The second phase of the plastic levy scheme kicks off tomorrow. It will help reduce waste in the city but the new scheme is confusing for both shoppers and retailers.
Since 2009, shoppers have had to pay at least 50 cents per plastic bag at some 3,300 retailers citywide, mostly chain stores and supermarkets. The new scheme will include more than 100,000 retailers, meaning both chain stores and small businesses will charge shoppers for plastic bags.
Retailers who break the rules could be fined HK$2,000 or even prosecuted. The fine does not target customers but it will be rather confusing for them to get to grips with the different charges imposed by different retailers.
Under the new scheme, all plastic bags, including those with plastic handles, will fall under the expanded levy scheme, unless the goods they are going to carry fall under the myriad of exemptions listed by the Environmental Protection Department.
There will be no charge if a bag is needed for “hygiene reasons”, for example, frozen food items, or items that are “not properly packed”.
But these rules make things confusing for shoppers. Take a box of grapes packed in a plastic box with holes for example, is this considered properly packed? According to guidelines from the Environmental Protection Department, the box of grapes is exempt because holes in the plastic box indicate that it is not properly packed.
Even buying a can of soda requires some consideration. A can of soda taken from the fridge is exempt from the plastic bag levy for hygiene reasons because water droplets will condense on the surface of the can when it is at room temperature, but sodas taken from shelves won’t be affected by this.
Another concern is that the government did not set a ceiling for the amount retailers should charge for each plastic bag, which means retailers are free to name their price.
Maxim’s Group said its restaurants would charge HK$1 per bag and HK$1 per plastic lunchbox, but its fast food outlets and cake shops would charge 50 cents per bag.
Aeon said it would provide plastic bags in six sizes in its department store and supermarkets. They would all cost 50 cents.
Responding to the concerns, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said: “Depending on everyone’s consumer habits, we can still create an environmentally friendly culture.”