Hong Kong environment chief urges public to back ban on single-use plastics, stressing aim is not penalise merchants

Hong Kong’s environment chief has urged the public to support a citywide ban on single-use plastics that comes into force on Monday, stressing the measure aims to build up sustainable practices rather than penalise merchants.

Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan also said on Sunday that the government would only take enforcement actions against businesses ignoring repeated warnings after the end of a six-month grace period, and urged firms to use up their inventory of soon-to-be prohibited products in the coming months to avoid wastage.

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The new restrictions cover styrofoam products and throwaway utensils such as cutlery and straws at takeaway spots.

Environment chief Tse Chin-wan says firms do not need to worry too much about the ban. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“The aim is to gradually build up a ‘plastic-free’ culture in society. We do not intend to penalise merchants. We understand that it requires changing customs and the industry needs time to adjust its business to comply with the restrictions,” Tse said in his blog.

“We will strive to provide appropriate assistance during the implementation. We will prioritise education and handle individual cases in a humane manner. The sector does not need to overworry about it.”

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Tse stressed that building a plastic-free culture could protect the environment and secure the lives of future generations. He urged the public to use fewer single-use plastic products.

Under the first phase of the ban, single-use plastic cups and boxes will no longer be available to patrons dining in. Products with non-plastic alternatives, such as cotton buds, umbrella covers and glow sticks, are also covered.

Hotels and guest houses will be barred from supplying free toiletries in synthetic disposable containers and free in-room water in plastic bottles.

Tse urged businesses to use up their inventory of prohibited products in the six-month grace period to avoid wastage.

He said government officers would not take enforcement actions against operators breaching the regulations in the coming six months and only prosecute those who repeatedly ignored warnings after the end of the grace period.

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“We will first try to understand the situation and difficulties of individual merchants, then educate, promote, advise or warn them accordingly,” he said.

Authorities would inspect 20,000 eateries, as well as 20,000 retail shops and guest houses, to help operators comply with the ban, and also explain the restrictions to tourists at the airport and other boundary control points, he added.

Spotted seals at Ocean Park chill out at an Earth Day-themed ice sculpture. Photo: Ocean Park

Ocean Park also urged the public to reduce plastic consumption, with the ban taking effect on Earth Day.

The theme park said it would also celebrate Earth Day by offering children workshops, while visitors could learn about the importance of safeguarding biodiversity in animal exhibits.

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