Reducing Plastic Bag Usage In Hong Kong Environmental Sciences Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Environmental Sciences|
|✅ Wordcount: 2082 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
The Hong Kong government and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have launched an environmental levy of plastic shopping bags in July 2009 which aims to reduce indiscriminate use of plastic bags. After one-year of implementation, it is conducted that limited contribution is achieved. Our organization understands the awareness of the indiscriminate use of plastic bags which burdens the landfills and raises the visible environmental problem in Hong Kong. In this paper, we are writing to suggest two proposed policies in terms of extension of the levy scheme: (1) extend the scale of the levy to all retail outlets; and (2) embrace all types of plastic bags into charge. All of these aim to reduce the use of plastic bags more effectively in Hong Kong. Furthermore, we will discuss the effectiveness and concerns of the proposed policies with related references and successful cases from other countries e.g. Ireland, which has already introduced its plastic bag levy in 2002. Lastly, the paper ends with a recommendation on broadening the scope of the levy scheme by corresponding measures.
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In 7th July 2009, the Hong Kong government and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) introduced the Environmental levy on plastic shopping bags (the scheme) in order to reduce indiscriminate use of plastic bags and arouse consumers' awareness on the visible environmental problem in Hong Kong. The government proposed the scheme with a levy of 50 cents for a plastic shopping bag in a variety of retail outlets.
After one-year of implementation, the government conducted that per-capita disposal figure of plastic shopping bags is over 1.8 per person in 2009 which is lowered than the figure conducted in 2005. The accomplishment is appreciated. (EPD, 2009)
After a head start of one-year of implementation, it is potential for the scheme to be extended with a broader scope due to its incomprehensive outcomes and the presence of loopholes. Therefore, we are writing to suggest two proposed policies in terms of extension of the levy scheme which aims to reduce the use of plastic bags in a more effective way.
3.1 Statement to the Problem
The indiscriminate use of plastic bags is a major visible environmental problem in Hong Kong. From the 'Landfill Survey'(2005) which is conducted by EPD, it is estimated that more than 23 million of plastic bags are disposed in the landfill every day. In 2009, EPD took into account to this problem with the introduction of Environmental levy on plastic shopping bags.
Nevertheless, according to the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA)(2009), it is estimated that the scheme achieved a limited contribution with only 6% reduction of plastic bag usage after one-year of implementation. The estimation reflects that long-term implementation and extension of the scheme is needed to deal with the problem while the benefit of the extended scheme would probably go directly to environmental protection.
3.3 Our organization's interest with respect to the problem
Our environmental organization understands the rising awareness of the indiscriminate use of plastic bags which lead to major visible environmental problem. Our objectives are tackling environmental issues and undertaking research for further advice to government policy in terms of environment protection. The survey conducted by GHK indicated that it takes 20 to 1000 years to decompose the plastic bags in the present landfills. In addition, the usage of plastic bags is increasing simultaneously. (GHK Hong Kong Ltd, 2007)
With respect to the limited contributions achieved from the existing scheme, we have drawn up two policy options for the extension of the existing scheme which aim reduce the use of plastic bags and encourage consumers to change their behavior towards sustainable consumption.
Current policy and situation
There are only a total of 41 prescribed retailers registered under the levy scheme and about 3000 qualified retail outlets are subject to the current scheme. They are including supermarkets, convenience stores, and personal health and beauty stores. The number of registered retailers shows that the scope of the levy scheme is limited while 96% of retail outlets are still not subject to the scheme. In addition, it is conducted that 3 million of levy is collected in the first season after implementation of the plastic bag levy. However, a clear proposal is usually absent to tell how the revenue raised from the scheme is spent.
According to EPD (May 2007), the definition of plastic shopping bags under the levy is that 'bags that are made wholly or predominantly of plastic with carrying handles, holes or strings'. It turns out with the increasing use of alternative bags or wrapped packages, e.g. laminated plastic bags, non-woven bags and fruit bags. For example, supermarket chains were circumventing the levy and many retail outlets are starting to sell prepackaged products.
Proposed policies - Broaden the scope of the levy scheme
(1)Extend the scale of the levy to all retail outlets
(2)Embrace all types of plastic bags into charge
Policy option (1) - Extend the scale of the levy to all retail outlets
The current policy apparently shows that the scope of the implement scheme is limited to achieve a more comprehensive goal. With respect to the limitation, the levy scheme should be implemented extensively in all kind of retail outlets in Hong Kong. The remaining 96% of retail outlets, including small-scale, individual neighborhood retail stores and local wet markets should be all covered in terms of the extension of the levy scheme.
4.2.1b) Effects and advantages
The extension of the implement scale of retail outlets would further reduce indiscriminate use of plastic bags and arouse people's attention to serious environmental problem. Ireland is a successful case among all countries' implementations while all kinds of retail outlets are subject to the levy which a 15 Euro cent tax is paid for a plastic shopping bag. Nevertheless, Ireland achieved a dramatic reduction - 94% of plastic bag usage is reduced with the effect of the levy scheme. (Frank, Simon & Susana, 2007)
4.2.1c) Concerns and disadvantages
Under the extension of implementation, we concern that some small retailers could not afford a computerized or new cashier system to handle the levy (most of the retailers in wet markets). Therefore, it is difficult for them to collect cash manually before submitting the levy to EPD. Apart from that, oppositions from different sectors would be raised, especially for those retailers which plastic bags are necessary used. For example, butchers in Ireland strongly opposed to the levy because of its hygiene reason. (Frank, Simon & Susana, 2007) Therefore, the government should determine whether the exemption is needed for several kinds of retailers with corresponding measures.
Policy option (2) - Embrace all types of plastic bags into charge
We suggested that all types of plastic bags should be embraced into charge. It means that all kinds of bags which are made of wholly or predominantly of plastic, including laminated plastic bags, non-woven bags and fruit bags are all imposed to the scheme even they contain carrying handles, holes or strings. In addition, the levy collected is suggested to go directly to an environmental fund for the expenditure of environmental disposal projects and educational purposes.
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4.2.2b) Effects and advantages
The scheme fills in the loopholes of the existing policy in terms of the revised definition of plastic bags. All kinds of plastic bags, including wrapped, packing product bags and fruit bags are all applied to the scheme. In Ireland, all kinds of plastic bags are embraced into charge with 15 Euro cents. It achieved with a dramatic reduction (94%) of plastic bag usage. From the successful case of Ireland, we anticipate that the embracement of all kinds of plastic bags into the scheme would effectively reduce the use of plastic bags by consumers and make a link between price value and good environmental behavior among the public. In addition, the levy which goes directly to an environmental fund avoids absence of reporting how the revenue is spent by the General Revenue and gives support to environmental disposal projects. For example, the revenues from the scheme in Ireland are ring fenced in an Environmental Fund which is controlled by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for administration cost and capitals of environmental program promotion. (Frank, Simon & Susana, 2007)
4.2.2c) Concerns and disadvantages
We concern that there would be a rise of alternative use of paper shopping bags under the implementation of the proposed policy. As all kinds of plastic bags are subject to the levy, paper bag is the shifting target for both retailers and consumers. We are worrying that a single paper bag produces 2.7 times as much solid waste as the equivalent plastic bag. (GHK Hong Kong Ltd, 2007)
According to the Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturers' Association executive vice chairman Ricky Wong Wai-ki, the materials and energy used for producing nonwoven recycled shopping bags is more environmental-unfriendly. (GHK Hong Kong Ltd, 2007) Therefore, the government is responsible for further action on tackling the problem of alternative use of paper bags.
Indiscriminate use of plastic bag is one of the major visible environmental problems in Hong Kong. The introduction of the Environmental levy on plastic shopping bags is necessary to tackle this problem. However, the limited contribution achieved from the scheme urged for a proper modification and more effective extension.
Our organization suggests to extending the scale of the levy scheme to all retail outlets while 96% of them are still not subject to the scheme. Therefore, the enlarged scale of the levy would be an effective way to further reduce indiscriminate use of plastic bags and arouse people's attention to serious environmental problem.
The feasibility of the proposed policy is high in long terms with comprehensive planning and certain corresponding measures (for example: promotions, educational activities and distribution of fabric reusable shopping bags) supported by the government. We are anticipating to accomplishing a good environmental behavior developed among the public with this strong publicity campaign.
Study and learn from foreign successful cases of implementing plastic bag levy (e.g. Ireland)
Conduct a comprehensive review with evaluation after 1-year implementation of the levy scheme
Consult public, retailers and industries opinions on the extension of the levy scheme
Broaden the scope of the levy scheme in terms of scale of scheme and the types of plastic bags - a) Extend the scale of the levy to all retail outlets
b) Embrace all types of plastic bags into charge
Organize educational talks to all primary and secondary schools to promote the reduction of indiscriminate use of plastic bags
Giving out fabric reusable shopping bags to students and less privileged families every year in order to encourage consumers to change their behavior towards sustainable consumption
Reinforce the existing environmental campaign with sufficient promotion - Bring your own bag (BYOB)
Due to limited contributions achieved in the existing environmental levy on plastic shopping bags, an extension of the levy scheme is necessary to achieve a more comprehensive goal. Our organization suggests two policy options, including the extension of the scale to all retail outlets and embraces all kinds of plastic bags into charge. From the successful case learnt from Ireland, we ensure that the implementations of these similar policies are effective. Therefore, it is necessary for the Hong Kong government to extend the levy scheme in terms of scope in order to achieve a sustainable consumption of plastic bags.
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