The government should strengthen public education instead of implementing a plastic bag tax – criticized as “punitive” and “short-sighted” – to cut usage of bags. The Hong Kong Standard reports that a lawmaker, the industry and an environmentalist made the call at City Forum Sunday in response to the government‘‘s proposal to impose a levy of 50 Hong Kong cents for each plastic bag.

Lawmaker Vincent Fang Gang, representing the wholesale and retail sector, said the industry fully supports the proposed tax to protect the environment, but criticized it is as a “short- sighted” approach.

“The government should have a comprehensive recycling plan to deal with and transport garbage to collection points, and support the recycling industry. If we do the recycling well, garbage can be a treasure,” Fang said. “Environmental protection should start at school, but we‘‘re aware of our limited resources and the government is not strong enough in educating the public.” He described the tax as “punitive,” saying it will hurt small retailers, like neighborhood grocery stores.

According to the government proposal, retailers involved in the scheme will include those with two or more retail outlets owned or controlled by one person. Fang is also worried that the levy may eventually be extended to other plastic products.

Yeung Pui-yee, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers‘‘ Association, urged the government to raise public awareness. Yeung also questioned the effectiveness of the tax in protecting the environment. She is worried that retailers will switch to alternatives such as paper bags, which are actually more polluting. “If you recycle a plastic bag, 100 percent of it can be recycled and the recycling process does not pollute.”

Angus Ho Hon-wai of the Green Student Council agreed that education is key to changing people‘‘s behavior on “abusing” plastic bags. “We‘‘re not rejecting the use of plastic bags. We hope people won‘‘t abuse their usage.” But Ho welcomed the proposed levy as an economic incentive in changing shoppers‘‘ habits. “On no-plastic bag days, which is held one day a month, an average of 50 percent of shoppers bring along their own bags, so it [a levy] helps.”

According to government statistics, Hong Kong uses 23 million plastic bags – more than three bags per person – every day. Retailers in the first phase of the scheme will be supermarkets, convenience stores and personal health and beauty stores, those in the food and beverage sectors, non-prescribed medicine, and dietary or herbal supplements and personal hygiene and beauty products. The government expects to cut the number of plastic bags used annually from the current 1.8 billion to one billion, generating about HK$200 million a year for the government.

After a two-month public consultation period, legislation is expected to come into force by the end of next year at the earliest. The scheme will be reviewed after one or two years.

Ano da Publicação:
WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #23-2007-June 08, 2007
Kit Strange/Warmer Bulletin
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