Plastic bag levy scheme “wrong way” to handle waste reduction

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Raising prices on plastic bags may not be the answer to solving HK’s single-use plastic woes.

Photo: Hong Kong Street Garbage by Wilson Hui.

The Hong Kong government is considering increasing the price of single-use plastic bags but environmental experts say there may be better ways to cut the use of plastic in the city. 

The government may consider adjusting upwards the plastic bag fee of  HK$0.50, according to Secretary for the Environment KS Wong. 

The Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags was put in place in July 2009. It first impacted about 3,000 retailers, including supermarkets, convenience stores, and medicare and cosmetic stores. In 2015 it was expanded to all retail outlets. 

Mr Wong says the scheme has helped reduce the number of plastic bags distributed by 50 percent.

Despite this success, there are environmental advocates who argue that the government and corporations should take a different approach to single-use plastics. 

For one, the cost of plastic bags should be much higher than it is, said Ms Vicki Wong, Senior Public Affairs Officer at Greeners Actions.

“We think that it should be $2 or more… at least,” Wong said. 

But there are limits to the benefits of an increase. Even if LegCo approved an increase to $1 per bag, the increase would not become effective until the following year and by that point the price would be too low to even account for inflation. 

She encouraged people to make a habit of bringing reusable bags to supermarkets and avoid the plastic bag charge. 

But other approaches may be more effective at dealing with single-use plastics.

Dr Robert Hanson of environmental group CO2 Feeds the World claims this is the “wrong way” to approach the waste issue. He says the government is putting the onus on consumers to pay for plastic bags when the responsibility should fall on manufacturers, corporations, and the government to create an environment that makes it easier to avoid single-use plastics. 

There are many products that are packaged in an unnecessary amount of plastic, Dr Hanson said. Requiring the producer to cut down on plastic packaging would be far more productive to the overall goal of reducing waste. 

“Getting the focus on this plastic bag charge takes the focus away from real policies that are needed to actually manage sources more efficiently.”

Even with the progress that has been made, Ms Wong admits that Greeners Action has little confidence that the government will take the necessary action to raise the plastic bag levy and implement other measures to reduce single-use plastics in Hong Kong. 

“They are quite slow and not efficient on the discussion of the [levy]… Will it happen next year? We will keep our eyes on that.” 

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