 50 HK cents levy on plastic bags is not being widely enforced by retailers, a survey by green groups has found

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 1:08am

The 50 HK cents plastic bag levy is central to Hong Kong ‘s environmental credentials, particularly in the fight to save the planet from the threat posed by plastics. When the levy, introduced in 2007, was broadened two years ago from supermarkets and convenience stores to about 100,000 retailers, compliance was always going to be an issue. After all, if shoppers do not bring their own bags, and retailers don’t bother charging the 50 HK cents that goes toward environmental protection, the exercise is futile.

The environmental group Greeners Action investigated the issue in a survey a year ago and again last month. The most recent survey found that one in three retailers did not charge the mandatory 50 HK cents for a plastic bag. That may be a 20 per cent reduction in non-compliance from the survey last year, but the group is right to call for government officials to crack down on retailers supplying bags free.

Activists shopped anonymously in Mong Kok, Prince Edward, Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Kwai Fong, Tsuen Wan, Central and Wan Chai, at retailers of hardware, stationery, fashion, household goods and accessories, among others.

Half of Hong Kong retailers flout plastic bag levy in investigation by green group

In response to suggestions of lax enforcement of the levy, the Environmental Protection Department highlighted a HK$5,000 fine on a bakery earlier this year for providing free bags at a store at the airport. But apparently such penalties are not acting as a deterrent. In an example caught on video, an undercover member of Greeners Action rejected a free bag from a shopkeeper, saying: “I don’t need a bag. It’s against the law.” The shopkeeper replied: “it doesn’t matter.”

Despite non-compliance, the department says the levy is paying off, with a 25 per cent fall in the number of plastic bags finding their way into landfills between 2014 and 2015, from 5.2 billion to 3.9 billion. That should be an encouragement to take tougher action to ensure compliance, not an excuse for inaction. Because plastics take centuries to decompose and bags can wreak all kinds of havoc, from killing marine life to blocking drains and causing floods, we have to make every effort to use them sparingly, with a view to a total ban eventually.