Plastic not so fantastic…

I am lucky enough to live in an incredible location in Hong Kong, combining both access to a beach (2mins) and access to the city (30-40mins).

I moved to the ‘other side’ of Hong Kong three months ago and have been struck by how beautiful and peaceful live can be here. One thing that has stood out however is the staggering about of waste that washes up on our shoreline, especially during typhoon season the beach is covered in broken polystyrene, empty bottles, the odd oil can and much more.

This is not waste washed in from outside of Hong Kong this appears to be local pollution. When you start to investigate further it becomes easier to understand why this occurs. I’ll start with the most common item I find on the beach, single use plastic water bottles.  According to Urban Spring, Hong Kong purchases 1.5 million plastic water bottles every day, and 12 out of 13 of these bottles are not recycled, that is rate of less than 10%. For a country and city that is less than 300km2 that, in my opinion is staggeringly poor. London for example, according the Guardian has a recycling rate of 32%, the UK on average is over 40%.

HK Recycles, a local recycling non-profit states that the recycling rate of plastic was at 11% in 2015, compared to 63% in 2012, one theory is that the decrease in oil prices has led to a decrease in demand for recycled plastic as the price of virgin plastic is comparable, or if not, lower than recycle plastics.

However, it must be more than just price pressures preventing Hong Kong from recycling plastics more. Lack of facilities must also play a part, as well as education and habits. Within my small village we have two sets of small recycling bins, these bins are always full and are far too small for the demand.

There is hope however, Companies like Urban Spring are trying to disrupt the way we drink water in Hong Kong, providing free at point of use water in multiple locations around the city, effecting reducing consumption. Bring your bottle to one of their “Wells” are you can have clean water for free. Other non-profits or purpose business are also beginning to change the way Hong Kong looks at its waste issues and with the Chinese Government imposing a ban on “foreign garbage” in July, which prevents Hong Kong from exporting its waste to the mainland is already having a impact locally. Hopefully this is just the start of a wider change to waste and resource use here in Hong Kong and China. It will be interesting to see how business responds to the changes in the market

As part of my own sustainability journey I have joined forces with my neighbours and the local community and to run the first recycling evening in our village last week. We swapped beer and cakes for plastics, card, metal and glass recyclables. It was a great way to get to know our neighbours and make new friends. The recycling was then taken to the nearest town for collection by the government. In the grand scheme of things, it is nothing, but having seen the enthusiasm from the village, we are going to turn it into a regular event. If change can happen in our village it could happen in other villages too, I hope.

Leadership should come from government, but also from the people too.

10th November 2017

Urban Spring Hong Kong

China’s Import Ban

London Mayor on Plastic Recycling

Hong Kong Waste Reduction Consultancy Report

Unspoken Trusths about Hong Kong Recycling




3 thoughts on “Plastic not so fantastic…

  1. I totally agree with you that leadership is not only coming from the government. It can come from the people who live in the community and what to make a change as this is where we live. If we can take collective actions to reduce waste, we can live in a cleaner and better environment. It will be great to share how you have group your community to make it happens and get a common agreed agenda. How often it is done?


    1. Thanks Carmen, we have the next event planned for the end of the month, this time with a BBQ and on a Sunday instead! Hopefully will go from strength to strength… It started as a conversation with our neighbour and we all just said..”lets do it!”… will keep you posted!


  2. Your post is timely as my husband and I recently watched Plastic Ocean and at the end of it we sat there in despair. As two avid divers we have traveled to many destinations around the globe to explore the underwater world and some of the places that we have been to have looked seemingly pristine and at other times, we have seen plenty of trash. A hermit crab might opportunistically use an aluminium can or a plastic lid as a disguising cover but most of the time it is unsightly and unsettling to see that us humans have littered these sea animals home. How do we balance economic growth, improving people’s livelihoods as well as protecting the natural ecosystem? I definitely feel a little defeated on that one!
    Within our own household, we try very hard to recycle everything that we can and we also refuse plastic bags and plastic cutlery when getting take out but Hong Kong and the US are two of the worst offenders when it comes to plastic usage; plastic wrapped within plastic is not uncommon. It also seems rather excessive to me that fruits and veggies at the supermarket are also wrapped in plastic.
    To effect large scale change in Hong Kong there needs to be a business case and opportunity for people to make a difference and change their habits and behaviours. Any business thoughts on what can be done on leading this change? Whether it be getting restaurants and cafes to use less plastic bags, cutlery, styrofoam and use more environmentally friendly alternatives or is there a way that we recycle so that the environment can be saved and someone can make money from it? Or does it necessitate the Hong Kong government stepping in and placing additional tariffs and taxes to get people more in the habit of avoiding the use of plastic as they have done in supermarkets and shops?
    Thanks for your post.


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