Hong Kong is lagging behind in efforts to develop a plastic-free culture, but steps are being taken in a bid to catch up. The first phase of a ban on single-use plastics is expected to take effect later this year. Meanwhile, the levy on plastic bags has been doubled to HK$1. But there is still much to be done. One of the many issues to be tackled concerns biodegradable plastics. These have become increasingly popular with consumers looking for environmentally friendly options. But the products are often misunderstood. Biodegradable plastics can break down in the natural environment. But some only degrade if treated in industrial processing plants and there are no large-scale facilities of this kind in Hong Kong. Studies have shown certain products, such as those that are OXO-degradable – breaking down in oxygen, heat and UV light – fragment into microplastics, causing further environmental problems. And some require specific conditions to degrade which may not be present in Hong Kong landfills. The new law is set to ban OXO-degradable products, but there are other biodegradable materials that also raise concerns. Another problem concerns the lack of clear labelling to ensure consumers understand the product they are buying and how to dispose of it. It is not only the public that is confused. A study by NGO The Green Earth revealed that staff at 13 of 46 government-funded recycling stations accepted biodegradable products even though they can contaminate the process. Those at eight more were unclear how to handle them. ‘Confusion over biodegradable plastics undermining Hong Kong’s recycling efforts’ The Environmental Protection Department has promised to improve communication with staff. There is a need for clear guidelines. Otherwise, public confidence in the recycling process will be damaged. New policies on biodegradable plastics should be put in place. Hong Kong must develop the ability to process them, regulate how they are marketed to consumers and consider extending the proposed ban on OXO-degradable products to other materials. The city is beginning to move in the right direction in its bid to end Hong Kong’s notorious “throwaway culture”. But a sense of urgency is required, along with comprehensive measures to tackle the variety of complex problems that arise.