Plastic Bag Levy
In order to reduce the indiscriminate use of plastic shopping bags, the government proposes to introduce an environmental levy on plastic shopping bags at retailers in phases.
Under the proposed scheme, free distribution of plastic shopping bags at chain or large supermarkets, convenience stores and personal health and beauty stores will be banned. An environmental levy of 50 cents on each plastic shopping bag will be introduced at these retail outlets in the first phase. It is estimated that the proposed 50-cent levy will reduce about 1 billion plastic shopping bags each year, or about 50% of plastic shopping bags distributed at the retailers covered by the scheme.
In principle, this proposed scheme should be supported, as usage of plastic bags will be greatly reduced. Moreover, it is consistent with the principle of PPP (polluters pay the price).
However, 'polluters' should not be defined only as consumers. In fact, manufacturers, distributors, and vendors are 'polluters' too. In other words, on the whole production process and the supply chain, all relevant stakeholders should have to bear the responsibility and obligation to reduce the usage of plastic bags.
Thus, in parallel with the introduction of this Plastic Bag Levy, the government should at the same time introduce legislation on 'Manufacturers Responsibility', so that they can pay more attention on reducing the usage of plastic bags from the very beginning of product design to delivery, and to provide remedia measures to alleviate the damages thus resulted from the consumption of their products. In fact, reducing plastic bag usage right at the beginning and at the upper stream of the supply chain will be more effective than remedial measures at the very late end.
The government should also take up a demonstration role in using fewer plastic bags in their public services. Trainings should be provided to frontline staff on the concept of environmental protection and in daily practice of reducing plastic bag usage.
In addition, the government should set up a system of 'Plastic Bag Usage Audit' so as to monitor whether the various departments have used Process Improvement to reduce plastic bag usage.
Nevertheless, introducing Plastic Bag Levy should not be taken as the sole effective method to reduce plastic bag usage. The government should have a holistic plan (e.g. incentives for companies complying with this scheme), including tax reduction, to support the development of green industry.
Promotion and community education are also very important in encouraging Hong Kong people to use fewer plastic bags. This kind of education should also be provided for product designers, manufacturers, advertising companies, wholesalers, logistics companies and retailers. The goal is to increase 'environmental sensitivity' from every process of the production and supply chain, such as from product design, production, packaging, distributing, promotion, and selling, which will enhance every Hong Kong person to understand that each of us have the responsibility to reduce plastic bag usage as far as possible.