Double Plastic Bag Levy by the End of the Year
Hong Kong will raise its minimum charging level for plastic bags from 50 cents HKD to 1 HKD per plastic bag by Dec 31, 2022, according to the Legislative Council meeting on Oct 19.
The Amended Bill approves the following three enhancement measures on the Plastic Shopping Bag (PSB) Charging Scheme:
- Increase the charging level to at least $1 per PSB;
- Remove the present exemption for PSBs carrying frozen or chilled foodstuff items;
- Tighten the present exemption for PSBs carrying foodstuff items in non-airtight packaging and limit the number of exempted PSBs to one per transaction.
The rise in PSB charging level is due to environmental factors such as rebounds in PSB disposal rate, as well as society’s acceptance of the need to lower the waste, according to Environment minister Tse Chin-wan.
Regarding the second amendment, the Bill explains that most frozen or chilled foodstuff items are packaged in airtight condition. Thus, no extra plastic bags are required to protect them from leakage or spillage.
The current exemption on PSBs for certain foodstuffs that are not contained or wholly contained, such as unpacked fresh meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables, will continue under the new regulation due to hygiene considerations. However, the number of free PSBs offered will be restricted to one per transaction. This arrangement aims to minimize the amount of PSBs as far as possible.
Similarly, the food and beverage takeaway items are also exempted from the amended Scheme. But still, the number of free PSB offered is limited to one per transaction.
Development of PSB Charging Scheme in Hong Kong
2009-2015: First Phase of the PSB Charging Scheme
Implemented on July 7, 2009, the first phase of the PSB Charging Scheme covered 3,000 retail outlets in Hong Kong, which were mainly supermarkets, convenience stores, and health and beauty stores. It was “remarkably effective” initially, and people started to bring their shopping bags, according to the Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau.
2015-2022: Current Phase of the PSB Charging Scheme
Nevertheless, due to its narrow coverage scope, the first phase Scheme could not deal with a large amount of PSBs offered by other uncovered retail stores. Therefore, the Government amended the Scheme based on a 3-month consultation and implemented the Product Eco-responsibility Regulation (Cap. 603A) on April 1, 2015.
2022 Dec 31 Onwards: Amendment Regulation 2022
The increasing number of disposed plastic bags in Hong Kong has led to more serious concerns about the current PSB Charging Scheme. For instance, World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF) called for a review of the current PSB Charging Scheme in 2021, claiming that the Scheme’s effectiveness was losing. By conducting a public survey, they suggested that the PSB levy should increase from 50 cents HKD to 2 HKD to reduce the usage of PSBs effectively.
On Apr 14, 2022, The Council for Sustainable Development (SDC) submitted a report on its 24 recommendations for controlling plastic bag usage to the Government. SDC believed that the pandemic had changed people’s lifestyles, as more people tended to have takeaway food daily, thus increasing the amount of PSBs used.
Plastic use control advice was unveiled on Apr 14, 2022. (Video: Information Services Department, HKSARG)
Taking consideration of SDC’s recommendations, the Government finally approved the amendment of the current PSB Charging Scheme, which will commence on Dec 31, 2022.
Confusion and Concern: Intricate Future of PSB Levy in Hong Kong
Despite the restriction on PSB levy, many are doubting the new Scheme’s effectiveness and arguing that the amendment comes too late.
“An increase of only 50 cents HKD cannot significantly reduce plastic bag usage. I will still buy one if I forget to bring my shopping bags.” said Yolanda Lin, a sophomore student from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She believes that most people will not be affected by just a 1 HKD levy on plastic bags while shopping; some even don’t know the exact price of a plastic bag.
Most young people like me do not bring their own shopping bags when they go to the supermarket. We seldom pay attention to the negligible price of a plastic bag.
—Yolanda Lin, HKUST student
A green group raised a similar view in July. They believed that the Government should increase the levy to 2HKD to push more people to bring their own bags.
Facebook post of a green group proposing raising plastic bag levy to 2 HKD (Hong Kong International Business Channel, Jul 3, 2022)
Private retailers should also take responsibility for reducing plastic bag usage. Many of them do not charge the plastic bag when you check out.
—Roy Wang, Bank of America employee
The effectiveness of the new levy scheme still remains unknown until the implementation stage. And the Government is also open to any inquiries or suggestions on the new arrangements.
(Feature image: Brian Yurasits, Unsplash)