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Expect ‘flexible’ enforcement of Hong Kong plastic bag levy for first month, official says

Government will add only 58 staff to enforce expanded regulations on plastic bags that now cover 100,000 retailers, up from 3,300

Enforcement of phase two of Hong Kong’s environmental levy on plastic bags – which kicks off today – will be flexible for the first month, an official said yesterday.

Inspectors from the Environment Bureau would focus on explaining the scheme and asking for compliance over the next four weeks, political assistant for the Environment Bureau Michelle Au Wing-tsz told DBC radio.

More than 100,000 retailers fall under the scope of the scheme from today – following an initial phase that covered around 3,500 retailers, mostly chain stores and supermarkets.

A new team of 58 inspectors has been created, which will refer cases to the 10 officers in the Environmental Protection Department team who specialise in enforcing the scheme.

Au admitted policing the second phase would pose a “challenge”, but she believed the city would get the hang of the new levy soon.

“I think Hongkongers are smart; taking the first phase of the scheme, in 2009, as an example they caught on quite quickly,” she said.

Au said plainclothes officers would be sent out to inspect retailers’ implementation of the scheme, alongside inspections by uniformed officers.

A hotline by the department will answer public inquiries about the scheme and handle shoppers’ reports on any non-complying retailers.

The first phase imposed a simple 50-cent charge on shoppers for each plastic carrier bag required. Now different retailers will charge different levies, and unlike shops in the initial phase, retailers included from today will not have to pass the cash on to the government.

Aeon, which operates 13 supermarkets in the city, said that from today its small, free bags for fruit, vegetables and frozen items would be moved next to the cashiers to be distributed by staff.

ParknShop said staff members at its stores had been given training and clear guidelines on the new measures. It would use its PA system and put up posters to advise customers about the new rules and remind them to bring their own bags.

The Wing Wah bakery chain said it was putting up notices outside its stores listing the new levies on bags, which would range from 50 cents to HK$3.

While the government has claimed the first phase a success, with the number of plastic bags going to landfills reduced by up to 90 per cent, figures show the number of plastic bags distributed has risen.

In a reply to queries by the Legislative Council, the Environmental Protection Department said the number of plastic bags distributed by the city’s retailers in the initial phase rose from 13.46 million per quarter to 17.96 million between 2009 and the end of last year – an increase of 33.4 per cent.

The number of retailers taking part in the initial phase rose 17.3 per cent to 3,534 over that period.

Bag manufacturer Wing Kai Plastic Products, in Cheung Sha Wan, said orders for plastic bags had remained at the same level since the scheme began in 2009. A spokeswoman predicted the impact of the new levy on orders would be slight.

The company said orders for paper bags, which are exempt from charges, had risen by 1 per cent lately.

Retailers who break the rules could be fined HK$2,000. Shoppers are not targeted.

· Ocean Park: HK$1 to HK$5 for each bag, depending on its size.

· Maxim Group: HK$1 per bag at Chinese restaurants and 50 cents per bag in fastfood outlets.

· Wellcome: 50 cents per bag, free bag for exempted items

· Parknshop: 50 cents per bag, free bag for exempted items

· Aeon: 50 cents per bag, free bag for exempted items

· H&M: to switch to paper bags

Source URL (modified on Apr 1st 2015, 2:23am):

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