After the initial success of the introduction of the HKD 50c plastic bag levy in July 2009 the government has announced that it plans to increase this levy from the 3300 initial businesses (mainly supermarkets) to include all retailers that give out plastic shopping bags.
In mid-2010, one year after the initial levy was introduced, the total number of plastic shopping bags being disposed of in Hong Kong landfills was about 4.44 billion per annum, of which over 96% were non-levied plastic bags i.e. those that were available free. This equates to about 634 plastic shopping bags used per person per year – after the supermarket levy was introduced! Sound unbelievable? I guess if most people are shopping almost daily in a wet market that is easily 3-4 shopping bags there. Followed by a trip to a retail store for a body care product (in another bag), a takeaway drink in a bag, a newspaper in a bag … it all adds up.
The government landfill survey reveals that plastic shopping bag disposal attributable to retail sectors outside the scope of the levy scheme rose by 6% between mid-2009 and mid-2010. This means the problem of excessive use of plastic shopping bags remains serious and is not something that will decrease without a widespread actionable force.
Through the polls conducted by the Central Policy Unit to assess the effectiveness of the levy, 80% of respondents considered the Plastic Shopping Bag (PSB) Levy Scheme has helped them develop a Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) habit. By disincentivising the use of plastic bags, people respond positively. An extension of the levy to include all plastic shopping bags is part of the Government’s comprehensive waste management strategy and follows the international trend to restrict the sale and use of plastic shopping bags. Estimates of a reduction by 90 % have been quoted. From personal experience on the beaches, the plastic bags we see now are more likely to be those not covered by the 50c levy scheme.
Flat-top bags (i.e thin film clear bags without handles) will also be subject to regulation. This proposal will help deter the problem of excessive use of flat-top bags not solely for food hygiene purposes which is increasingly reported. These thin film bags are routinely used to cover frozen goods or refrigerated goods to shield the inevitable condensation from other products. By placing like items (i.e. all cold goods or all frozen goods) in one reusable shopping bag removes the need for individual product separation through use of a thin film plastic bag.
As for the plastic shopping bag manufacturers, they may suffer some loss in business when the proposal successfully achieves its target of further reducing plastic shopping bag use. But in view of the growing awareness of environmental conservation over the past years worldwide, they have already been facing strong market forces to phase out less eco-friendly products and align their business with products that will cause less environmental harm.
It is great to see the government taking this levy one step further. Our beaches, parks and waterways will be much cleaner as a result and we will all benefit from this.
For further reading