Online shopping has become increasingly popular among the public, especially during seasonal occasions, but not too many people associate cybershopping with plastic pollution.
Although the government has launched the Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags, requiring at least a 50 cent charge on plastic shopping bags, the levy, which went into full effect in April 2015, only applied to the so-called brick-and-mortar shops, not online stores.
In other words, plastic bags that are used to pack and deliver goods to online shoppers are not subject to the levy.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that many of the products sold and delivered to online shoppers are often over-packaged.
According to a study earlier on, it is estimated that online shoppers in Hong Kong consume at least 46 million plastic bags a year. Most of these non-recyclable bags eventually end up in our landfills or even our surrounding sea, exacerbating the plastic pollution problem in the city.
Given the growing popularity of cybershopping, I believe the government should immediately carry out a thorough and comprehensive feasibility study on extending the current plastic bag levy to online stores.
And in order to fight the problem of over-packaging of products sold by online stores, the government can draw insights from overseas experience with regard to packaging regulations, addressing issues such as limits on the number of packaging layers, the packaging materials allowed and their recycling arrangements.
The European Union enacted the “Directive of Packaging and Packaging Waste” back in 1994, under which the way products are packaged and the materials used for packaging are strictly regulated.
For instance, the directive requires food product manufacturers to replace the plastic wrap on their products with paper or degradable bags. Meanwhile, it also sets a clear target regarding the recycling of packaging materials.
In order to alleviate plastic pollution and enhance the sustainability of our seas, it is time for us to start substantially cutting down on the consumption of disposable plastic materials and opting to buy products with simple and eco-friendly packaging where possible.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 4
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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