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As Hong Kong’s plastic bag ban expands, critics say inspection team isn’t big enough

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

More than 100,000 retailers will fall under the scope of an expanded plastic bag levy scheme from tomorrow, but the government is only adding 58 officers to check whether shops are complying with the rule.

Since 2009, shoppers have been required to pay at least 50 cents for each plastic bag at some 3,300 retailers citywide, mostly chain stores and supermarkets. A team of 10 officers from the Environmental Protection Department specialises in enforcing the law.

The department had previously revealed that eight more officers would be added to that team. Yesterday, department director Anissa Wong Sean-yee said at a Legislative Council meeting that the department would recruit another 50 people to help inspect different shops. They would refer cases to the specialised law enforcement team, she said.

Wong was responding to a question from Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, who asked about the manpower to enforce the new bag rules.

“Law enforcement officers in district offices will also pay attention to cases that need follow-up,” Wong said, referring to the department’s seven branch and regional offices.

But Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, said the enforcement would be insufficient. “The 18 officers will have to inspect more than 100,000 shops,” he said. “I think this will be a toiling task for them, and when the timing is appropriate, we should add more people so the entire educational and law enforcement work can be done better.”

Edwin Lau Che-feng, head of community engagement and partnership at Friends of the Earth, agreed that a team of 58 supervisors would not be sufficient to monitor implementation of the bag-levy scheme, which includes myriad exemptions such as for items that require a bag for hygiene purposes.

He predicted retailers selling both exempt and non-exempt items – such as supermarkets and food stores in which frozen food and other goods are sold – could see chaos at first.

Adding to the confusion would be different charges imposed by different retailers.

Ocean Park said it would charge between HK$1 and HK$5 for each plastic bag, depending on its size.

Maxim’s Group said its Chinese restaurants would charge HK$1 per bag and HK$1 per plastic lunchbox. But its fast-food outlets and cake shops would charge 50 cents for each bag.

Supermarket chains Wellcome and ParknShop will continue to charge customers 50 cents for each plastic bag. Both will still offer “flat-top” plastic bags free for exempted items, such as foods without packaging or in non-airtight packaging, and frozen or chilled foods.

Aeon said it would provide plastic bags in six sizes in its department store and supermarkets. All would cost 50 cents.

ParknShop said staff members at its stores had been trained and given clear guidelines on the new measure. Stores would also have in-store broadcasts and posters to remind customers and advise them to bring their own bags.

Some retailers, such as fashion chain H&M, will switch entirely to paper bags in April. An H&M spokeswoman said the paper would be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Retailers who break the rules could be fined HK$2,000 or even prosecuted. The fine does not target customers.

· 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 Mar 31st 2015, 1:51am):

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