Earth Day 2024: Hong Kong’s Bold Move to Ban Plastic Utensils in Restaurants

Starting April 22, 2024, on Earth Day, Hong Kong’s new legislation will make it mandatory for restaurants to switch to environmentally friendly utensils, moving away from plastic ones. This decision, made by the city’s legislature, aims to address the significant issue of plastic waste, which is the second-largest type of municipal solid waste in Hong Kong.

In 2021, the city disposed of an average of 2,331 metric tons of plastic waste daily, equivalent to the weight of approximately 70 adult humpback whales. To combat this, amendments to the “Product Eco-Responsibility Bill” were passed, introducing a comprehensive ban on selling and providing various plastic products.

From Earth Day, over 28,000 eateries in Hong Kong will no longer offer small, hard-to-recycle disposable plastic tableware, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) items, for both dine-in and takeaway. Additionally, serving soup in plastic containers will be restricted, although they’re still permissible for takeout until the second phase of the ban is implemented. The timing of this second phase will depend on the availability and cost-effectiveness of non-plastic or reusable alternatives.

The ban extends beyond restaurants, affecting hotels and airlines too. They will no longer provide plastic water bottles, toiletries with plastic handles, and disposable earplugs. Similarly, shops selling items like glow sticks, party hats, cake toppers, and cotton buds will feel the impact of the legislation.

Violators of this new rule face fines ranging from HK$2,000 to HK$100,000 ($250 to $12,800). During the legislative session, concerns were raised about the inconvenience and additional costs these changes might bring to locals and tourists. For instance, legislator Peter Koon shared an experience with a paper container for hot soup that broke, causing inconvenience.

Koon also emphasized the need for careful implementation, especially in a society predominantly consuming Chinese cuisine, to avoid unintended consequences. Meanwhile, legislator Michael Tien highlighted the post-passage work, stressing the importance of introducing alternative choices to the public and supporting industries through this transition.

“It is a bold move, and though many face the trouble and inconvenience generated by this, it’s beneficial to all in the long term.” said Pando CEO. “That’s why many drink and food brands come to Pando for cooperation. Our WBBC technology, we think, is key to solving this since it makes cups and containers degradable. ”

Greenpeace campaigner Leanne Tam also welcomed the decision, noting that Hong Kong had been discussing plastic waste reduction for nearly a decade and is now aligning with other regional cities in this effort.