Hong Kong’s plastic bag fee is to double to HK$1 from December 31, the first increase since the levy was introduced over a decade ago.

Lawmakers approved the new legislation on Wednesday, with 78 voting in favour of the hike and two against.

A plastic bag. Photo: Tim Samuel, via Pexels.

From December 31, some existing exemptions under which bags are currently given to customers for free will also be scrapped. Under the adjusted scheme, customers will have to pay for plastic bags used when purchasing frozen or chilled food items.

Free plastic bags will continue to be supplied to customers for takeaway items and unpackaged food.

A motion by lawmaker Tony Tse to increase the plastic bag levy to HK$2, however, was rejected with 28 in favour and 48 against.

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

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

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

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 compared to the previous year. But the figure subsequently rebounded in following years.

Ronia Sham, Oceans Pollution manager at World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, told HKFP earlier this month she was pleased that the plastic bag fee was set to double. She said she hoped authorities would conduct regular reviews – such as every three to five years – to assess whether the scheme was effective and to increase the levy accordingly.

The government, she added, should also consider further tightening the scheme by removing more exemptions.

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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.