The number of plastic bags being disposed of in Hong Kong has been increasing every year since the full implementation of the Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme (the Scheme) in 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Department. Although disposal of plastic bags dropped slightly in 2019 (to 4.07 billion), the amount is still higher than recorded in 2015 (3.93 billion). Disposal has been steady at around 1.6 plastic bags per person per day. Thus, there is a crucial need to review the current Scheme and its effectiveness.

The Kowloon East Office of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) and World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF) conducted an online survey from 9 to 27 August among 311 members of the public aged 18 or above to gauge their habits of using plastic bags and their views on the current Scheme.

Survey results show that over 70% of the respondents usually bring their own shopping bag. But as stated above, the plastic bag disposal rate is still too high. Michael Luk Chung-hung, HKFTU member and Legislative Councilor, believed that the government should implement a waste reduction blueprint and related policies as soon as possible, to change people’s habits, reduce the use of disposable plastic at source and promote local green economy development.

Under the current 50-cent levy per plastic bag, nearly half (48.6%) of the respondents would still accept plastic bags. If the levy were to increase to $1 per bag, only about a quarter (24.8%) of the respondents would take plastic bags. Only 8.4% of respondents said they would take plastic bags if the levy were to increase to $2. June Wong, Manager (Marine Pollution) at WWF-Hong Kong said, “After several years of implementation, the 50 cents pricetag per plastic bag has already been absorbed by the public, and no longer provides sufficient discouragement. Increasing the levy from 50 cents to $1 per plastic bag may significantly reduce plastic bag usage; increasing it to $2 would be more effective.”

The survey found that 65.6% of the respondents took plastic bags for hygiene reasons, 57.2% also indicated that plastic bags were necessary for items they bought. Other reasons included convenience (34.1%), offered by shops (19.3%) and keeping them for personal use (16.1%).

Tang Ka-piu, Chief Executive of Kowloon East Office of HKFTU, said, “It is understandable that people are using plastic bags for hygiene reasons during the pandemic. Yet individuals of the public continue to use plastic bags for convenience and being offered them by shops. This reflects that there is still room for improvement in terms of education and publicity.”
Tang continued, “some even use them as rubbish bags. Since the forthcoming Municipal Solid Waste charging will require using designated rubbish bags, it is advised to strengthen relevant publicity and education.”

Under circumstances of levy exemption, over 70% (72.3%) of the respondents considered plastic bags offered by shops unnecessary for food items wrapped in plastic wrap, nearly 70% (67.8%) also considered it unnecessary for food items wrapped in packaging with vent holes. Over half of the respondents considered plastic bags unnecessary for drinks in non-airtight disposable cups (53.7%) and non-airtight packaged food items (51.8%). The Government should review and consider including plastic bags used in the above four cases back into the Scheme.
Lee Ka-hang, Community Organiser of HKFTU said, “The original intent of the exemption was to provide a balance for food hygiene needs. Unfortunately, these plastic bags are not reusable. Shops are recommended to provide incentives to encourage the public reduce their plastic bag usage.”

Lastly, the Kowloon East team of the HKFTU and WWF are providing the following suggestions to the Government on the implementation and policy of reducing plastic bag usage:

  1. Review the existing Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme as soon as possible, including the scope of charges and exemptions.
  2. Arrange utensil rental services such as reusable plastic boxes at wet markets to provide safe and hygienic but reusable options for the public.
  3. Enhance publicity and education related to Municipal Solid Waste charging
  4. Include all materials of shopping bags into the Scheme to further promote the “Bring Your Own Bag” culture.
  5. The EPD should increase transparency of the Scheme by regularly publishing plastic bag levy income collected by major retailers.
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