Hong Kong restaurants grapple with impending plastic ban, some say costs are too high to be environmentally friendly

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Under the first phase, restaurants will be prohibited from providing customers with Styrofoam products or single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery or plates for dine-in or takeaway services.

Restaurant staff are packing takeaway food in soon-to-be-banned single-use plastic lunch boxes.Photo: Jerry Tse

Additionally, customers are not allowed to provide disposable cups, cup lids, or food containers to customers eating or drinking in the store. These products will also be removed from takeaway services in a second phase sometime next year.

More than a dozen small and medium-sized restaurants around Hong Kong interviewed by the Post said they were not yet ordering eco-friendly products.

Andrew Chui Shekuong said he had spent the past few weeks surveying regular customers of his Thai Pin Kung restaurant chain, asking them how much more they were willing to pay for takeout.

The fifth-generation owner of the famous four-store chain said he has stopped ordering plastic tableware, but has not yet decided on a replacement.

Ms Chui, 60, said eco-friendly tableware is about 40 to 60 per cent more expensive than plastic, and quality can vary widely. She said she spent more than a week determining which paper straws last longer than 15 minutes.

His restaurant handles up to 15,000 to-go orders a day, and he admitted he feared he would have little choice but to pass the increased costs on to customers.

“This is a huge expense for us,” he said. “It remains to be seen how many people will be willing to pay the extra fee.”

Zhang Waip, an employee at Red Hot Chili Barrow in Saiyingpan, said the ban is estimated to increase operating costs by at least 10 to 20 percent.

He said restaurants serving Sichuan cuisine will have to raise prices, but he worries that will lead to a drop in orders, especially online.

Chan, 64, added that the policy itself was “too vague to be followed.”

What you need to know about single-use plastic ban in Hong Kong

He said restaurants had received a letter from the government regarding the new regulations, but it was “long and written in an official style” and difficult to understand.

“We are currently unable to contact suppliers about switching to environmentally friendly equipment as we are not clear on the specific single-use plastic utensils that are prohibited,” he said.

Lawmakers and industry experts said last month that authorities were not doing enough to educate the public and retailers about the ban, following confusion over another now-delayed waste levy plan. said.

In a blog post earlier this month, Minister of Environment and Ecology Tse Ching-wan said the plastic ban took into account Hong Kong’s “real situation”, including whether there were “sufficient alternatives on the market”.

He said the government has launched a website with information about the regulations and a list of 45 local, mainland Chinese and environmentally friendly product suppliers.

Mr Tse said the bureau observed that many environmentally friendly alternatives to forks, straws and stirrers cost “not significantly different” from their plastic counterparts, with price fluctuations of only about 5 Hong Kong cents each. added.

However, the Post’s investigation found that most suppliers on the government’s list do not display prices on their websites. There was a two-fold difference in prices at wholesalers of plastic products and eco-friendly tableware in one city.

A pack of 100 plastic forks cost HK$12, while the cheapest eco-friendly wooden alternative cost HK$30 for the same quantity.

Another supplier in the city, who only sold environmentally friendly products, was selling cornstarch forks at a higher price than the unit price, with a pack of 1,000 costing around HK$350.

Similar price differences were seen for other products in the first phase of the ban, such as spoons and straws.

“Hong Kong people and businesses lack education on the upcoming ban on single-use plastics.”

The Environmental Protection Agency said it conducted a “comprehensive price survey” of city and mainland suppliers and found “no significant differences” in prices between products.

The company added that it visited more than 20,000 small and medium-sized businesses to educate them about the new rules and assist them with compliance.

The ministry said the industry should be able to adapt to changes “given the availability and affordability of alternatives”.

Simon Wong Kaw, chairman of the Hong Kong Restaurant and Allied Trades Federation, said the ban would initially affect small and medium-sized restaurants more than large chains.

He believed that the prices of environmentally friendly products were relatively high because wholesalers had not yet received enough orders from restaurants.

Wong predicted that once the embargo is imposed and demand increases, prices will start to fall. He said having more mainland-based companies as suppliers would help reduce costs.

Environmental incentives were enough for some small restaurants to make a change.

Wong Sing, 45, co-owner of Abba Delicacy in Sheung Wan, said the restaurant had already decided to stop using plastic spoons for noodle dishes and was running out of remaining synthetic stock. He said he plans to switch from plastic bowls to paper bowls once that happens.

“The transition away from plastics affects us, but this is an inevitable and necessary change because plastics are not environmentally friendly,” he said.

“Many other places have already made this switch, but Hong Kong has been relatively late.”

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