Reduce, reuse, recycle.
How many times have you been to the beach with the kids and had to sweep away old plastic bottles and bits of fishing net to make room for your towel? Or been swimming in the sea only to have a panic attack as a bag wraps around your ankle? One question that has been asked time and time again is, how do we recycle effectively in Hong Kong? The answer? Well, it’s not easy, but it is doable. According to an article published by the BBC in 2017, if Hong Kong continues in this way, it will reach a breaking point by 2020. Well, 2020 is here and landfills are said to have filled up ahead of time. So, if there is ever a time to act, it’s now!
With everything going on in the world right now, we’re constantly striving to make positive changes, despite the statistics. So, we spoke with the founder of Plastic-Free HK, Lisa Odell who shares her hassle-free tips for recycling in the city.
Recycling Resources In Hong Kong
Hong Kong throws away approximately 5.2 million bottles every single day. Imagine the difference we could make if everybody made an effort to recycle? “The main issue is that Hong Kongers don’t have access to recycling collection points or do not know where they are,” admits Odell. “Even more so, many people who do know where the recycling bins are don’t trust the system, so they end up not bothering.” That’s a huge part of the problem!
Read through the Hong Kong government’s waste reduction and recycling regulations. For example, everything should be thoroughly washed out. We were shocked to learn that even the smallest mix-up – a cigarette butt that ends up in the plastic compartment – contaminates the entire bin to the point that the whole collection is unfit for recycling in Hong Kong. Educating yourself is key, so find out what to recycle and where to find recycling points near you.
Read more: How To Introduce Your Kids To Sustainability
A great way to get into the recycling habit is to designate one day to do your “recycling chores”. Fridays, for example, could be your day to bring your weeks’ worth of (rinsed out) plastic bottles to the collection bin. It’s a great routine to get the kids involved in too! Start simple: if you drink a lot of bottled beverages, make an effort to rinse them out and put them in a separate trash bag throughout the week.
- One, you might just be shocked at how many single-use plastic bottles you’re collecting.
- And two, it’ll take no time at all to walk these over to a “Litter Cum Recyclables Collection Bin” nearby.
Move on to doing the same with paper and cardboard items as well as metal tins. We’ve seen compartment recycling bins on Amazon, which if you’re lacking in space, is a good way to keep things in order each week.
“I think the most powerful thing we could do on a personal level, first and foremost, is to avoid using any plastic packaging whatsoever,” Lisa says. Although she sets the bar quite high, we left our conversation feeling optimistic that Hong Kongers really can make the changes needed to drastically decrease the number of recyclables that are thrown away.
Make Small, Habitual Changes
Bea Johnson, the founder of Zero Waste Home, has suggested a 5R formula – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. Lisa adds, “Refusing wasteful things should be the very first option we go for. Then, if you can’t refuse it (like produce wrapped in plastic), reduce it as much as possible.”
In 2017, Green Earth estimated that the amount of plastic bottles dumped in Hong Kong every day, was more than enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. So what can you do to help reduce this statistic? In the Sassy Mama office, we’re consciously trying to cut down the amount of plastic we use on a daily basis, and actually have a cupboard for reusable Tupperware and metal cutlery which the team use when they pop down for lunch. Suggest that your office follow suit or bring in your own container and ask restaurants to use this rather than the plastic options – we have found that the majority of places happily oblige! We’re also constantly sipping out of stainless-steel water bottles and straws, as well as ordering coffees to-go in an Ecoffee Cup.
Many of us carry around a reusable bag with us so that we can nip into supermarkets without leaving with a fist full of plastic, but how often do you come home with plastic bags full of lemons or allow the cashier to bag your meat and dairy products as it swipes through the till?
More food for thought: The average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of sanitary pads, plugs (tampons), and applicators in her lifetime (source: Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation). Consider using a menstrual cup or purchasing OB Tampons which are applicator free and are available in both Watsons and Mannings. Make small changes to your beauty regime like opting for “nude”, plastic-free products such as shampoo and conditioner bars or use a flannel to remove makeup rather than buying makeup wipes. Most importantly, be sure your facial products don’t contain microbeads!
FACT: According to a study from Plymouth University, plastic pollution affects at least 700 marine species, while some estimates suggest that at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution.
Reach out within your community! Organise an outing to one of Hong Kong’s many plastic-strewn beaches and, with the guidance of organisations such as Hong Kong Cleanup, actively start cleaning up the problem. You can also make a donation to organisations like Plastic Free Seas which help fund education programmes offered free of charge to schools. It also has tips on how you can go plastic-free.
There will always be days where you have to take a plastic bag or accept a meal that’s given to you in polystyrene, but it’s the little changes you make that spark a habit. Only positive things can come of implementing some of these changes day today.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January, 2018, by Lexi Davey and updated in April, 2020, by Alex Purcell Garcia.