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Carrie Lam's policy address 2018

Hong Kong mulls measures to restrict ‘single-use’ plastic cutlery, chief executive announces in policy address

Government canteens will also stop providing plastic straws and foam lunchboxes from early 2019

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 10:02am

Disposable plastic tableware may be controlled or banned in Hong Kong as the government moves to curb a major source of pollution.

It will consider the results of a feasibility study expected to be completed by 2020 before deciding how far to go in the war these “single-use” items.

But first, civil servants will lead by example. All government canteens will stop providing plastic straws and foam lunchboxes from early 2019. Caterers will also be encouraged to avoid providing plastic forks, knives and spoons as far as possible.

These moves are part of a raft of measures targeting plastic waste announced by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address on Wednesday.

Plastic makes up about 20 per cent of the city’s daily municipal waste. About 154 tonnes of disposable plastic tableware – 9 per cent of plastic waste and 2 per cent of all municipal waste – went into the city’s overflowing landfills in 2016.

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Hong Kong’s moves follow similar action by the European Union to look into banning single-use plastics, widely seen as a major contributor to microplastic and marine pollution.

“In view of the potential impact of disposable plastic tableware on Hong Kong and even the worldwide marine environment and ecology, we will study the feasibility, scope and mechanism of controlling or banning disposable plastic tableware,” Lam said in her policy address.

The feasibility study will start before the end of this year and be completed around 2020, a government source said.

Meanwhile, officials will accept a consultant’s recommendation to implement a “producer responsibility scheme” that will make producers pay for the collection and recycling of plastic drink bottles.

There will also be trials to gauge the effectiveness of reverse vending machines in recovering bottles; and expand a government-led collection and recycling scheme for plastic wastes.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, of the environmental advocacy group Green Earth, expects these schemes to raise the recycling rate of plastic bottles from merely 8.5 per cent in 2016.

An existing producer responsibility scheme, where retailers are required to required to charge customers no less than 50 cents for a plastic bag, will also be reviewed after being in place for three years.

In her speech, Lam pledged to present a bill to the Legislative Council within the year on introducing a long-awaited mandatory waste charge, reaffirming that it was “at the centre of our overall waste reduction strategy”.

The government will earmark an additional HK$300-400 million in the next financial year to strengthen support and education on waste reduction and recycling ahead of charging scheme. The cash injection will form the basis of a “dedicated fund” to sustain the scheme when it comes into effect. In the future, revenue from the charging scheme will go into it.

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Angus Ho Hon-wai, executive director of the Greeners Action, an environmental NGO, gave Lam’s policy address “85 out of 100 marks” for its waste-related policies.

“I’m pleased to see some surprises,” he said. “Her commitment to implementing the waste charge is laudable … but we hope to see it happen soon as it has been discussed for over 10 years now.”

Hong Kong’s municipal waste generation has increased 80 per cent over the past 30 years.