Editorial : Addressing the problem of plastic bags

【明報專訊】THE disposal rate of plastic bags in Hong Kong has risen sharply by 15% year on year. The government intends to revise the levy scheme on plastic bags, considering options including raising the levy and limiting the scope of exemption.

According to waste statistics published last year by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), waste disposal per capita has risen for four years in a row, averaging 1.45 kilograms per person every day. This is the highest level since 1991. Currently the biggest proportion of plastic waste dumped in landfill sites is plastic bags, far exceeding plastic bottles and disposable cutlery. According to the latest figures released by the EPD, the weight of plastic bags among domestic waste has rebounded considerably, rising from 443 tonnes per day in 2016 to 514 tonnes per day in 2017. The amount of plastic bags dumped in landfill sites rose notably for two consecutive years, with the flat-top bags used in supermarkets for fruit and frozen food being particularly worthy of concern, as the number per day had reached 680 million. The number of plastic bags disposed of by the catering industry also rose noticeably, as it is estimated that the whole industry disposed of at least 426 million bags over the entire year.

In 2009, the government introduced the first phase of the levy scheme on plastic bags. Citizens making purchases in supermarkets and convenience stores began to pay 50 cents for every plastic bag. In 2015, the second phase of the scheme was implemented. One hundred thousand stores were all banned from handing out free plastic bags. According to the EPD, the first phase of the scheme achieved great success, as the number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and convenience stores fell by nearly 80% within five years. After the second phase was launched, the number of plastic bags dumped in landfills also fell over the same year. But environmentalists are sceptical. For example, figures from the Census and Statistics Department show that the number of T-shirt bags imported into Hong Kong has been rising steadily since 2009 and has reached a new high. Local plastic bag producers also say that production has rebounded in recent years.

The level of levy is not high in Hong Kong. In Ireland, for example, the levy for every plastic bag is equivalent to almost two Hong Kong dollars. Recently, the Macao government proposed a levy on plastic bags, recommending one dollar for every plastic bag. The public generally understands the necessity of doing so. But there are also people who believe that a levy of just one dollar is too low and insufficient. The levy on plastic bags in Hong Kong remains at the same level for ten years, and is losing its effectiveness. There is indeed a need for an upward revision. The government can consider reviewing the mechanism for setting the level of the levy and adjusting that at regular intervals in accordance with the effectiveness of plastic waste reduction and the grassroots' capability.

As plastics have become the bane of the world, different governments around the globe have introduced measures to limit or even ban a variety of disposable plastic products. Back in Hong Kong, last year's policy address also proposed stepping up effort against plastic waste. Apart from partnering with the catering industry for the campaign against plastic so as to encourage the use of less disposable plastic cutlery, the government should also be a good role model and install water dispensers on government premises to encourage citizens to bring their own bottles. It is a good thing that the government is willing to speed up the disuse of plastic. What is the most important, however, is the strength of the policies and the determination of the government. The problem of plastic will only worsen further if the government is all talk and no action.

明報社評2019.03.26:寓禁於徵有局限 減少膠禍須治本







equivalent : equal in value, amount, meaning, importance, etc.

necessity : the fact that sth must happen or be done; the need for sth

banev : sth that causes trouble and makes people unhappy

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