The worldwide theme for Earth Day 2018 was to “end plastic pollution”, but it looks like Hong Kong has a long way to go before achieving this goal, judging by the three tonnes of trash – most of it plastic – that locals collected in a major citywide beach clean-up.
Since 1970, Earth Day has been observed on April 22nd to raise awareness about environmental health and causes. The recent clean-up in Hong Kong shines the spotlight on the severity of the city’s plastic waste crisis. According to government waste statistics, Hong Kong buries more than 2,100 tonnes of plastic in its landfills daily.
Local environmental organisation The Green Earth has estimated that the city throws away 5.28 million plastic bottles every day. They also believe that Hongkongers have thrown away more than 12 billion plastic bottles since 2008; if placed end-to-end, this number of bottles would circle the globe 58 times.
Current recycling efforts in the city have been branded shameful. According to Edwin Lau Che-feng executive director of The Green Earth, less than 15% of Hong Kong’s plastic waste is recycled. Additionally, as much as 86% of plastic waste ends up in landfills, the countryside or in the surrounding waters as marine refuse, leaving toxic components in the environment afterwards.
Environmentalists are calling on the government to introduce a citywide ban on single-use plastic bottles. Since last year, some local universities have already implemented bans on all single-use plastic bottles containing one litre or less from shops. They are hopeful that the movement will be taken up by the government on a larger scale.
As founder of Plastic Free HK, Lisa Odell, told online guide Sassy Hong Kong, “The main issue is that Hong Kongers don’t have access to recycling collection points or do not know where they are.” She went on to say that inadequate recycling facilities continue to be an ongoing concern.
Since China recently banned imports of many types of unprocessed rubbish, it’s feared that Hong Kong’s waste problem is only going to get worse. Until last year, Hong Kong exported more than 90% of its recyclables to China, including plastic waste. Hong Kong’s local recycling industry is unable to process the resulting excess, and now plastic waste is being dumped into local landfills. As an alternative to expanding the size of landfills, green groups are campaigning for the government to urgently put greater resources into subsidising and upgrading the recycling industry and implementing more extensive recycling programmes.
Many enterprising local businesses and initiatives have sprung into action to help alleviate the problem, as well.
Plastic Free HK is an online retailer that sells some excellent alternatives to single-use plastic products that most people use in their daily lives. Similarly, NO!W No Waste sells a range of products to promote a zero-waste lifestyle.
Live Zero sells package-free groceries in a small shop in Sai Ying Pun. They also run a pop-up store with other products in PMQ.
Go Cup, which has been around since 2016, promotes bringing reusable beverage containers to cafés to avoid takeaway cups. Urban Spring sets up drinking water dispensers around town to allow for quick access to water with the intent to eliminate the need to buy bottles.