In a move to cut down on the unnecessary use of plastic waste, a rampant problem in Hong Kong, the government will stop the sale of plastic water bottles of less than one liter at any of its premises.
The new policy will cover some 1,500 vending machines at government-run sports complexes, performance venues, offices, parks, car parks, transport interchanges and ferry piers, according to the Environment Bureau. It will take effect on Feb. 20.
The use of plastic is a significant issue in Hong Kong. Every day, more than 2,000 tons of plastic end up in the city’s landfills, according to government statistics. Green Earth, a local environmental group, said that last year about 5.2 million plastic bottles weighing some 136 tons were dumped in Hong Kong every day.
“It is a matter of cultural transformation as a starting point,” said Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing.
“The Government this time takes the lead to ban the so-called small-bottled water in government premises to set an example to other premises, say those under the hands of the quasi-government or private ownership or management so that we can have a kind of culture to encourage people to use less disposable bottled water to reduce waste at source,” said Wong.
A spokesperson for Join Host, a major vending machine provider, told Apple Daily that it supports the new policy and sees it as a way to ease pressure on Hong Kong’s landfills with a minimal impact on business.
“We welcome the new policy,” said Green Earth spokesperson Chu Hon-keung. “Actions on solving the plastic problem are extremely urgent. The government’s lead can result in more institutions, for example schools, railway operators and shopping malls to stop selling disposable bottled water.”
Opponents of the policy worry of its impact on convenience and hygiene.
“Our hands are already full with bags, clothes, shoes and sometimes rackets. It would be heavier if we put tea kettles in our bags to carry water,” said CK Kowk, an engineer who plays badminton at a government-run venue in his neighborhood twice a week. “We need a lot of water immediately after exercise. It would be rather disturbing and tiring, queuing at the water fountains. There are not that many water fountains in public sports centers.”
According to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, there are about 1,800 water fountains at public sports grounds.
Rachel Pang, founder of the “Water for Free” app, said the policy is only a first step. The next one should be a more strategic placement of water dispensers and water fountains.
“People may turn to the vending machine to buy other drinks if they find it difficult to get water there,” said Pang.
The vending machine company, Joint Host, said that it would consider replacing bottled water with other drinks, as the new policy will not apply to drinks other than water. It will also allow vending machines to sell bottles of water larger than one liter.
Secretary Wong said during a media briefing that officials will consider adding more drinking fountains and promised the government will take a two-pronged approach to the issue.
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