Restaurants in Hong Kong will serve a variety of utensils and the ban on single-use plastics will come into effect

One restaurant owner said he was reluctant to pass on new costs to customers because of the sluggish economy.

Fine Food Concept, a restaurant in Yau Ma Tei that offers HK$36 (US$4.60) meal boxes with a generous portion of rice and two choices from a selection of Cantonese dishes, said it would use boxes and cutlery made from rice hulls containing up to €5.20 per set.

From Monday, restaurants must find alternatives to single-use plastic tableware. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Owner Yeung Chi-ming said the move put a burden on the business as the original polystyrene containers and plastic cutlery cost less than HK$3.

“But our company mainly serves the low-income group. We don’t want to tax them either, so we only charge HK$2 or HK$3 more for fish and beef dishes, the rest remains unchanged.”

Yeung said cheaper kitchenware made of paper and wood was not viable as they could hardly tolerate the high temperatures of the food.

The first phase of the ban comes into effect on Monday and bans Styrofoam products and disposable utensils such as cutlery and straws at collection points. Single-use plastic cups and boxes will also no longer be available to dine-in guests.

Single-use plastic containers are still allowed for takeaway orders at this stage, provided they are not made of Styrofoam.

The ban has a grace period of six months, with enforcement action only taken if repeated advice is ignored.

Superman Roast Goose in Causeway Bay, which offers a two-dish combo with rice for HK$35, replaced its polystyrene boxes with microwave-safe plastic boxes for the price of an extra HK cents.

The eatery’s manager, who gave only his name as Chen, said an environmentally friendly alternative to the disposable plastic spoons had yet to be found.

“We may switch to disposable wooden spoons or just stop handing out spoons since most people only need chopsticks,” he said. “We have no plan to increase the price. That’s not practical when our company is so boring. There used to be long lines in front of our store, but they are long gone.”

Major restaurant chains have now largely completed preparations for the ban.

Cafe De Coral Group said it had started charging takeaway customers HK$1 for non-plastic cutlery at all 380 outlets last Tuesday.

Restaurant group Fairwood has started offering a reusable pack of stainless steel cutlery worth HK$2, while Maxim’s Group charges HK$1 for its bagasse cutlery and offers discounts for those who bring their own utensils, cups and containers.

Hong Kong can extend the grace period for the plastic ban that takes effect on Monday: minister

Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said at least 30 percent of the industry had completely ditched plastic cutlery and polystyrene containers before the ban.

“The rest are actively preparing for the shift, such as obtaining quotes from suppliers, but they had to clear the remaining inventory first or they will be lost,” he said.

“Some smaller companies may want to take it easy as an immediate switch to non-plastic alternatives will be too expensive.”

But some diners were far from happy about the commotion and possible price increase.

One restaurant owner who wished to remain anonymous criticized the government for putting pressure on them.

“There is no price increase at the moment, but I think it is inevitable. If each meal goes up by HK$2 and I buy it every day, isn’t that an extra HK$60 per month?”

Cheung Man-kei, a 17-year-old student, said she did not mind switching to non-plastic cutlery as long as the price increase was within the range of HK$10 per meal.

But she admitted that using a paper straw was tricky because it got soggy too quickly, forcing her to finish her drink as quickly as possible.

Superman Roast Goose in Causeway Bay is switching to microwaveable plastic boxes under the ban. Photo: Emily Hung

Shop worker Wong Tsz-huen said she preferred plastic utensils to wooden and paper utensils offered by restaurants.

“The paper spoons quickly get soggy in hot soup, which means I have to rush my meal… but wooden spoons are often too shallow to use,” the 41-year-old said.

But Wong said she was unlikely to bring her own utensils as it was too troublesome to clean them every time, adding: “It’s easier to just deal with it.”

Steven Chan Wing-kit, assistant environmental affairs manager at The Green Earth, encouraged residents to bring their own kitchenware to further reduce waste.

“Companies can also consider purchasing reusable utensils so that their employees can eat takeaway food in the office, which will be more convenient,” he said.

The first phase of the ban also covers products with non-plastic alternatives, such as cotton buds, umbrella covers and glow sticks.

Hotels and guesthouses are prohibited from providing free toiletries in disposable synthetic packaging and free in-room water in plastic bottles.

Hong Kong’s plastic ban will saddle hotels with extra costs: industry leaders

Companies that violate the ban face a fine of up to HK$100,000. They could also be fined HK$2,000 under a fixed penalty system.

The second phase of the policy is expected to start in 2025 and will ban plastic tablecloths, gloves and dental floss sticks, among other things.

Environmental Protection Director Samuel Chui Ho-kwong said last week he was confident the first phase would be implemented smoothly.

Public environmental awareness increased as some major fast food chains saw around half of their customers choosing to order takeaways without cutlery, he added.

Chui urged companies to use their stock of regulated products during the grace period to avoid waste and find suitable alternatives as soon as possible.