Subject: environmental affairs, waste management, disposable plastic, source reduction

  • Disposable plastic tableware ("DPT"), commonly defined to include cutlery, cups and takeaway containers made from expanded polystyrene ("EPS", also known as plastic foam) or polypropylene, is designed for a single use before disposal. Whilst cheap and convenient, DPT generates plastic waste that can persist for centuries1Legend symbol denoting See National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018)., posing severe burden to the landfills and threats to the marine ecosystem.
  • Official data indicated that some 1 400 tonnes of plastic tableware, weighing as many as 90 double-decker buses, were discarded at landfills in Hong Kong every week in 2019.2Legend symbol denoting See Environmental Protection Department (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation by sparking a rush for food delivery/takeaway meals owing to dining restrictions and health concerns, resulting in a surging demand for DPT. Legislative Council Members have repeatedly urged the Government to introduce policies to reduce DPT use.3Legend symbol denoting See GovHK (2018b), GovHK (2018c), GovHK (2020) and 頭條日報(2021年). Recently, the Government has launched a public consultation on regulating DPT, which forms part of the "Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035" unveiled in February 2021.
  • Plastic waste management is often multi-pronged, involving both source reduction measures before the waste is created and processing of waste after it is generated. This issue of Essentials concerns the former, focusing on DPT specifically. According to the United Nations ("UN"), such measures can range from bans to financial incentives, and promoting reusable alternatives through public-private collaboration.4Legend symbol denoting See UN Environment Programme (2018). This piece first reviews relevant measures in Hong Kong, followed by a discussion on Taiwan's experience given, among other factors, the similarity of dining culture in the two places.

Tackling DPT in Hong Kong

Table 1 – Proposed timeline of DPT regulation in Hong Kong

Type of DPTPhase One
(around 2025)
Phase Two
(to be decided)
EPSAll tablewareProhibited for dine-in and takeaway;
Banning sale to catering premises and consumers
Non-EPSCutleryProhibited for dine-in and takeawayProhibited for dine-in and takeaway
Cup and lidProhibited for dine-in only
Food container and cover
Source: Environmental Protection Department (2021).

Tackling DPT in Taiwan

Table 2 - Timeline of major DPT regulation in Taiwan

Table 2 - Timeline of major DPT regulation in Taiwan

Notes: (1)These include public offices; private schools; department stores and shopping centres; supermarkets; wholesale stores; convenience store chains; fast-food chains; and catering businesses with seating areas.
(2)These include plastic utensils (e.g. cutlery, containers), cups and straws.
Sources: 台灣環境保護署(2021年) and Environmental Protection Administration (2018).

Driving behavioural change with incentives

  • To prepare small businesses for the transition, the authorities offer free promotion for food and beverage outlets providing rebates (e.g. free drinks and service charge waivers) to customers bringing their own containers, through different channels including a mobile app featuring a map of eateries providing relevant discounts.19Legend symbol denoting See 台北市環境保護局(2013年). Taiwan has also pledged NT$60 million (HK$16.7 million) to promote eco-friendly night markets in 2020-2021.20Legend symbol denoting See 中央通訊社(2020年). A total of 22 night markets across Taiwan have been selected as pilot sites, where waste reduction practices are adopted. Among others, customers receive discounts for avoiding the use of DPT and can rinse their containers at designated washing areas, while participating vendors are awarded an "eco-friendly vendor" label for display.
  • Besides, Taiwan has put in place incentives targeting specific types of DPT. For example, the booming bubble tea culture in Taiwan has prompted a surge in the use of takeaway plastic cups. To tackle this, Taiwan introduced a policy in 2011 requiring beverage chains to provide extra portions or discounts (e.g. up to 10% off) for customers bringing reusable cups. Stores opting out must give customers NT$1 (HK$0.3) for every two returned cups to encourage recycling. Over the last decade, the policy has resulted in 150 million fewer plastic cups being disposed of every year, or a 10% drop in usage.21Legend symbol denoting See 台灣環境保護署:《一次用飲料杯管制規定與成果》(2021年). EPA has pledged to review the programme with enhanced incentives, following suggestions to raise the discount rates after a decade of implementation.22Legend symbol denoting See 綠色和平(2020年).

Facilitating consumers' behavioural change

Introducing specific measures amid the pandemic

  • Meanwhile, the rise of food delivery services in Taiwan amid the pandemic has taken a toll on the environment.27Legend symbol denoting See Environmental Protection Administration (2021). In response to concerns that reusable containers could become a potential vector for spreading the COVID-19 virus, Taiwan has allowed a relaxation of the DPT ban amid the pandemic. Regulated trades/sectors can apply for exemptions to use DPT. However, such exemptions are temporary and need to be re-applied after 90 days28Legend symbol denoting See 台灣環境保護署:《各縣市可視疫情同意暫時提供免洗餐具》(2021年)., so as to strike a balance between hygiene concerns and impact on the environment.
  • To ease public concern and restore confidence in reusable tableware, Taiwan has also reminded catering businesses to follow the "Guidelines for Good Dishwashing Practices" (餐具清洗良好作業指引) issued previously. Though non-binding, this guideline sets the standard for washing reusable tableware with regard to rinse temperature, duration, delivery and storage.29Legend symbol denoting See 衛生福利部(2021年) and (2012年).
  • Through public-private collaboration, Taiwan has tapped into its thriving network of container rental services to launch a pilot programme targeting food delivery plastic. Funded by EPA and operated by a food delivery platform and a container rental service, this programme allows customers in Tainan City to rent reusable containers when placing orders from 22 partner restaurants via the food delivery app between November 2020 and February 2021. Customers who returned the containers within three days at any of the drop-off points would receive a NT$30 (HK$8.4) discount code for the next purchase via the app. In the first two months of the trial period, it was estimated that some 1 100 reusable containers were rented.30Legend symbol denoting See 環境資訊中心(2021年). EPA is using big data to fine-tune the distribution of collection stations before planning to expand the programme to more locations.31Legend symbol denoting See 台灣環境保護署:《七、廢棄物減量及資源循環》(2021年).

Concluding remarks

  • Growing DPT use has emerged as a pressing environmental issue globally and in Hong Kong, and the problem was brought to the fore amid the pandemic. Taiwan spent almost two decades in making strides in tackling DPT, with a forward-looking roadmap and progressive roll-out of initiatives. To help small businesses and customers make a smooth transition ahead of tightening DPT regulation, Taiwan has experimented with measures ranging from boosting incentives to promoting reusable alternatives through collaborations with businesses and start-ups. These initiatives have yielded initial positive results, potentially offering insights for Hong Kong in incentivizing both consumers and businesses to reduce the indiscriminate use of DPT and fostering tripartite partnerships among the Government, enterprises and customers in contributing to the global trend of plastic waste reduction.

Prepared by Jennifer LO
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
5 August 2021


1.See National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018).

2.See Environmental Protection Department (2020).

3.See GovHK (2018b), GovHK (2018c), GovHK (2020) and 頭條日報(2021年).

4.See UN Environment Programme (2018).

5.In 2019, plastic tableware made from polyfoam and other plastic accounted for 200 tonnes of plastic waste discarded every day, which marked a 12% increase from 179 tonnes in 2015. Overall, plastic tableware accounted for about 2% of MSW disposed of each day, although plastic waste can take a much longer time to decompose than most materials. See Environmental Protection Department (2020).

6.See GovHK (2019).

7.See 香港經濟日報(2021年) and 信報(2021年).

8.It was estimated that over 15 billion pieces of DPT were dumped in 2020, representing an increase of 1.5 times from 2018. See 綠惜地球(2020年) and 明報(2021年).

9.See 信報(2021年).

10.More recently, the Mainland and South Korea have imposed restrictions on DPT. Since 2021, the Mainland has banned the production and sale of disposable EPS tableware, and the use of non-degradable disposable plastic straws in catering businesses. South Korea has banned the use of disposable plastic cups for dine-in customers in cafes since 2018, and plans to phase out disposable plastic cups and straws by 2027. See Walther et al. (2021), Environmental Protection Department (2021) and Yonhap News Agency (2020).

11.See Chen and Houng (2004).

12.See 中華經濟研究院(2002年).

13.Other examples include disposable tableware primarily made from wood, sugar cane, reed and/or rice husk, with plastic content accounting for less than 10% of the total weight.

14.The ban was extended to all types of disposable tableware (e.g. paper ones), barring the use of these items for dine-in services in selected trades/sectors (e.g. schools) since 2006, and later, in department stores and shopping malls (e.g. food courts) from 2020. While local authorities are allowed a different implementation timeline, most cities and counties have fully complied with the regulation on department stores and shopping malls as at end-2020.

15.See 台灣環境保護署:《免洗餐具管制規定與成果》(2021年).

16.See 台灣環境保護署(2010年) and The Taipei Times (2021).

17.Based on public domain information, it is unclear whether the current DPT policy applying to the eight main trades/sectors will be accordingly adjusted. The Research Office had contacted EPA for more information. In an email reply dated 26 July 2021, EPA stated that it would review its policy and make public announcements on a continuing basis.

18.See Walther et al. (2021).

19.See 台北市環境保護局(2013年).

20.See 中央通訊社(2020年).

21.See 台灣環境保護署:《一次用飲料杯管制規定與成果》(2021年).

22.See 綠色和平(2020年).

23.Each customer can borrow up to a certain number of containers, and must return the containers before he/she can borrow again.

24.See 台灣環境保護署(2020年).

25.See 正興杯杯計劃(2017年).

26.As for Hong Kong, the Government has started a free lending scheme on reusable tableware, but it currently targets large-scale events and has yet to reach local eateries. Sponsored by the Government-led Environment and Conservation Fund, the scheme provides free delivery and cleaning services of tableware for large-scale event organizers since 2018. Yet these services have been suspended since the outbreak of the pandemic. See GovHK (2018a).

27.See Environmental Protection Administration (2021).

28.See 台灣環境保護署:《各縣市可視疫情同意暫時提供免洗餐具》(2021年).

29.See 衛生福利部(2021年) and (2012年).

30.See 環境資訊中心(2021年).

31.See 台灣環境保護署:《七、廢棄物減量及資源循環》(2021年).


Hong Kong

1.Environmental Protection Department. (2020) Waste Data & Statistics.

2.Environmental Protection Department. (2021) Consultation Paper on Regulation of Disposable Plastic Tableware.

3.GovHK. (2018a) ECC and EPD Launch Reusable Tableware Lending Programme to Promote Waste Reduction at Source.

4.GovHK. (2018b) LCQ6: Disposable Plastic Tableware.

5.GovHK. (2018c) LCQ6: Reducing the Use of Disposable Plastic Tableware.

6.GovHK. (2019) Second phase of "Plastic-Free Takeaway, Use Reusable Tableware" Saves over 1 million sets of Disposable Tableware.

7.GovHK. (2020) LCQ3: Use, Recovery and Recycling of Plastics.

8.《2025年擬禁即棄膠餐具 未定減塑目標 環團稱步伐慢 未回應疫下外賣增》,《明報》,2021年7月10日。

9.《可降解塑膠未獲豁免 環團支持》,《香港經濟日報》,2021年7月10日。

10.《民建聯憂禁塑膠餐具打擊飲食業 倡推動替代品》,《頭條日報》,2021年7月9日。

11.綠惜地球:《兩屋苑首回收即棄餐具兩月收約6萬件 綠惜地球促請政府全面落實中央收膠提高回收率》,2020年。

12.《環保署倡2025年起禁發泡膠餐具 兩個月諮詢展開 次階段食肆全「走塑」》,《信報》,2021年7月10日。


13.Chen, H.W. and Houng, H. (2004) Toward a Zero Waste Society in Taiwan.

14.Environmental Protection Administration. (2018) Action Plan of Marine Debris Governance in Taiwan.

15.Environmental Protection Administration. (2021) EPA Launches New Environmental Options on Food Delivery App.

16.The Taipei Times. (2021) Taiwan Govt Policy Lacking When it Comes to Plastic Product Usage.

17.Walther, B.A. et al. (2021) Strategies, Actions, and Policies by Taiwan's ENGOs, Media, and Government to Reduce Plastic Use and Marine Plastic Pollution. Marine Policy, vol. 126, article 104391.

18.中央通訊社:《讓夜市減塑低碳清新 環保署全台選22處作示範》,2020年。


20.台北市環境保護局:《自備餐具及環保杯 提供優惠店家 Android app上架了》,2013年。








28.綠色和平:《飲料杯用量增加五億個 減塑不成反加塑》,2020年。



31.環境資訊中心:《紙塑盒你叫外送 呈倍數成長的外送垃圾》,2021年。


32.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Undated) Marine Debris is Everyone's Problem.

33.UN Environment Programme. (2018) Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability.

34.Yonhap News Agency. (2020) COVID-19 Adds to S. Korea's Plastic Headache as Waste Spikes amid Pandemic.

Essentials are compiled for Members and Committees of the Legislative Council. They are not legal or other professional advice and shall not be relied on as such. Essentials are subject to copyright owned by The Legislative Council Commission (The Commission). The Commission permits accurate reproduction of Essentials for non-commercial use in a manner not adversely affecting the Legislative Council. Please refer to the Disclaimer and Copyright Notice on the Legislative Council website at for details. The paper number of this issue of Essentials is ISE22/20-21.