Hong Kong’s Plastic Shopping Bag Levy May Be Expanded

Hong Kong’s Plastic Shopping Bag Levy May Be Expanded

Plastic Shopping Bag Levy a Success
Hong Kong, May 13, 2013 (PBBR) - The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (EPD) launched the Plastic Shopping Bag (PSB) Levy Scheme in July, 2009. The Scheme placed a 50 cents levy on all plastic shopping bags.

According to the EPD, the scheme has been successful, reducing plastic bag usage by 75% in the stores affected by the scheme. However, the PSB Levy Scheme only applied to about 3,300 retail stores, mostly supermarkets, convenience stores, and medicare and cosmetics stores.

However, EPD inspections showed a 6% increase in plastic shopping bag (PSB) disposal at local landfills in the period of mid-2009 to mid-2010. Many other retail outlets are still distributing PSB's to their customers as a matter of routine and the excessive use of PSB's continue to be a serious problem in Hong Kong.

Proposed Amendment to PSB Levy Scheme
On April 23, 2013, the EPD introduced a bill to amend the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance (PERO) to expand the Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags. "We propose that the extended PRS should adopt maximum coverage", stated the EPD.

The PERO amendment would require all retailers to levy the 50 cents any time that a plastic shopping bag is dispensed at the time of, or in connection with, a sale or offer of merchandise. The EPD noted that there are primarily service businesses that also sell goods, giving examples of schools selling books and stationary and hair salons selling hair care products.

The current PERO demands that the 50 cents (PSB) levy must be remitted to the government. Under the proposed amendment, the retailer would keep all of the 50 cents.

"This effectively will trigger the economic disincentive of a 50-cent PSB charge at every point of sales of goods, irrespective of the type of business of the seller or where the sales transaction is completed", stated the EPD.

Exemptions and Corrections
The amendment is not designed to discourage the use of plastic bags where necessary to ensure food hygiene. "Hence, we propose to exclude from the ban on free distribution those PSBs that contain only an item of foodstuffs."

Flat-top bags, currently exempt, will now be regulated under the new amendment. Flat-top bags have been used for food hygiene purposes. With the specific exclusion proposed in paragraph 7, the current approach will become obsolete. We therefore propose to amend the definition such that flat-top bags will be subject to regulation under the extended PRS. This proposal will help
deter the problem of excessive use of flat-top bags not solely for food hygiene purposes which is increasingly reported.

Also, non-woven bags will now be regulated. "We propose to clarify that a PSB does not include a bag that forms part of the goods concerned. For the avoidance of doubt, non-woven bags which were observed to have increased in number are made of plastics and hence fall under the definition of a PSB even under the current phase."

Section 1(1) of Schedule 1 to the PERO clarifies that a bag is a PSB to which the ordinance applies if:

  1. it is made wholly or partly of plastic; and
  2. there is a handle, handle hole, perforated line for tearing out a handle hole, carrying sting or strap, or any other carrying device on, or attached to, the bag.

Hong Kong's EPD estimates that the number of plastic shopping bags disposed of annually in landfills is 4.4 billion. The proposed amendment could potentially reduce that number by up to 90%. Experience has proven that the application of an economic disincentive at the retail end drastically reduces plastic shopping bag distribution.

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Cover photo: Hong Kong. Author: Francisco Martins. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0). Uploaded to flickr.com