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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

本港膠袋棄置量按年急升15%,政府有意調整膠袋徵費政策,包括上調收費及收緊豁免範圍。

根據去年環保署發表的廢物統計報告,港人人均棄置垃圾量連升4年,每人每日平均棄置1.45公斤垃圾,是1991年以來最高水平。目前棄置堆填區的塑膠製品,以膠袋最多,遠超膠樽和即棄餐具,環保署最新資料顯示,家居廢物中膠袋的重量出現明顯反彈,由2016年的每日443公噸,升至2017年的514公噸,塑膠購物袋在堆填區的棄置量連續兩年顯著上升,超市常用的水果及冷藏食物平口袋是重災區,每年棄置量達到6.8億個;餐飲業膠袋棄置量升幅亦相當顯著,估計業界全年棄置至少4.26億個。

2009年,政府推出首階段膠袋徵費,市民到超市和便利店購物,如需要膠袋,每個徵收5毫。及至2015年,第二階段徵費計劃實施,全港10萬間商戶一律不可免費派膠袋。根據環保署說法,首階段徵費計劃「成績斐然」,超市和便利店派發膠袋數量,5年銳減近八成,第二階段徵費計劃推出後,同年堆填區膠袋棄置量亦見下跌,可是環保人士質疑實情是否如此理想,例如統計處數字便顯示,本港背心膠袋入口量自2009年起持續增加,升見新高水平,本地膠袋生產商也說近年產量反彈。

本港膠袋徵費水平不高,以愛爾蘭為例,當地膠袋徵費每個差不多要2港元。最近澳門政府提出膠袋徵費立法,建議每個膠袋收費1元,民眾普遍理解,有人甚至認為徵費1元水平太低,作用不足。本港膠袋徵費十年如一日,遏抑效力漸失,確有上調需要。當局可考慮制訂徵費水平檢討機制,因應「減膠」成效以及基層承受能力,每隔一段時間就調整。

全球「膠禍」嚴重,近年世界多地政府都推出措施,限制甚至禁用多種即棄塑膠製品。回看本港,去年施政報告亦提出加強應對塑膠廢物。政府除了與餐飲業界合作推動「走塑」,鼓勵少用即棄塑膠餐具,同時亦會以身作則,在政府場地加設飲水機鼓勵巿民自備水樽。政府願意加緊推動走塑減膠是好事,然而最重要還是看政策力度和決心,若是光說不練,本港膠禍只會進一步惡化。

■Glossary

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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