POSTED ON FEBRUARY 19, 2019 BY SOO KYUNG JUNG
As 2018 came to an end, the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong released the annual Green Earth Report for 2017 that contains information about solid waste in Hong Kong. The report claimed that the quantity of daily disposal of plastic in Hong Kong is about 2,124 tonnes per day. This accounts for 20 percent of the total municipal solid waste of Hong Kong every year.
In her policy address last October, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced new measures to target the challenge of plastic waste and curb the wide use of plastic. For instance, canteens at government offices will stop providing plastic tableware for takeaway from 2019. Another aim of the measures is to develop a “bring your own bottle” culture that will begin at government level. Along with these changes, the government will provide HK$300 ~ HK$400 million to help reduce waste and encourage recycling.
Although the government has begun initiatives to deal with the plastic waste issue, environmentalists say that Hong Kong still has a long way to go to stop plastic from damaging its marine ecosystems. In fact, it is estimated that over 10 million tons of plastic flow into the world’s oceans. Once it is in the ocean, plastic breaks down into micro-plastics that are eaten by sea creatures, which find their way onto our dinner plates. Last year, a study by HKUST found that marine animals who ingest micro-plastics are prone to suffer from organ damage and reduced growth rates. These problems will only get worse as plastic continues to enter our oceans.
Some NGOs and other individuals say that the government is not doing enough to clean up Hong Kong’s beaches. Beaches are where most of the city’s plastic waste and other rubbish wind up, eventually deteriorating the surrounding ecosystem.
Harry Chan, a beach cleaning activist, said that the government is doing little to clean up the shores. “There are a lot of ghost nets, plastic rubbish flowing, and foams flowing in the shores that are not regularly checked. Government patrol of such things are not very effective. That’s why we volunteer,” he said.
“Without individual help, beaches in Hong Kong will be filled with plastic and rubbish in a short period”
Harry Chan, Beach Cleanup Activist
Although the problem is daunting, there are things that we can do to preserve our environment at international, governmental, and social levels. In fact, some scientists are developing biodegradable plastic and creating new recycling technology. Biodegradable plastic completely decomposes when it is buried, which is an excellent way to reduce plastic pollution and carbon emissions that are released from burning plastic. Fully-recyclable polystyrene has also been developed that can instantly transform used plastic bowls back into oil.
At the government level, comprehensive laws and initiatives to lessen the amount of plastic used are extremely important. In Korea, the government has strengthened the regulations on the use of plastic cups at restaurants and coffee shops. Only those who wish to take their drinks outside may use plastic. Those who wish to drink inside the shop are required to use mugs. Korea made a drastic change in its use of plastic by announcing that it will regulate straws, cutlery, and the use of plastic dishes in delivery food. In Europe, the EU has agreed to ban single-use plastics by 2021.
In contrast, the future of Hong Kong’s reduction of plastic use and increased recycling seems bleak. In the Green Earth annual report, the recycling rate of plastic bottles in Hong Kong only reached 8.5 percent, whereas it reached nearly 60 percent in Europe.
Hong Kong does have several reverse vending machines that refund money for plastic bottles that you insert. However, they are hardly used. A number of these machines are deserted and even broken.
Despite the lack of strong public measures, environmental groups highlight that the most important thing to change is the individual willingness for people to make a change. Will Hong Kongers say no to plastic someday if markets and restaurants still use plastic packaging every day? For now, the future for plastic reduction in Hong Kong seems grim.
Featured video: “Fighting Marine Wast: Beach Cleanup in Hong Kong” by Soo Kyung Jung