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Hong Kong’s single-use plastic tableware ban pushed to 2024, environmentalists express cautious optimism

#Hong Kong’s single-use plastic tableware ban pushed to 2024, environmentalists express cautious optimism

30 Oct 2023 — Hong Kong’s government has postponed its long-awaited single-use plastic tableware ban until April 22, 2024, following a wave of industry criticism that the previous enforcement date of October 18 this year would not allow sufficient time for stakeholders to prepare. 

The country’s Environment and Ecology Bureau originally proposed the bans in a “Product Environmental Responsibility (Amendment) Bill” to the Legislative Council Environmental Affairs Committee. 

The Legislative Council agreed the first phase would immediately outlaw dine-in and takeout styrofoam tableware, plastic drinking tubes, plastic stir sticks, plastic knives, forks and spoons and plastic discs. 

Plastic cups, lids and food containers will also be banned for dine-in only. In the second phase, scheduled for 2025, these formats will also be subject to takeout bans. 

According to the proposal in the document, anyone who violates the relevant regulations may be fined up to HK$100,000. There is also a fixed penalty system in which law enforcement officers can issue a fixed penalty notice of HK$2,000 (US$255). 

Exceptions and further steps 
A number of exceptions will be made for products in specific formats and for special needs like disabled consumers. 

Prepackaged F&B, such as paper-wrapped drink tubes, cup noodles and ice cream cups with forks and spoons included, for example, will not be banned. 

Single-use plastic tableware floods landfill sites in Hong Kong every day.Nor will customers who have medical needs be prohibited from access to disposable plastic drinking tubes or disposable plastic tableware used in medical or security settings like hospital wards or correctional facilities. 

Greenpeace Hong Kong says it is pleased that the authorities have responded to the public’s demand for plastic elimination and have “backed up.”

This move is essential in reducing the 266 metric tons of disposable plastic tableware that falls into landfills daily in Hong Kong, of which roughly 11% is recycled. 

According to Friends of Earth Hong Kong, plastic waste accounted for 21% of Hong Kong’s municipal solid waste last year. Governmental statistics report that 158 metric tons of PET bottles from the city enter landfills every day. 

Greenpeace says that it hopes that in addition to legislating regulations, the authorities will also introduce more reusable lending and return systems as alternatives to achieve source reduction further. 

Risks and assurances 
While Greenpeace is pleased with the current policies, it also expresses planning concern, which it says does not devote resources to promoting alternative solutions such as reusable tableware lending systems.

Roughly 27% of the public during Greenpeace’s public consultation in Hong Kong, which included 5,300 citizen respondents, agreed that disposable plastic tableware included with prepackaged food can be exempted. 

However, the organization notes that prepackaged food is still included in the exemption stipulations of the proposed plan, and the move may encourage the catering industry to expand prepackaged food formats further and circumvent the new policies.

Greenpeace is also encouraging the adoption of reusable reward schemes like deposit return systems, which can offer monetary incentives to consumers to abide by the law. 

A recently published study in Science, by researchers from Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Business and Economics collaborated with multinational e-commerce and retail giant Alibaba to use its mobile food delivery platform, (similar to Uber Eats and DoorDash), to incorporate prompts rewarding customers for not selecting single-use cutlery (SUC) in their orders. 

These “green nudges” increased the share of non-SUC orders by 648%. The study authors estimate that if these tactics were applied to all of China, more than 21.75 billion sets of SUC could be saved annually — equivalent to preventing the generation of 3.26 million metric tons of plastic waste and saving 5.44 million trees.

By Louis Gore-Langton

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