Everything you need to know about Hong Kong’s new 50 cent plastic bag charge
A levy on plastic shopping bags will be expanded to over 100,000 retail points across the city on Wednesday.
All retailers, from the street hawkers to electronic appliance stores will be required to charge customers no less than 50 cents for a plastic bag unless the goods they hold fall under an array of exemptions listed by the Environmental Protection Department.
Three types of exemptions
- Bag used for food hygiene reasons
- Bag used for packaging
- Bag provided with the services
* Include cling film wrapping, packaging with holes like egg boxes, and unsealed packaging
** Only frozen soft drink cans are exempted. Frozen food in airtight packaging is exempted.
Three types of bags subject to charge
(i) PSBs whether or not there is a handle, handle hole, perforated line for tearing out handle hole, carrying string or strap, or any other carrying device on, or attached to, the bag
(ii) Paper bags with plastic lamination or plastic components including plastic handles and plastic accessories
(iii) Non-woven bags, commonly known as environmental bags, are made of plastic
Ten things you want to know about the levy
1) Will I be charged for a plastic bag when buying fresh produce at a wet market such as vegetables and seafood?
Generally speaking, no. Due to reasons of food hygiene, plastic bags at wet markets used to hold foodstuff like fresh fruit, vegetables or meat will be exempted from the charge unless they are in airtight or vacuum-sealed packaging.
2) I want to grab a cold one on the go, but stowed away in my backpack. But I don’t want to get other items in my pack wet. Will I be charged for a plastic bag to hold this can of chilled beer? A can is airtight isn’t it?
No. Due to the moisture that forms on the can as a result of condensation, it again poses a food hygiene risk and a bag can be given without charge. But watch out – a bag for a non-chilled can of beer however, will come under the expanded levy.
3) Okay, so I’m in a hurry and I need to grab a takeaway from a chachaanteng. The food is packaged in a foam lunchbox, it’s not chilled or frozen, and does not come with the service. Will they give me a free bag?
Yes. Your lunch may be stored in styrofoam packaging, but it is not air tight and sauce is likely to leak from the gaps in it. Again, this as it is a matter of food hygiene. The same goes for any foodstuff packaged in non-airtight plastic boxes or food sealed in cling film.
4) I’m still confused. What if I buy a vacuum-sealed pack of frozen chicken wings from the supermarket?
Plastic bags carrying frozen or chilled foodstuff segregate the condensation of water vapour from other goods so they will be exempted. So yes – If it’s cold, it’s tolled.
5) I’m at the supermarket and I buy two things: a kilogram of potatoes – that’s an unpackaged food item – and a new frying pan. All I need is one plastic bag to store them all. With the potatoes, will I still have to pay for one?
6) I’m sick and the GP has prescribed me with six types of medication. If bags provided with services are exempt, will I be charged for a plastic bag to hold all these pill pouches?
Yes. The plastic pouches do not fall under the levy as they come with the service tendered with no retail sales of goods involved. But a patient will have to pay the levy for a plastic bag to hold all of these pill pouches. Likewise, the standard plastic carry case for an x-ray report will also be exempted from the charge. But asking for another bag to hold the case will fall under the levy.
7) I’m leaving the laundromat and I want something to hold my freshly dry-cleaned suit in. Since bags provided with services are exempt, will I have to pay the levy?
It depends. The plastic garment bag carrying the dry-cleaned suit will be distributed for free as it comes with the service, but not if you ask for another bag to store that in. The plastic sack carrying your regular laundry will also be exempt.
8) I want to buy a comforter and these usually come pre-packaged in plastic carrying cases with handles. Will I be charged for it?
No. Plastic bags forming part of the goods will not be charged, nor do bags which have been sealed for prepackaging before they are delivered to the retailer. But asking for a plastic bag to put the prepackaged item in, will however, come under the levy.
9) I run a clothing store and it’s a bit awkward having to charge my regulars an extra 50 cents just for a plastic bag. I’ll still charge them, but I’ll give them a 50 cent discount on the purchased item. That should work, right?
Failure to charge a customer an no less than 50 cents for each plastic bag is an offence, as is offering a rebate or discount to the customer with the effect of directly offsetting the charge.
Retailers who breach the requirements could be slapped with a fixed penalty of HK$2,000 or even prosecution.
10) Instead of providing customers with a plastic bag, my store is opting for the more eco-friendly choice non-woven environmental shopping bags. Surely, these will not come under the levy, right?
Any plastic bags or bags with plastic components are considered plastic bags and will fall under the levy scheme. These include bags with plastic lamination, paper bags with plastic handles, a cotton bag with a plastic button. Non-woven bags are made of plastic too.