Date
19 November 2019
While there is a need to encourage the reuse of plastic, it is more important, over the long term, to reduce plastic waste at source by curbing its production, lawmaker Kenneth Leung says. Photo: HKEJ
While there is a need to encourage the reuse of plastic, it is more important, over the long term, to reduce plastic waste at source by curbing its production, lawmaker Kenneth Leung says. Photo: HKEJ

Time to ban single-use plastics

An environmental group, together with researchers from a local university, revealed recently that the average concentration of microplastics in Hong Kong waters has increased a whopping 11-fold over the past three years, posing a serious threat to our marine environment, our food chain and the citizens’ health.

The Hong Kong government introduced the Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme in 2009 and then enhanced the measure in 2015 in a bid to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags (PSBs) among consumers in the city.

Nonetheless, recent statistics released by the Environmental Protection Department have indicated that the average daily disposal quantity of plastic bags in 2017 rebounded to 793 metric tons, just a bit shy of the 867 ton level recorded in 2008, a year before the implementation of the levy scheme.

As we can see, there has been a limited efficacy of the existing plastic bag charging scheme in recent years.

Worse still, when it comes to the issue of plastic waste, the government has been focusing on PSBs only, while neglecting the excessive use of plastic packaging

As a matter of fact, compared to PSBs, plastic packaging is posing an even bigger threat to the environment, because it is frequently used yet rarely recycled.

A recent survey has indicated that in the city’s supermarket chains, around 90 percent of their vegetables and fruits for sale are plastic-packaged.

And some products are even packaged in multiple plastic materials — plastic box, net cover, foam, cling wrap and plastic bag.

The survey has also found that some local retailers often use excessive plastic packaging in order to make their goods more presentable, suggesting that plastic packaging overuse in Hong Kong has become a very serious issue.

To make matters worse, the rapidly growing popularity of online shopping in recent years has exacerbated the problem of plastic packaging waste and increased the burden on our landfills.

Given the situation, the government should adopt tougher and more pro-active measures to regulate the use of plastic packaging as soon as possible.

Ever since its invention, plastics has remained much more produced than recycled. As such, in the long run, while there is a necessity to encourage the reuse of plastic, it is more important to reduce plastic waste at source by curbing its production.

In my opinion, in order to achieve that, the government should promptly apply the Producer Responsibility Schemes to single-use plastic products, and should regulate their use at source, by imposing a pollution levy on those who sell them, including items such as plastic packaging, disposable cutlery and containers.

In fact similar measures have been adopted by many Western countries a long time ago, with remarkable results.

On the consumer side, the ban on single-use plastic products has already been enforced in an increasing number of countries around the world in recent years.

For example, the European parliament has earlier this year passed a law under which an all-out ban on single-use plastic products will be enforced from 2021 onwards in all European Union member states.

Apart from the EU, South Korea, Canada and Southern Australia are also planning to introduce similar laws.

If the Hong Kong government is really determined to reduce plastic waste in the city, it should keep up with international progress in banning single-use plastics and formulate a solid timetable on reducing plastic waste as early as possible.

At the same time, the authorities should raise public awareness about the importance of environmental protection and urge business owners to bear social responsibilities in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/RC

Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)