Confused over where to eat takeaway fish balls, siu mai when out and about? The Post explains store policies under Hong Kong’s plastics ban

Explainer | Confused over where to eat takeaway fish balls, siu mai when out and about? The Post explains store policies under Hong Kong’s plastics ban

Snacking on Hong Kong classics such as fish balls and siu mai have become a point of contention under the city’s plastics ban, with a Post reporter receiving conflicting answers on whether he could dine-in at three different 7-Eleven outlets.

The inconsistent application of the ban added yet another complication after last week’s confusion over whether supermarkets were allowed to use plastic containers for pre-packaged sushi products sold to dine-in customers.

The Post looks at what customers need to know about store policies.

1. Can you eat fish balls and siu mai in convenience stores?

A Post reporter who visited three 7-Eleven locations with on-site snack bars on Sunday received conflicting answers when he asked if he could eat freshly cooked food such as siu mai, fish balls and noodles on the premises.

Staff at a 7-Eleven store in Tsuen Wan told the reporter he could not eat the made-to-order noodles he had just bought in the shop because they was served in a plastic container.

But when it came to pre-packaged food, such as sandwiches, staff said they did not know if it could be eaten inside the store.

A convenience store worker prepares a takeaway order in Jordan, Kowloon. Photo: Eugene Lee

When the Post visited two other locations in Causeway Bay on the same day, staff did not stop the reporter from eating fish balls and siu mai that were also prepared on-site and served in plastic containers.

An employee at one of the Causeway Bay outlets said customers could eat inside the shop and that they had not been given any notice to ban people from doing so.

Staff at the other store said while the shop never allowed dining-in, it was ultimately up to customers to decide where to eat.

2. What are the store policies?

The first stage of the ban on single-use plastics came into force last Monday, with restaurants prohibited from handing out plastic tableware such as cutlery and straws for takeaway orders.

Stores providing dine-in services are also prohibited from using plastic containers and lids, as well as tableware, under the ban stipulated in the Product Eco-responsibility (Amendment) Ordinance.

A 7-Eleven spokeswoman told the Post on Sunday night that its stores sold only takeaway food and drinks to customers, and outlets had fully complied with the ban.

“Our stores have transitioned to eco-friendly tableware, including FSC-certified paper cups, wooden forks, sugar cane-based spoons, bamboo chopsticks and paper drinking straws,” she said.

“We are currently in the process of revamping the containers used at our ‘Tsat Jai Sik Dong’ [7-Eleven Food Stall] for hot foods and iced beverages, as part of our ongoing efforts to improve our service and sustainability practices.”

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The Post also contacted convenience store chain Circle K for comment.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong Yuk-foon, a member of the committee that scrutinised the plastics ban legislation, said the standing counter spaces inside 7-Eleven where customers could eat constituted a dining area under the law.

Customers should not be allowed to eat made-to-order fish balls or other products served in plastic containers on the premises, she said.

3. How are dine-in spaces legally defined?

According to the legislation, a caterer is engaged in dine-in services when “the purpose of serving the food or drink [is] for consumption on the premises”.

The Environmental Protection Department has said that if a supermarket or convenience store provided made-to-order food, such as fried noodles, and had a dining area on-site for customers to eat, then the meal would be considered dine-in. Therefore, plastic tableware and packaging would be prohibited.

But pre-packaged food prepared for immediate consumption and placed on shelves, such as boxed sushi or sandwiches, was considered takeaway and therefore plastic packaging was allowed.

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4. What about food courts?

According to the department, food courts operated under the same regulations as other dine-in areas, even though the premises might be owned by a developer rather than the restaurants on-site.

“This business model is basically the same as that of regular restaurants, hence food stalls in food courts are required to comply with the regulatory requirements on tableware for dine-in service,” it said.

However, if customers made purchases at a food court for takeaway, this would not be considered dine-in and therefore plastic cups and containers could be used, it added.

5. Are there any exemptions?

Under the legislation, caterers are permitted to use plastic as long as the food or drink product is pre-packaged at a location separate from the premises from which it is being sold.

However, the ordinance also states that a product will no longer be considered pre-packaged if it is opened or undergoes any “alterations” on the premises before being sold.

Lawmaker Kong said this provision included reheating pre-packaged products on-site, such as fish balls and siu mai sold at convenience stores.

“If it has been reheated or opened then it will not be exempted by law,” Kong said.



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