英文

Editorial : Hong Kong's Effort to Go ''Plastic-free''

【明報專訊】A STRING OF POLICIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND WASTE REDUCTION is to be introduced this year. First in line will be the regulation plan for disposable plastic tableware and other plastic products, which will come into effect on 22 April.

Over the past few weeks, issues concerning the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) charging scheme have sparked widespread discussion in society. From property management companies, cleaning workers to ordinary citizens, many people had many questions about the specific details of the scheme. At last, the government decided to delay the official effective date of the scheme from the original 1 April to 1 August, and government departments will start conducting pilot trials in April.

Apart from MSW charging, there is another major environmental policy about to be implemented this year in Hong Kong, namely the regulation of disposable plastic tableware and other plastic products.

It is extremely difficult for plastic products to decompose naturally. If disposed of in landfills, they can take hundreds of years to decompose. If incinerated, they can release harmful pollutants. In 2009, Hong Kong began the gradual implementation of a plastic bag levy. However, no further major measures have been introduced in terms of "going plastic-free".

Disposal of plastic tableware and plastic bags even shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic, as citizens got used to ordering takeaway meals. According to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Department, the amount of solid waste discarded in landfills in 2022 reached 5.74 million tonnes, of which waste plastics accounted for over 20%. The government and all sectors of society must go plastic-free with greater urgency.

The government has been preparing for the phased regulation of disposable plastic tableware and other plastic products for quite some time. The first phase was originally scheduled to come into force in the fourth quarter of last year. However, due to the slower-than-expected scrutiny of the legislation by the Legislative Council, it was not passed until October last year. The government decided to postpone the day of implementation to ''Earth Day'', i.e. 22 April this year.

The specific regulations include the prohibition of the sale or provision of disposable plastic tableware, such as expanded polystyrene tableware, straws, disposable plastic forks and spoons, to takeaway customers. As for items such as disposable plastic cups, restaurants will only be prohibited from providing them to dine-in customers in the first phase. The ban will be extended to takeaway customers in the second phase, with the target of making all disposable tableware completely plastic-free by then.

Furthermore, the first phase of ''plastic-free'' measures will also include the regulation of the manufacturing, sales and free distribution of a range of disposable plastic products. Starting from 22 April, Hong Kong will ban the sale and free distribution of plastic cotton buds, balloon sticks, inflatable cheer sticks, plastic toothpicks, etc.

In Taiwan, hand-shaken tea shops have enjoyed widespread popularity. To reduce the use of disposable plastic cups, the authorities have in recent years stipulated that all chain beverage shops and convenience stores in Taiwan must provide a discount of at least NT$5 to consumers who bring their own containers. Fast-food restaurant chains are also required to provide reusable cup rental services in at least 5% of their shops. This practice provides food for thought for Hong Kong.

Of course, encouraging citizens to bring their own cups involves a change of habits, which cannot be achieved overnight. Similarly, the provision of reusable cup rental services by merchants involves many supporting arrangements. However, the authorities should still strive to promote such a practice. They should encourage the business community to participate and actively promote it to the public.

明報社評2024.01.30:「走塑」解說面向公眾 鼓勵自備容器減廢

環保減廢政策今年接連出台,現在打頭陣的,將是4月22日實施的即棄塑膠餐具及塑膠產品管制計劃。

過去數周,有關垃圾徵費的問題,在社會引起廣泛討論,無論物管公司、清潔工以至一般市民,對於垃圾徵費具體細節都有很多疑惑,最終政府決定將措施正式生效日期,由原定4月1日押後至8月1日,並由政府部門4月起先行先試。

然而除了垃圾徵費,本港今年還有另一項重大環保政策即將實施,那就是管制即棄塑膠餐具及塑膠產品。

塑膠製品極難自然分解,若以堆填方式處理,分解過程隨時要上百年;若焚化,則會釋出有害污染物。雖然香港早於2009年開始逐步實施膠袋徵費,但在「走塑」方面,遲遲未見進一步的重大措施出台。

新冠疫情期間,市民用餐慣了外賣,更令塑膠餐具和膠袋的棄置量上升。根據環保署最新數字,2022年棄置於堆填區的固體廢物量達574萬公噸,當中廢棄塑膠佔逾兩成,政府與社會各界必須加緊「走塑」。

分階段管制即棄塑膠餐具及塑膠產品,政府準備多時。首階段原定去年第四季實施,惟因法例審議進度較預期慢,去年10月才通過立法,當局決定押後至今年4月22日,即「世界地球日」正式實施。

具體規定包括禁止發售或向外賣顧客提供即棄膠餐具,例如發泡膠盒、飲管、即棄膠叉和膠匙等;至於即棄膠杯等,首階段只禁止食肆向堂食顧客提供,明年第二階段實施時,才擴展至外賣顧客,屆時目標是所有即棄餐具全面無塑。

另外,首階段「走塑」措施,還會管制一系列即棄塑膠產品的製造、銷售和供應。4月22日起,本港將禁止銷售及免費供應膠棉花棒、氣球棒、充氣打氣棒、膠牙籤等。

在台灣,手搖飲品店成行成市,當局為了減少即棄塑膠杯使用量,近年規定全台連鎖飲料店、便利店等,必須為自備容器的消費者提供至少5元台幣優惠,又要求連鎖快餐店至少5%門市必須提供循環杯租借服務,做法值得香港參考。

鼓勵市民自備杯具,移風易俗當然無法一蹴而就,由商戶提供重用杯租借,也牽涉很多配套安排,然而當局仍應致力推動,一邊鼓勵商界參與,一邊多向公眾推廣。

■Glossary 生字 /

decompose : to be destroyed gradually by natural chemical processes

beverage : any type of drink except water

food for thought : something that warrants serious consideration

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