Plastic bag use at Hong Kong newsstands down by 90pc since government levy, say green groups

Survey by green group finds 'positive' trend among newspaper sellers since government levy was imposed, but says more can be done

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 9:32pm

Green groups have praised an expanded government levy scheme they say has helped reduce plastic bag use at newsstands by nearly 90 per cent since it came into force six months ago.

A survey by Greeners Action of 160 newspaper vendors found 79 per cent no longer pre-bagged newspapers and magazines in plastic, while 90 per cent of 1,112 consumers polled no longer requested them since a 50 cent per bag levy was applied on May 1.

Greeners' executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said overuse of plastic bags at newsstands had been "very serious" before the levy was implemented, with the industry alone doling out a staggering 92 million plastic bags in 2012, most ending up in landfill.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Hong Kong’s new 50 cent plastic bag charge

"In the past, many consumers demanded bags either because they worried about rain or the newspapers being dirty," said Ho. "Overall, we see the trend is quite positive and fewer people are demanding bags."

Ho stressed, however, that there was much more room for improvement. The survey showed that a third of vendors were still offsetting the cost of the levy by offering customers a discount on newspapers.

Publishers could also do more to reduce packaging, while the government needed to educate customers to refuse free bags at other retail outlets even if they are covered by the myriad of exemptions, ranging from food hygiene to prepackaging.

"Even if there is an exemption, it doesn't mean you must take one," said Green Power chief executive Man Chi-sum. "We should aim to instil the mindset that one plastic bag is already one too many."

Bacon Liu Sair-ching, chairman of the Coalition of Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants, said vendors who had once expressed concerns about the impact of the levy were now beginning to accept it.

"It used to be that customers would complain about being ripped off if they didn't get a free bag for their paper as they believed it was their right," he said. "Some customers still request it of course, but in principle the scheme has been successful and attitudes are changing."

Liu said as a result of less pre-bagging, 80 to 90 per cent of a newsstand's plastic bags were kept off the streets. Vendors are now able to save "a few hundred to a thousand dollars" a month in plastic bag costs too, he said.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said it would continue to carry out publicity and education work to curb abuse of plastic bags and urge people to bring their own shopping bags. It would also be surveying landfills to assess the scheme's effectiveness.

At least 30,000 retail outlets and stalls have been inspected since April, with around 100 fixed penalties of HK$2,000 issued to businesses for breaching the regulation.

While large chain stores and supermarkets have been charging for plastic bags since 2009, the scheme was expanded to cover more than 100,000 retailers.

All retailers, from street hawkers to fashion chains, are now required to charge at least 50 cents for a plastic bag unless their goods fall under an array of exemptions such as fresh food and laundry.