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