Sunday, 22 April 2018

Earth Day? More Like Plastic Day

How does this mountain of garbage make Hong Kong look beautiful?
Today is Earth Day and some 1,500 people took part in beach clean-ups in Hong Kong and collected over 3,000kg of junk, most of it plastic. It included plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, plastic packaging, children's toys and cigarette lighters.

"I would say about 80 percent of what we picked up were plastic items that were only used once... and most of it was local," said Dr Robert Lockyer, director of operations at the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation, one of the groups organizing the major citywide beach clean-up.

The clean-ups were at Sai Kung, Lamma Island, Discovery Bay, Tai Po, Central and Sham Tseng.

Mainly one-use plastic items were collected on beaches
In recent months, some restaurants owned by expats have announced they are not using plastic straws anymore, and instead either using paper or metal straws, or none at all.

There is also a Facebook page that encourages people to write to restaurants, shops and grocery stores to complain about their excessive use of plastic packaging, and then post the letter on the social media site.

It's called A letter a day keeps the plastic away, and many people are posting their letters and responses from companies, but the replies are usually standard corporate ones that seem mildly concerned, but not much concrete action to rectify the situation.

Most expats and local Hong Kong Chinese who have lived abroad and are environmentally conscious, know too much plastic is bad for the environment. The focus should be on educating locals, Chinese restaurants and cha chaan tengs that they need to change their habits.

My friend YTSL regularly organises beach clean-ups and sometimes she can be demoralized when she cleans up a beach one week and then returns the following week only to see it covered in trash again.

Hong Kong's waste problem is growing every year
I try to be conscious about my grocery shopping -- using my own bag and when I'm out, carrying a thermos of water so that I don't need to buy a water bottle. But there are some people -- mostly men I have to say through observation -- who don't do either and don't think twice about paying HK50 cents for a plastic bag or buying a bottle of water.

The Hong Kong government really isn't doing enough to get people to use less plastic or legislate companies to use less packaging because the authorities aren't serious about protecting the environment.

In 2016, 10,345 tonnes of municipal waste was sent to landfills every day -- 1.8 percent more than the year before, though most of it was commercial rather than residential. Of this waste, 20 percent or 3,132 tonnes was plastic.

This has to stop soon because it is unsustainable. Is there no one else who understands this? Or is it because people are so reliant on domestic helpers to clean and cook that they are completely unaware of how much garbage they create?

Another day, another Earth Day. But environmental NGOs have more work to do to get the public and companies to understand waste is everyone's responsibility.

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