A Hong Kong green group has expressed support for the city’s plan to double the plastic bag levy to HK$1 from December 31, calling on the government to outline a timetable paving the way for further increases in the future.

Plastic bags. File photo: Pexels.

Ronia Sham, Oceans Pollution manager at World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, said she hoped authorities would conduct regular reviews – such as every three to five years – to assess whether the scheme was effective in discouraging plastic bag use.

“The government should consider whether HK$1 is enough to reduce people’s will to use plastic bags. If not, it can consider increasing it to HK$2, and so on,” she told HKFP.

Hong Kong’s plastic bag fee currently stands at HK$0.50 and has stayed stagnant since the scheme was implemented 13 years ago.

According to a Legislative Council (LegCo) paper published on Thursday, Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan is slated to move a motion on increasing it to HK$1 at a meeting on October 19.

The amendment will also see the scrapping of some existing exemptions under which bags are currently given to customers for free. Under the adjusted scheme, customers will have to pay HK$1 for plastic bags used when purchasing frozen or chilled food items.

The Legislative Council complex in Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Sham also said she hoped the government would consider further tightening the scheme to remove the exemptions that still remain. After December 31, shops will continue supplying customers free plastic bags for the purchase of takeaway items and unpackaged food.

“The government should raise the public’s awareness of alternatives to plastic bags in order to reduce their plastic usage,” she added.

Hong Kong’s plastic bag levy scheme was introduced in 2009 with the aim of discouraging plastic bag usage by imposing a HK$0.50 fee per bag, in turn incentivising people to bring their own reusable carriers.

It first targeted supermarkets, convenience stores and cosmetics shops before being expanded to all retailers in 2015.

According to an April Legislative Council paper, the number of plastic shopping bags disposed of in 2015 – the first year that the levy scheme was fully implemented – dropped by 25 per cent. But the figure subsequently rebounded in the following years.

Mixed reviews

The hike to HK$1 marks the first time the fee has been raised since the policy was enacted.

Lawmakers have expressed mixed reviews to the proposal. While some believed that increasing the charge would deter people from using plastic bags, others said the increased levy would disproportionately impact the city’s poorest residents.

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

In a LegCo meeting in August, lawmaker Kitson Yang said grassroots citizens worked long hours and only bought groceries after work, and if they were busy and forgot to take a reusable bag, would need to fork out HK$1 for a plastic one.

Lawmaker Steven Ho said the scheme pushed the responsibility of environmental protection to the grassroots as richer citizens would not feel the pinch of a HK$1 fee.

A public consultation exercise by the Council for Sustainable Development found that high-income earners overwhelmingly believed that shopping bags were being used excessively, while most low-income earners indicated that there was no excessive use.

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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.