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











■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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