Carrot and stick approach to plastic bag levy

Environmental Protection Department officials are continuing to promote the compulsory plastic bag levy to retailers as part of a carrot and stick approach to enforcement.

Yesterday, EPD staff conducted a publicity exercise at the Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo to remind exhibitors to fully comply with the requirements of plastic shopping bag (PSB) charging. Except for situations in which there is an exemption, exhibitors have to charge customers not less than 50 cents for each PSB provided. They also should not offer rebates or other means of discount to customers to offset the PSB charge.

“Since the full implementation of PSB charging from April 1 this year, all retail outlets, including participating exhibitors at trade fairs, should comply with the legal requirements when providing PSBs to customers for the retail sale of goods,” a spokesman reminded retailers.

Since PSB charging was fully implemented, EPD officers have inspected more than 40,000 retail points, including different types of outlets, market stalls and exhibition stalls. As at December 13, 130 fixed penalty notices of $2000 had been issued to retailers who failed to charge customers.

Most of the contraventions related to providing free PSBs for non-food items, but others related to providing free PSBs to hold food with airtight packaging, and providing discounts or rebates to offset the PSB charge.

The contraventions involved different types of retail outlets, including boutiques, drug stores, hawkers, grocery stores, pet product stores and metalware stores.  

With the random inspections representing the stick of the dual-path strategy, the carrot is building awareness of retailers’ responsibilities. EPD officers have been co-operating with organisers of trade fairs and exhibitions to disseminate information about PSB charging, including the relevant legal requirements. Organisers of trade fairs and exhibitions are invited to contact the EPD for relevant information.

The spokesman pointed out that the key objective of PSB charging is to provide an economic incentive to reduce the use of PSBs and adopt the green practice of “BYOB” (bring your own bag) by members of the public. The EPD encourages all retailers to follow the principle of “use less, waste less” and distribute fewer PSBs to reduce waste at source.

Under the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance, PSBs used for food hygiene reasons (such as for containing a food item which is unpackaged or contained in non-airtight packaging or in a frozen or chilled state) or pre-packaging of goods can be exempted from the PSB charge, while bags provided with services fall outside the scope of regulation. All retailers have to charge customers not less than 50 cents for each PSB provided for the retail sale of goods.

Retailers contravening the requirements are liable to a fixed penalty of $2000 or even prosecution proceedings.

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