Hong Kong’s legislature has expressed mixed reviews to a lawmaker’s proposal to increase the city’s plastic shopping bag fee to at least HK$2, with some saying the charge would hurt the grassroots community the most.

Lawmaker Tony Tse said during a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday that a HK$2 charge – twice what the government is planning on raising it to – would make people “think twice” about whether they really needed a plastic bag. It would also encourage them to consider reusing it if they did take one, Tse said.

Tony Tse. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The government said last month that it had begun the legislative process to raise the plastic bag fee from the current amount of 50 cents to at least HK$1, but was open to suggestions for further increases.

The plastic bag levy was introduced in 2009. The policy first targeted supermarkets, convenience stores and cosmetics stores, before being expanded to all retailers in 2015.

‘Responsibility of the grassroots’

Lawmaker Kitson Yang said the plastic bag charge was the “wrong direction” and should not exist in the first place.

He said grassroots citizens worked long hours and only bought groceries after work. If they were busy, they could forget to take a reusable shopping bag with them, he said, meaning that they would need to pay for a plastic one.

A sign at a shop reminding customers of the HK$0.50 plastic bag charge. Photo: GovHK.

“HK$1 is very important to them,” he said.

Yang said the government should focus on educating the public about the importance of reducing their plastic consumption instead. Bruno Luk, the Deputy Director of Environmental Protection (Waste Reduction Duties), said education was important but that motivation was needed to change people’s habits.

Steven Ho, a lawmaker representing the Agriculture and Fisheries functional constituency, said the plastic bag charge pushed the task of environmental protection to the grassroots when it should be everyone’s duty.

Lawmaker Steven Ho. Photo: LegCo, via YouTube screenshot.

“Why is it the responsibility of the grassroots? Why do the rich not bear responsibility?” he asked.

Ho said the government should raise the plastic bag free from the current 50 cents to 60 cents instead and require the amount to be paid in cash only.

HK$1 ‘not a lot of money’

Lawmaker Chan Siu-hung, meanwhile, supported Tse’s proposal to increase the plastic bag charge to at least HK$2.

He said the expansion of the levy to all shops in 2015 proved “very effective,” leading to a significant drop in the number of plastic bags disposed that year, but that the figure rebounded as people grew used to the 50-cent charge.

File photo: Pexels.

“Although increasing it from 50 cents to HK$1 is doubling [the amount], ultimately, it’s not a lot of money. I’m worried the public will quickly get used to the fee again,” Chan said.

“I think in a few years, or a few dozen years, we’ll have to amend the legislation to increase the plastic bag fee again. [So] why doesn’t the government boldly increase it to HK$2 or above for a more drastic effect?” he asked.

The increase in the levy, to come into effect by the end of the year, will be the first time the charge is raised since the scheme was introduced 13 years ago.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.