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Hong Kong expat blogger shares simple ways to reduce waste, go chemical-free at home

Claire Sancelot and her family reuse and recycle items everywhere in their household, from the kitchen to the closet

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 4:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:33pm

Claire Sancelot’s life in Hong Kong is a far cry from the usual expat experience. While most foreigners tend to indulge in all the goodies their privileged position affords, Sancelot and her family eschew excess in everything they do, resulting in a waste-free home.

“We don’t even have a television, and try to be on social media only a few hours a day,” says the French-born economist and founder of the website Zero Waste Hong Kong, who is also a married mother of three young children.

Her mission to reduce waste was spurred by the mountain of dirty nappies and used baby wipes which followed the arrival of her first-born. Now, her household – which also includes a helper and a dog - throws away only about half a bucket of waste every week. Sancelot documents her family’s green living experiment on her blog Hong Kong Green Home, which offers lots of tips on how you can reduce your carbon footprint.

Sancelot recommends starting with the kitchen: swap paper towels for reusable rags, and sandwich bags for stainless steel containers. Bring back linen napkins – fancy ones for guests and some for everyday use – and make table-setting fun by giving everyone their own napkin ring. As for tissue boxes, “just take them out of the house”, she says, and carry a fabric handkerchief instead.

To do away with excess packaging, shop at local wet markets, and take your own bags and containers. Sancelot has also found that at supermarkets such as City’super and Great, staff at the fresh food counters will “gladly” fill up a container that you bring from home, adding the price sticker on top. And farmers markets, such as Island East Markets, will take your egg cartons and berry baskets back for reuse.

When it comes to household products, Sancelot says: “We get our shampoo, hand wash and body wash from Bella Sapone, using refillable bottles.” She also makes her own natural cleaning products, using baking soda for scrubbing jobs, and vinegar for mildew. “You will save a good amount of money, and have a chemical-free home,” she says. Plus, it keeps your cleaning shelf clutter-free, with a minimal amount of products.

Sancelot has proven that turning trash into compost is possible for apartment dwellers. The family has three composting buckets from Bokashi, which they rotate, creating fertiliser in two to three weeks. “We give it to our farmer who delivers his vegetables, fruits, eggs and honey every Wednesday to our house - of course all package-free,” Sancelot says. “We really appreciate the fact that our compost is used as fertiliser for the farm which feeds our family.”

Food scraps are rare in her household. In a city which generates around 3,648 tonnes of food waste every day, according to the Environmental Protection Department, Sancelot has learned to reinvent leftovers, and also uses a pressure cooker to cut cooking time in half.

Elsewhere in the kitchen, a water filter on the sink tap prevents “endless trips to the shop” for bottled drinking water, she says, thereby saving money and reducing use of plastic bottles “which [are] poisoning our oceans”.

In the closet, Sancelot sticks to minimal clothes, shoes and handbags, shopping only a couple of times a year to avoid compulsive buys. Sites such as Mademoiselle Chic, a French second-hand boutique, let environmentally-conscious fashionistas stylishly recycle their clothing.

Sancelot uses cosmetics from brands which refill containers and/or recycle their packaging, such as Bobbi Brown and M.A.C. She also makes her lip balm using Hong Kong honey and beeswax, and blush using locally-grown beets. “It’s fun to do this with my daughter,” she says.

The Hong Kong government also offers helpful tips for living a greener lifestyle on its website. Simple ways to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and recycle are laid out an easy-to-follow format.

“When we started to cut down on waste, we never thought we would go for zero waste,” Sancelot says. “But we loved the idea so much, and felt better every time we switched from disposable to reusable, that we got hooked. In Hong Kong, we are overwhelmed by advertisements as soon as you leave your house, so it feels good to be in a minimalist place, where we keep things as simple as possible and where we feel at peace with Mother Earth.”