Hong Kong Green Group welcomes plan to raise tax on plastic bags to at least HK$1 by year end

Hong Kong is aiming to raise the price of plastic bags from the current HK$0.50 to at least HK$1 from December 31 – a hike hailed by a green group which has called the existing policy ineffective.

A sign in a store reminding customers of the HK$0.50 charge on plastic bags. Photo: GovHK.

The legislative procedures to discuss the adjustment of the plastic shopping bag (PSB) pricing system have already started, the government said Wednesday.

As well as raising prices, the government has also proposed scrapping existing exceptions under which the bags are currently given free to customers. Under the adjusted scheme, plastic bags will not be distributed free of charge to customers buying frozen or chilled food products.

Exceptions will remain for the purchase of food without packaging or not entirely contained in packaging, or “food and beverages to take away in non-airtight packaging”.

The increase marks the first plastic bag tax increase since the scheme – aimed at discouraging the use of bags – was introduced in 2009. The policy initially targeted supermarkets, convenience stores and cosmetics stores , before being rolled out to all retailers in 2015.

The Sustainable Development Council at a press conference in September. Photo: GovHK.

The Board of the Environmental Bureau for Sustainable Development (SDC) submitted a report to the government in April calling for a tax on plastic bags to be raised from HK$0.50 to HK$2, among other recommendations to control single-use plastics.

The suggestions were based on the Council’s public engagement exercise, which found that almost 60% of respondents “agreed with stricter controls on single-use plastic items to mitigate the ‘excessive use’.

According to the survey results, more than a third of respondents were willing to pay more for the use of single-use plastics.

A shopper walks past shelves at Wellcome. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The plastic bag tax increase will be “another step forward in Hong Kong’s work on waste reduction and recycling”, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Insufficient discouragement

Environmental NGO Greenpeace said it “welcomes” the government is “finally taking action” to increase the tax on plastic bags.

“Fight against the delay and inefficiency of [the] existing policy, we hope the adjustment can contribute to a responsible reduction in the use of plastic bags in Hong Kong,” Greenpeace activist Leanne Tam told HKFP.

She added, however, that “merely banning or adding extra charges to disposable plastic without providing a plastic-free alternative will only shift usage to other disposable materials and may not achieve the ‘ultimate goal of reducing waste at source’.

File photo: Pexels.

Environmental groups previously said the current HK$0.50 fee was insufficient to deter customers from buying plastic bags.

“After several years of implementation, the price of 50 cents per plastic bag has already been absorbed by the public and is no longer a sufficient deterrent,” said June Wong, manager (marine pollution) at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). in Hong Kong, said Last year.

According an April Legislative Council document, the number of plastic shopping bags thrown away in 2015 – the first year the levy system was fully implemented – fell by 25%. But the figure then rebounded in the following years.

A WWF survey last August found that most respondents who took plastic bags did so for hygiene reasons. Other reasons included convenience and the desire to keep them for personal use.

Bryce K. Locke