Hong Kong's single-use plastics ban off to smooth start
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Hong Kong's single-use plastics ban off to smooth start

Many opt for own utensils instead of forking out HK$1 for takeaway alternatives

An educational sign about the ban at a catering business in Kowloon Bay. (Photo: South China Morning Post)
An educational sign about the ban at a catering business in Kowloon Bay. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's single-use plastics ban started smoothly on Monday, with many people in a busy business district opting for their own utensils when buying takeaway food and drink instead of paying extra for alternatives.

But some smaller businesses were still handing out plastic cutlery and styrofoam boxes amid a six-month grace period, taking the chance to clear the last of their stock.

Under the first phase of the ban, styrofoam products and throwaway plastic utensils such as cutlery and straws were banned for takeaway purchases.

Single-use plastic tableware was no longer available to patrons dining in.

Most chain restaurant outlets in Admiralty, including Cafe de Coral, Mixian Sense, can.teen and Oliver's Super Sandwiches, were charging customers HK$1 (4.70 baht) for utensils, mostly wood or paper-based, when buying takeaway.

KFC and McDonald's had fully switched to wooden cutlery for both dine-in and takeaway.

But most customers chose not to fork out the extra HK$1, according to staff members from the outlets.

Wing Lai, a clerk in his 40s who bought breakfast on his way to work, said he did not buy the utensils because his office provided reusable ones.

"Nobody in our office uses disposable utensils, some even bring their own boxes. I am already one of the less eco-friendly staff among them," he said.

"The policy itself is a good initiative, otherwise our landfills will soon be full."

Lai said he would also consider ditching paper straws after he found a better alternative to stainless steel ones, and he could not dine-in for breakfast due to time constraints.

Mandy Wan, a dentist assistant in her 30s, started bringing her own reusable utensils because she was not happy with the quality of non-plastic ones.

"The policy is for a good cause but some alternatives simply do not work - the paper spoons can't hold anything, so I bring my own."

A clerk surnamed Yau, meanwhile, said that because of the policy she kept a hundred sets of disposable plastic cutlery in her office, which she bought for less than HK$20 from a wholesaler.

"It's not about the HK$1 utensil charge, but the quality of the alternatives, the paper cutlery just softens too quickly in hot soup," she said.

"I may consider switching to reusable cutlery in future, but washing them every day is a hassle."

Among those who decided to pay for wood-based cutlery was John So, a 29-year-old worker in the surveying industry.

"I know many people have complained about the quality of the alternative utensils, I will see for myself if that's true today," he said.

"If they are not usable, I will simply buy throwaway plastic cutlery from the supermarket, they are much cheaper."

But So said he would not consider bringing his own utensils: "If I had the time, I would bring my own lunch."

Some small businesses on Monday said they had not yet ditched the plastic items and styrofoam boxes, claiming they were clearing the last of their stock.

Gary Ngan, owner of a snack shop in Wan Chai which is still providing plastic spoons, straws and stirrers to those buying takeaway items, said the stock of banned plastics would only last a few more days.

"We still have a few more bags of plastic tableware left, and we will start giving wooden and paper cutlery after they are used up," he said, adding he had no plan to charge extra for the cutlery yet.

Also in Wan Chai, a cha chaan teng was seen still giving out styrofoam boxes and full sets of plastic cutlery.

Its owner, surnamed Yeung, said those items were the last in his stock and he would soon switch to eco-friendly cutlery as suggested by the government.

"What's the point of making such a big fuss when business is so slow? They should come down to see it for themselves," he said. "Later we will need to charge HK$2 extra for those getting takeaway."

Under the six-month grace period, enforcement action will only be taken if repeated advice is ignored.

Some products with non-plastic alternatives, such as cotton buds, umbrella covers, and glow sticks, are also banned.

Hotels and guest houses will be barred from supplying free toiletries in synthetic disposable containers and free in-room water in plastic bottles.

Businesses that breach the ban face a maximum fine of HK$100,000. They may also receive a HK$2,000 fine under a fixed penalty system.

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