Hong Kong 7-Eleven stores at sixes and sevens over plastics ban regulations with confusion over whether snack bar food can be eaten in-store

Hong Kong 7-Eleven stores at sixes and sevens over plastics ban regulations with confusion over whether snack bar food can be eaten in-store

Customers who want to snack on their favourite food inside Hong Kong 7-Eleven convenience stores might find ‘dine-in’ available at some branches, but get kicked out of others under Hong Kong’s new ban on plastics, the Post has found.

A Post reporter who tried to eat inside at three shops with on-site snack bars on Sunday got conflicting answers when he asked if he could eat the freshly-cooked food such as siu mai, fishballs and noodles inside the premises.

One branch in Tsuen Wan refused to allow it, but the other two turned a blind eye as the reporter ate fishballs and siu mai, a traditional Chinese dumpling, inside the shops.

Some staff also admitted that they did not know about the enforcement rules contained in the new regulations.

7-Eleven staff provide customers with disposable plastic boxes, paper tableware and bamboo skewers for takeaway and eat-in orders. Photo: Eugene Lee

The inconsistent and ambiguous application of the ban was the latest complication after confusion last week over whether supermarkets were allowed to use plastic containers for pre-packaged sushi products.

The first stage of the Hong Kong ban on single-use plastics came into force last Monday, which banned restaurants from handing out items such as plastic spoons, forks and gloves, although a grace period has been allowed.

The ban, under the Product Eco-responsibility (Amendment) Ordinance, also prohibited stores from using plastic containers or lids for dine-in dishes.

The 7-Eleven snack bars, labelled Tsat Jai Sik Dong or 7-Eleven Food Stall, offer a variety of made-to-order food items in more than 260 locations.

But the snacks are separate from pre-packaged food items, which include sandwiches, bread, sushi rolls, dim sum, light snacks and desserts.

A Post reporter ordered noodles from a snack bar in a 7-Eleven in Clague Garden Estate in Tsuen Wan, and was told by staff that he could not eat the dish inside because of the use of plastic containers.

The staff added that the same restriction also applied to other food items sold by the store’s snack bar, such as fish balls and siu mai.

But staff admitted they “did not know” when asked if pre-packaged food could be eaten inside the store.

“You can make up your own mind,” another staff member at the Tsuen Wan store told a Post reporter as he bought a pre-packaged sandwich.

The reporter was not stopped by staff when he tucked into his sandwich on site.

Hong Kong minister says plastics ban not ‘unreasonable’ amid confusion over rules

At a 7-Eleven in Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, no staff intervened after the Post reporter ordered siu mai – which also came in a plastic container – from the store’s snack bar and ate them while still in the shop.

The staff, when asked, said it was up to customers to decide where they ate their food.

Staff members at a 7-Eleven in nearby Lee Garden Road also allowed the Post reporter to eat the fish balls and siu mai he had bought from the food stall inside the store.

A staff member said customers could eat inside the shop and that they had not been given any notices that banned customers from doing so.

The Clague Garden Estate and Matheson Street branches of the convenience store chain feature tables that allow customers to eat standing up.

A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven said its stores sold only takeaway food and drinks to customers and the company’s stores had fully complied with the single-use plastic ban.

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

“We have also conducted training for our frontline staff, correspondingly.”

He added 7-Eleven branches were in the process of changing the containers used for hot foods and iced drinks over the grace period.

The Environmental Protection Department repeated its statement from last week as it tried to clear up confusion over aspects of the new law after Japanese discount chain giant Don Don Donki put some of its sushi in cardboard boxes instead of transparent plastic containers for people who wanted to eat in its sit-down dining area.

Some customers complained that the new policy created a guessing game when they bought packaged sushi.

The department said on Sunday if a supermarket or convenience store supplied 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, so 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, so plastic packaging was allowed.

“It is a commercial decision whether supermarkets and convenience stores provide dine-in services,” the department added.

Officials also promised to clear up any confusion on the part of restaurateurs over the six-month grace period.

Hong Kong authorities under fire after clarification over sushi served in plastic

But the statement by authorities sparked anger among some internet users, who complained about a lack of clarity over the new rules.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong Yuk-foon, who earlier criticised the government’s clarification on packaged sushi, said the law was “clear” about what constituted dine-in and takeaway services.

Kong, also a member of the committee that scrutinised the plastics ban legislation, said that the counter spaces where people could stand and eat which are found at many 7-Elevens constituted an eating area under the law.

She added that the food served at 7-Eleven snack bars was not covered by exemptions for pre-packaged products in the legislation.

“If it has been reheated or opened, then it will not be exempted by law,” Kong said. “Like the [7-Eleven] siu mai and fish balls, it is not actually pre-packaged – they cook it on site.”

Kong added that, when the government moved to clear up confusion over the law, as it did for pre-packaged sushi, it should quote the specific provisions in legislation to avoid the creation of more ambiguity.

She added that would also help lawmakers identify sections of the ordinance that could be improved.

Restaurants are prohibited from offering styrofoam products and throwaway plastic items such as cutlery and straws to dine-in and takeaway customers under the first phase of the staged ban.

They are also not allowed to use plastic cups, containers or lids for food supplied to dine-in customers.

Offenders will face a maximum fine of HK$100,000 (US$12,770) and may also be required to pay HK$2,000 under a fixed penalty system after the six-month grace period expires.



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