With limited air traveling and a strict set of Covid policies, many Hong Kongers had been flocking to nature for a change of scenery after months of staying at home for school and work. Bearing the important role as being one of the sole sources for local short trips, Hong Kong’s nature had taken a heavy toll with littering.
According to Green Earth, a Hong Kong based environmental advocacy group, the littering problem on hiking trails and camping grounds have grown at alarming rates. In a litter survey campaign, Green Hero Challenge, Green Earth had collected over 15,000 pieces of litter at hiking hotspots. Green Earth compared the hiking trails to “Tissue Flower Mountains”.
The results of the operation had found that over 30 per cent of litter were tissue-based products, including dry tissue and wet wipes. Over 20 per cent were cigarette buds and another 20 per cent were food and beverage packaging.
The team had scoured hotspots like the Tai Tam Country Park, Shing Mun and Lau Shui Heung Reservoir, covering over 1000 kilometers of trails. The survey was conducted over 227 operations in 79 locations. A new discovery of litter included Covid-19 Rapid Testing kits, masks and even human feces, after doing the campaign for the second time since 2019. The findings from this campaign had shown litter doubling in volume since then.
“Wet wipe and tissue products are now claiming that their new and improved formula would ensure that the tissues don’t break easily, meaning that it would take months for it to organically dissolve,” said Antipas Poon, spokesman of Green Earth.
According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) of Hong Kong, in 2021, there were 1,800 tonnes of litter collected from hiking trails. In a response to a Legislative Council inquiry, the AFCD had been aware of the increased number of visitors to popular hiking trails and the increased amount of litter. They had increased patrolling in specific locations and had arranged 42 special operations; they had also issued 77 Fixed Penalty Notices against littering in 2021.
Despite the pandemic and many Covid-19 policies that restrict locals from gathering, the AFCD had managed to conduct 60,000 inspections at country parks under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) (Control of Disease Regulation) in 2021. A government press releases revealed that 700 people were caught for ‘contravening’ relevant anti-epidemic measures in 2021.
Indeed, the volume of litter picked up at country parks had shown a steady decline from 2017, where 3,400 tones of litter were recorded, to 2021, where 1,800 tonnes were recorded. However, combined with the drastic drop in tourists, the situation is not optimistic.
“We go to the countryside for the natural scenery, not for the overflowing Tissue Flowers. Hikers are advised to bring their own towels or hand sanitizer. If you must use tissue, take your litter home.” said Poon.
The AFCD currently runs a “Take your litter home” campaign that encourages the public not to leave personal trash behind to alleviate forest fires, spread of infections and in keeping Hong Kong’s country parks clean. The AFCD looks after 24 country parks in Hong Kong, 22 of which are nature conservation parks and pre-pandemic attracts 11.2 million visitors annually.