Hong Kong set to double levy on plastic bags

Hong Kong set to double levy on plastic bags

City will charge producers, suppliers extra for glass beverage bottles

The government is planning to double a levy on plastic bags in late December. (South China Morning Post photo)
The government is planning to double a levy on plastic bags in late December. (South China Morning Post photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is set to double a levy on plastic bags in late December and charge producers or suppliers extra for glass beverage bottles in the first quarter of next year under a waste-reduction target.

Officials on Wednesday said they would launch the legislative process to strengthen the plastic shopping bag (PSB) charging scheme by amending the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance and expand the producer responsibility scheme for glass beverage containers (GPRS).

Both proposals are part of the Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035. The framework, published last year, set out the vision to reduce waste for better circulation of resources.

"The proposed enhancement to the PSB charging scheme and full implementation of the GPRS will be another step forward in Hong Kong's work on waste reduction and recycling, preparing for the implementation of municipal solid waste charging in the future," the government said.

Environmental authorities proposed doubling the plastic bag levy from 50 HK cents (2.20 baht) to at least HK$1 following a 13-year freeze, and to stop granting exemptions for frozen, chilled food as well as food products with airtight packaging, under which plastic bags are currently offered to customers for free for hygiene reasons.

Once the new law is enacted, consumers can only get one free plastic bag per order when buying takeaway food.

They also suggested formulating a product eco-responsibility regulation to introduce a recycling levy for glass beverage containers, with a proposed rate of 98 HK cents per litre. Both producers and suppliers of beverages in such glass containers are subject to the levy.

Authorities aim to implement the new regulation on plastic bag use on Dec 31, and introduce the glass bottle recycling levy in the first quarter of next year.

The plastic bag levy was first introduced in 2009, with full implementation of the law in 2015 to cover all retail shops.

According to a paper by the Environmental Bureau, even though the disposal quantity of plastic bags declined by about 25% within the first year, the volume of shopping bags disposed has since rebounded.

In May 2016, the Legislative Council passed a bill to regulate the disposal of glass containers and grant powers to the government to appoint contractors to carry out collection and treatment services for waste glass containers.

The Environmental Protection Department in January 2019 launched the glass container recycling charter to promote recycling in society.

Under the proposed glass bottle scheme, producers have to submit annual audit reports to keep the use of such containers in check, while a licensing system will be established to monitor the storage, treatment, reprocessing or recycling of glass container waste.

Bars and clubs are the main producers of such waste in Hong Kong.

Environmental groups have slammed the proposed changes as too little, too late, saying they have reservations about the glass container recycling levy.

"Removing the exemptions is, indeed, more effective to dissuade customers from using plastic bags. But the government has to more clearly define what airtight packaging is," said Edmond Lau Shiu-long, a senior project officer at The Green Earth.

"I doubt the flat rate can reflect the recycling incentive, especially for more expensive products such as liquors and alcohol. The rate should be proportionate to the product price."

However, Wing Chin Chun-wing, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, said although the glass bottle levy was "reasonably priced", he was reluctant to see the government taxing wine merchants.

"Those vintners are our upstream sector. They will just pass on the increase in costs to us, especially now that the economic environment is so bad," he said. "But we have no choice but to bear the cost ourselves."

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