Hongkongers to pay HK$1 per plastic bag at supermarkets from next week, with operators given 1-month grace period

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  • Government workers posing as shoppers will carry out spot checks on enforcement for 3 months after the new levy takes effect on December 31
  • Charge is aimed at cutting down waste, and it is doubling in its first increase in 13 years
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Operators will pocket the fee for each of the estimated 170 million plastic bags supplied to shoppers every year. Photo: Elson Li

Hongkongers will pay HK$1 (12 US cents) for each plastic bag they take at supermarkets and wet markets from next week. The charge is aimed at cutting down waste, and it is doubling in its first increase in 13 years.

But all operators, including major chains such as ParknShop and Wellcome, would be given a one-month grace period to fully comply with the new rule, Bruno Luk Kar-kin, the deputy director of environmental protection, said on Wednesday. Government workers posing as shoppers would carry out spot checks on enforcement for three months after the new levy took effect on December 31, he added.

“During the first month’s grace period, we will give advice and verbal warnings to [supermarkets] breaking the law,” Luk said. “For self-checkout counters, we have already advised [shops] that they should try to place bags away from where customers can pick them up themselves.”

In October, the Legislative Council amended the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance to increase the plastic bag levy to HK$1. This was up from the current 50 cents, in the first increase since the law came into effect in 2009.

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Under the stepped-up regulations, certain previously allowed exemptions will be scrapped. Residents will be charged at the checkout if they want a plastic bag for chilled or frozen items, but they will not need to pay for one used for takeaway food or loose fresh goods.

Supermarkets can continue to freely supply plastic bags at their produce or meat sections. But Luk urged the public to follow a general rule of “one purchase, one bag”, unless multiple ones were needed to avoid ruining groceries.

“When it comes to customer behaviour, the law can’t possibly cover all miscellaneous details,” he said.

Luk noted environmental authorities would visit wet markets managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to offer residents and retailers tips about how to comply with the new rules.

Customers will not need to pay for plastic bags used for takeaway food or loose fresh goods. Photo: Elson Li

Offenders are subject to a HK$2,000 fine, but the penalty can go up to HK$200,000 for repeat violations.

“If we find some repeat offenders during the one-month period, we may consider prosecution,” Luk said.

Operators will keep the fees collected, according to Luk, as the government does not have enough manpower to monitor and gather the money from the more than 100,000 shops that will be required to implement the charge.

Instead, he called on them to make good use of the money for environmental purposes.

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A survey earlier this year by NGO Greeners Action found that supermarkets alone supplied shoppers in the city with more than 170 million plastic bags every year.

In Britain, a plastic bag fee is also collected directly by stores with a strong expectation that money raised will go to environmental causes. Retailers in Ireland, however, must pass on the levy to the government for every bag sold.

Hong Kong government statistics show that waste plastic in 2020 amounted to about 21 per cent, or 2,312 tonnes (2,548 tons), of municipal solid waste disposed of in landfill sites every day.

Typhoon Kompasu swept piles of rubbish back onto Hong Kong’s shorelines, exposing the city’s massive plastic pollution problem. Photo: May Tse

Local NGO the Society for Community Organisation said that although it did not support the increased charges, the new law would remind people to minimise the use of plastics.

“Low-income families are already very frugal [in using plastic bags],” said Sze Lai-shan, the organisation’s deputy director. “They have changed to use non-woven bags.”

She also suggested authorities distribute more non-woven bags to those in need.

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