The shame lines on our beaches

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong is blessed with fine beaches, most just a short bus or ferry ride (and sometimes also a short walk) away. They are places to relax, swim and reflect, but they are also a reminder of how little regard we have for our surroundings. They can be left pockmarked with rubbish after a busy weekend, and more refuse is left lining the shore with each day's tides. The 47.9 tonnes picked up over six weeks during an annual clean-up competition broke records - and showed how serious the problem has become. Typhoon Nesat was partly to blame for the higher-than-usual haul: the storm that shut down our city on September 29 brought heavy rain and strong sea surges.

In all, 225 teams comprising 12,000 volunteers took part in the event, organised by the environmental group Ecovision Asia, which opened eyes to what is being discarded, how much there is and where it comes from. Between 75 and 85 per cent was litter from the city swept into the sea from drains, and much of it was plastic or polystyrene. Such waste kills sea life and birds, leaches harmful chemicals and, if not biodegradable, takes decades or even centuries to decompose. Thankfully, much of the rubbish left on beaches is picked up by government workers.

Given our heavy reliance on plastics, though, the fact that recycling is still not mandatory is a problem. The plastic-bag levy has led to big reductions in one source of refuse, but with the scheme not yet expanded beyond supermarkets and large stores, far too many are still being used. Until laws that force responsible behaviour are in place and an environmental consciousness takes root in society, careless disposal will continue. Shorelines, and especially beaches, are a good place to see the error of our ways. We can each make a difference by voluntarily cleaning up around ourselves after every visit to the seaside. That, and laws to require recycling, would go a long way towards ushering in the culture necessary to protect our environment.