In this July 26, 2021 photo, a worker fills plastic containers with food at a restaurant in Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)

HONG KONG – The Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong has said there are plastic-free alternatives for disposable plastic tableware.

The EPD said this in a statement on Wednesday night following media enquiries about the impact of proposed regulation of disposable plastic tableware and other plastic products on the retail sector.

It came after the Hong Kong Retail Management Association reportedly said that retailers and restaurants will need more time to prepare for an upcoming ban on single-use plastic tableware and food containers.

In the statement, an EPD spokesman pointed out that the EPD and the Council for Sustainable Development held more than 30 briefings, public forums, focus group meetings with various stakeholders since July 2021 in order to reduce the use of disposable plastic tableware and other plastic products with a view to reducing the impact of plastic pollution on marine ecology and human health and to mitigate climate change.

Apart from the effort in environmental protection, it also helps the public develop a habit of "plastic free" in their daily lives.

Spokesman, EPD

Pointing out that the department briefed the Hong Kong Retail Management Association last October and November on the content and updates on the proposed regulation, the spokesman said: “We noticed that the catering and retail sectors generally have no objection to the proposed first phase control of single-use plastic products.”

As for the disposable plastic tableware – like cups, cup lids, food containers and food container lids – proposed to be regulated in the second phase, there are plastic-free alternatives available for containing hot drinks and hot food, said the EPD, referring to EPD's Green Tableware Platform launched in November last year.

Considering the relatively large price gap between those alternatives and disposable plastic products and the relatively limited number of suppliers, “it is proposed to introduce a full control in the second phase”, said the EPD.

“As for the non-medical transparent rubber gloves proposed to be controlled in the second phase, they can be replaced by latex gloves, while plastic dental floss picks can also be replaced by ordinary dental floss,” the statement reads.

To allow more time for the community to get ready for the implementation of the scheme, the EPD suggested that the first phase regulation commence six months after the passage of the Amendment Bill.

“We have all along been encouraging retailers to avoid selling disposable plastic products and suggesting the catering industry and retailers to get prepared as early as possible, even without the government's regulation,” the EPD said, acknowledging that more and more food premises and large supermarkets had gradually changed to use or sell non-plastic products recently, such as paper straw and wooden knife and fork.