One in three local retailers defying Hong Kong’s plastic bag law, according to green group who posed as undercover shoppers

Greater enforcement urged after undercover study of 100 shops and vendors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 4:05pm

A Hong Kong green group is urging officials to crack down on retailers’ free use of plastic bags after finding that over one in three ignored the mandatory levy.

Throughout last month and this month, staffers at Greeners Action went undercover as shoppers in eight areas of the city: Mong Kok, Prince Edward, Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Kwai Fong, Tsuen Wan, Central and Wan Chai. They patronised retailers dealing in hardware, stationery, fashion, household goods, accessories and miscellaneous items, among others.

Of the 100 local shops and street vendors they visited, 35 did not charge customers the government- mandated HK$0.50 to use a plastic bag, with 57 per cent of those flouting the policy being hawker-style shops.

This is the group’s second in-depth analysis of the free use of plastic bags in the city. The first came last summer, a year after the government passed the legislation.

“While results have improved since last year’s similar investigation, with a 20 per cent decrease in the free use of bags, the figures are still skewed in a worryingly imbalanced ratio, especially given that the legislation has been in place for two years,” Greeners Action assistant project manager Leo Wong Ka-chi said.

Their attitude and disregard prove they do not care
Vicki Wong Pui-chi, Greeners Action

Some stores do not use traditional bags but instead ‘glass plastic bags’ – flimsy transparent bags that seal at the top – or small zip-top bags. However, the group’s senior project director, Vicki Wong Pui-chi, said any superfluous packaging should carry a charge.

According to the government’s 2015 levy, retailers who violate the 50 cent law are subject to a fixed penalty of HK$2,000.

“I don’t need a bag. It’s against the law,” said an undercover Greeners Action member rejecting a bag from a shopkeeper. In a response caught on video, the shopkeeper replied: “It doesn’t matter.”

“We believe the violators are aware of the law, but their attitude and disregard prove they do not care,” Wong said.

While the green group’s investigation suggested a lax attitude towards enforcing the 2015 levy, the Environmental Protection Department highlighted a HK$5,000 fine against A-1 Bakery on Monday after being caught illegally providing free shopping bags on multiple occasions.

A department spokesman said the fine was the first involving a major retail chain since the law was enacted.

Late Monday night, the department added that it had conducted 88,000 of its own inspections since April 2015, with 15 leading to criminal proceedings. It said that plastic bag charging had been “operating smoothly since its full implementation”.

The levy scheme was initially created to target 3,000 shops, but it was expanded to cover over 100,000.

The department claimed the levy has paid off. It said the number of plastic bags discarded into local landfills fell by 25 per cent between 2014 and 2015, from 5.2 billion to 3.9 billion.