Bye Bye Bags

Bye Bye Bags

19 March, 2015
HK Extends Levy
100,000 more shops charging for plastic bags as of April 1
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In 2009, Hong Kong realised plastic is not so fantastic, and in July that year the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) introduced a 50 cent charge for plastic bags in designated shops – with the hope of reducing consumption and waste.
 
It’s now six years on and the EPD plans to extend the voluntary scheme to a mandatory one, covering a wider range of stores, and a greater variety of plastic bags. Under the new programme starting April 1st, roughly 100,000 additional shops will start charging punters for plastic! Ecozine got the lowdown from Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh.
 
Ecozine: How did the public respond to the 2009 plastic bag levy?
 
Christine: The EPD has estimated that the number of plastic shopping bags distributed by the registered retail outlets declined by up to 90% in the year following the implementation of the levy.
 
Ecozine: What types of bags did the 50 cent charge apply to under the 2009 scheme, and what kinds of plastic bags will this be extended to?
 
Christine: All bags that are made wholly, or partly, of plastic – irrespective of whether there is a carrying device – will be covered after April 1. Plastic shopping bags that are excluded from the 2009 levy, such as flat top bags without a carrying device, will be charged under the extended scheme. 
 
Ecozine: Did this policy have a positive effect on the environment?
 
Christine: Yes, because a ‘bring your own bag’ habit has gradually developed in Hong Kong. Every time we shop, we are reminded we can do something for the environment. This change of attitude can also seep into our wider behaviour – and the EPD is promoting an overall 'use less, waste less' culture. We believe the second phase of the plastic bag level scheme will help deepen behavioural change further.  In parallel, we are also implementing a number of measures ranging from targeted social mobilisation campaigns on food waste, to statutory waste charges. Waste management is now a frequently discussed topic in the community, which I see as a positive part of a general attitudinal change.
 
Ecozine: How much money has this tax levy raised so far, and what has it gone towards?
 
Christine: Since the levy scheme started in July 2009, the total amount of levy collected up to the end of December 2014 is around HK$163 million. The levy income is deposited into the general revenue account of the government, which is used to fund public services, including those related to the environment.    
 
Ecozine: Did the EPD conduct any community consultations ahead of the policy extension? How did they respond?
 
Christine: In May 2011, a three-month consultation on whether and how to extend the levy scheme was conducted. On the whole, the community supported an extended coverage to further address the problem of excessive plastic bag use in Hong Kong. In particular, there was majority support to also cover small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
 
Ecozine: Will the scheme be extended to include more retailers? What kind?
 
Christine: It will cover all retail sales of goods, irrespective of the scale or nature of the business. This will include chain stores, SMEs, hawkers, street level shops, upper floor shops and sales done via mail order or internet. It will also extend to businesses that are primarily service-oriented, but that also sell goods, such as tutorial schools selling books and stationery, and hairdressing salons selling hair care products. The scale change is substantial – from 3,500 retail outlets to about 100,000!
 
Ecozine: But the plastic bag levy charge of 50 cents will remain unchanged. Why?
 
Christine: At this stage, the community generally supports that 50 cents is an appropriate charge to discourage the use of plastic bags. The objective is to remind people to use fewer bags.
 
Ecozine: Will there be any continued exemptions for either retailers or types of bags? What are they?
 
Christine: Plastic bags used for food hygiene reasons are exempt, such as those containing a food item that is unpackaged, in non-airtight packaging, or frozen or chilled. Plastic bags used for the pre-packaging of goods are also exempt, and bags provided with services, such as dry cleaner bags, also fall outside the scope.
 
Ecozine: What methods will the EPD use to enforce the extended policy?
 
Christine: The EPD officers will conduct random checks and 'test-shop' at retail shops in various districts to ascertain compliance with the new requirements. Retailers contravening the requirements may be liable to prosecutions or a fixed penalty of HK$2,000. My EPD colleagues are working hard to inform retailers before 1 April.
 
 
Learn more here: http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/psb_charging/en/index.html

By: Ecozine Staff
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