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Hong Kong environmental issues

Three major Hong Kong fast-food chains to be given free reusable utensils in HK$1.2 million scheme to spur ‘new habits’

  • Proponents assure no public funds going into pockets of big business
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 5:24am

Customers at three of Hong Kong’s major fast-food chains will be given free reusable tableware for forgoing single-use utensils as part of a new HK$1.2 million (US$153,000) government-funded incentive scheme to spur “new habits”.

Proponents of the move assure that no public funds will go into the pockets of big business.

Those who opt to exclude plastic spoons, knives and forks with their takeaway meals will earn a stamp, while collecting a set of six will earn them a free set of reusable cutlery – or a hot drink of their choice – at Cafe de Coral, Fairwood and Maxim’s.

The scheme is spearheaded by the Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC). The non-statutory body is delegated by the government’s Environment Conservation Fund Committee to vet and approve projects that promote education on such issues and mobilise community action.

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ECC chairman Lam Chiu-ying played down concerns that taxpayer money was being used to subsidise caterers without any public tendering and that ditching single-use plastics was responsible conduct anyway.

“That’s not the right perspective,” he said. “No cash crosses hands. We are using HK$1.2 million to procure reusable utensils for the public and they, as volunteer organisations, help us distribute them to help us achieve an objective: to breed a new behaviour, and reduce usage of single-use tableware.”

Lam added that the scheme was not “exclusive” to the three chains and that other volunteers were “welcome to help too”.

The ultimate goal was for all patrons to eventually develop the habit of forgoing single-use cutlery, and to bring their own takeaway containers without any incentives. But the chairman admitted such a behavioural shift would not be achieved overnight.

There were some concerns as it would cause some disturbance to their normal operations
Lam Chiu-ying, Environmental Campaign Committee

Lam said the chains would have to bear some costs as well: inconvenience and time for handling the stamps, doling out the ECC-stamped utensils and providing the free drinks.

“They agreed to it, but during discussions, there were some concerns as it would cause some disturbance to their normal operations,” he noted. The agreement with the three restaurants was brokered by the Hong Kong Catering Industry Association.

Green Earth executive director Edwin Lau Che-feng said cash discounts provided directly by the caterers for forgoing single-use would probably be more effective. Still, he welcomed the move as a good first step.

“I hope after the pilot scheme, they will test the effectiveness and see how many fewer single-use utensils there are, and then make a decision on whether to continue with it,” he said.

In her policy address last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would launch a feasibility study on the controlling or banning of single-use plastic tableware in Hong Kong before the end of the year.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said the ECC’s trial was in line with its efforts to work with the catering industry to reduce the use of disposable plastic tableware.

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The campaign would last for two months starting in late November, supplying 300,000 sets of reusable tableware worth about HK$1.2 million in total, the spokesman said.

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.