Living the (plastic-free) life
With the current surge toward sustainable living and eco-friendly behaviour, we couldn’t wait to sit down with Plastic-Free HK’s founder, Lisa Odell. As the mum to two kids (her daughter is only 4 months old!), she knows first hand how hard juggling a career and raising children can be. But with a positive attitude, good friends, a loving husband and the occasional cold margarita, she’s here to tell us about her favourite places to go around Hong Kong, as well as some tips on how people can make a huge impact in day-to-day life, and how you, too, can live a (virtually!) plastic-free life.
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, how did you get to Hong Kong, and how long have you lived here?
Like so many expats here in Hong Kong, I came for one or two years for an adventure and to see more of the world before settling down. But little did I know I would meet my husband on the third day of living here and that was nine years and two kids ago! Although we both do miss and crave home from time to time (USA for me and South Africa for him), this is where life has brought us and where we’ve chosen to grow our family. We call Sai Kung home, and find it a great place to raise kids and to be a bit more connected to nature, which feeds us both.
What do you find the most challenging about raising kids here (and the most rewarding)?
I think it’s pretty tough being so far from extended family, especially my parents who are missing a lot of my kid’s lives. My husband and I always feel like there’s something missing in our daily lives and look forward to the day when grandma and grandpa can just pop over to see us. But on the flip side, living in Hong Kong and raising our two kids here means being able to offer them such a global perspective as they grow up. And more specifically, Sai Kung is such a family town with great community and loads of beaches and parks for the kids to enjoy. It’s never going to be perfect regardless of where we are, so we’re set on making the most of our time here.
Tell us a bit about your family life and how you balance being a mum with working life.
Being that Ava is only 4 months old, I’m still trying to figure this balancing thing out! It is such a challenge having a job I love as well as two young kids who need me and I want to be there for, so right now it really is just one day at a time. I stay grounded and motivated by my best girlfriends, exercising, an early bedtime, feeding my body what it needs to feel it’s best and my mind what it needs to stay positive, and when all else fails … a margarita on the rocks is the best! My husband’s job also allows him to be home a lot so he’s very involved with the kids and such a huge support. I definitely couldn’t run PFHK without him backing me and believing in me too.
What do you and your family like to do at the weekend?
We are big water people, especially in this HK heat, so you can generally find us at one of our favourite beaches or around one of our neighbourhood pools. Put us in nature with some good friends and we’re happy. And a good ‘ole South African braai is always on the menu!
Got any fun, off-the-beaten-path places you like to go?
Our favourite incognito restaurant is definitely one-thirtyone. It’s a quaint and classy restaurant along the waterfront in a village found between Sai Kung and Ma On Shan. We were married there eight years ago and love to return for any special day when we want to celebrate with a memorable meal. The food and view are one in a million! And for a bit of outdoor fun, the far-flung beaches out our way are the best! Long Ke is my personal favourite, but Tai Long Wan and Sai Wan are way up there too. It’s just a picture perfect place, with clean water and soft sand and room to breathe and unwind from our hectic lives.
What are your favourite kid-friendly restaurants?
We usually stay close to home when dining with the littles, and that means venturing to “the square” in Sai Kung where Owen can play before and after the meal if he wants. So it gives my husband and me a bit more time to enjoy ourselves sans an energetic 3-year-old bouncing off the restaurant walls. Our favourites are the usual ones for families: Jaspas, Piccolos and Classified for the mains, and Ali Oli bakery for a treat afterwards.
Let’s talk shop. We’re totally on board with your plastic-free concept and love what you are trying to do. Tell us about Plastic-Free HK.
It’s interesting to look back and see the manifestation of PFHK, because it was something that happened completely organically and was very unexpected. The idea for PFHK began about two years ago while I was trying to find ways to reduce the daily waste my family was creating. Every time I threw a plastic string of floss in the rubbish or needed to change my plastic toothbrush out, I cringed. I couldn’t do it anymore. And through this process of cleansing my home of as much plastic waste as I could, I saw there was a huge need and demand for these sustainable resources here in Hong Kong, and that there were many people just like myself who wanted to make a change. So I built a website, found a few products to stock and did a few fairs to get our name and products out there. It really was just a few months later that the demand for our products was hard to keep up with. I would pick and pack the orders at night after Owen went to bed and enlist my husband to help me when needed. And exactly a year after launching, I moved into an office space so we could expand further. It’s been such a fun ride and I can’t wait to see where we’re headed!
The idea of becoming a plastic-free world seems impossible, especially for families who need to constantly pack lunches, leftovers and more. How can families make a difference, albeit step-by-step?
I give the same answer every time and I probably always will. The single most important step anyone can make toward becoming less wasteful and plastic-free is to ditch ALL single use disposables. That includes plastic straws, water bottles, bags, coffee cups and takeaway items such as boxes and cutlery. I’ve read before that at least half of the plastic waste found in the world today is comprised of the single-use disposable kind, so it’s pretty obvious that if we all made an effort to cut this out of our lives, it would make a huge impact in solving this plastic waste epidemic we’ve found ourselves in. And the good news is, this is SO easy. The hardest part is remembering to bring your reusables with you, but once you make it a habit, you’re all good. I carry a bamboo utensil set, a stainless steel straw, a reusable coffee cup, my Pura water bottle and an extra bag in my purse at all times. They’re all lightweight and easily fit into my tote.
Once you’ve conquered saying goodbye to the single-use plastics, you can move onto your home and go room by room. I’d recommend starting with your bathroom since it’s a huge waste-making room and go from there. Making these changes really are quite easy and, as I’ve said before, make a massive difference in the long run.
Real talk: Are you 100% plastic free?
I love this question because I really believe it’s such an important one. No my family is not 100% plastic free and we don’t expect others to be either, as we know that sometimes it’s just not possible. Our goal at PFHK is to encourage, not to discourage. Aspiring to live more sustainably doesn’t mean all or nothing, as we believe any small change you can make towards living more plastic-free is awesome and has a positive impact on the whole! Just do what you can; switch to a bamboo toothbrush, ditch single use disposables, try to buy more food items packaged in glass or metal or paper. [Changes] like these will have a ripple effect and only create positive change.
What are you teaching your children about being eco-friendly, and what can other parents teach their kids about living a plastic-free lifestyle?
Being that environmentalism is my job, it’s a popular topic around our house so Owen has always heard us discussing the problems and seen us trying to create the solutions. Just like all kids do with their parents, Owen mimics me. When we go out to a restaurant he tells them he doesn’t want a plastic straw, when we go to the beach and sees plastic in the sand, he points it out and asks me if it will hurt the marine life. He’s only 3 and knows the difference between paper, metal and plastic and that the latter should be avoided if possible. So if he can learn, we all can!
I’ve always said that one of the biggest solutions to this plastic waste problem is educating the next generation. If we teach them well, they will be the ones to bring lasting positive change to the table.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I LOVE my job and find such fulfilment in helping Hong Kong become a more sustainable city! And I’m so grateful for the support Hong Kong has given me and PFHK. I feel so encouraged every day by how much people really do care and how willing and excited they are to make changes and live more sustainably. Thank you, thank you, thank you!