Plastic bag usage in Hong Kong fell by over 60 per cent since the bag levy was doubled to HK$1 at the end of last year, authorities have said.

plastic bag
Someone using a plastic bag. Photo: Tim Samuel, via Pexels.

Kenneth Cheng of the Environmental Protection Department said the figures were “very encouraging,” according to an RTHK report on Thursday.

“[We] can see that in the first two months after introducing the improved measures, there was an immediate effect in the reduction of plastic bags,” Cheng said.

Hong Kong increased its plastic bag fee from HK$0.50 to HK$1 on December 31, the first increase since the levy was introduced over a decade ago. The new measures also saw the scrapping of some exemptions, including for the purchase of frozen or chilled food.

Green groups expressed support for the move, but said the government should outline a timetable for further increases in the future.

Cheng said that earlier this month, the government sought data from supermarkets and convenience stores on their plastic bag usage. Their data showed that the number of plastic bags used in January and February had dropped by more than 60 per cent compared to the same period last year.

plastic bags supermarket
Flat-top bags in supermarket. Photo: Ellie Ng.

“What’s more, [the usage of] flat-top bags fell by 80 per cent,” Cheng said, referring to plastic bags without handles that were once handed out free for frozen or chilled food but are now also subject to charges.

Citywide inspections of supermarkets, shops

Cheng added over the past two months, the Environmental Protection Department had issued seven verbal warnings to shops, with no fines given out.

If shops fail to charge a customer at least HK$1 for a plastic shopping bag or offer a discount to offset that amount, they could receive a fixed penalty of HK$2,000. If there are “breaches of a serious nature such as repeated or systemic contraventions,” the department may initiate prosecution, with offenders facing up to a HK$100,000 fine on the first occasion.

plastic packaging produce
A shopper walks by shelves at Wellcome. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The Environmental Protection Department said in February that it had inspected about 650 supermarkets and food stores across Hong Kong and noted that the implementation of the new measures was “smooth.”

Over 90 per cent of the stores had posters reminding customers about the new measures. When purchasing frozen or chilled food items, around 12 per cent of customers said they required flat-top bags, the department found.

According to a Legislative Council paper last April, 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.

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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.