“Straws,” says Nissa Marion. “Straws are one of the worst things.”
“We found a huge pile of them,” on Lo So Shing beach, says Lisa Christensen. “We do not need plastic straws!”
Both women are part of a trio heading Hong Kong Cleanup – a series of beach clean-ups from September until November. This one is the first of the year, attended by finance firm Nomura staff members and their families. The last in November will involve South China Morning Post staff and their families donning gloves and carrying plastic sacks to pick up the flotsam and jetsam and general debris that comes in from the ocean or is left by careless beach goers.
But the main aim of the campaign is to educate the public about how their practices – what they buy; what they eat and the packaging; how they live their lives – affects what we put in the bin, our landfills, the drains and ultimately our oceans.
It’s a huge volunteer event. Last year nearly 40,000 volunteers were involved. Marion expects that to double this year. Last year those volunteers counted 105,507kg of trash, cleaning up 640km of Hong Kong’s coastlines, hiking trails and urban areas.
Video: Clean Queens on a mission to educate the public
The statistics are stark. You buy a sandwich and a bottle of water – well it’s just one bottle of water, but then it adds up.
“We are dealing with a serious trash issue in Hong Kong, and the world. Did you know, for example, that in Hong Kong, every day, we throw away over 16,000 tonnes of trash – including an estimated 1,368,000 disposable plastic bottles, 1,000 tonnes of plastic bags and countless more tonnes of plastic wrapping and packaging,” they warn on their website.
We don’t need straws, says Christensen, and she’s right. She says that in North America, people now use funky glass straws, and repeatedly use them rather than throwing them away after one use.
We also don’t need plastic bottles, which is why Christensen and Marion have teamed up with a firm to promote steel water bottles. The top turns into a cup.
Christensen came from Canada 15 years ago, initially working for Mission Hills golf club in marketing. Marion, also from Canada, is a former model. Christensen set up Ecovision Asia 13 years ago and the Hong Kong Cleanup came out of both women being horrified on country trips when they saw the state of the beaches.
A deciding moment for green groups and the government , say both women, was the plastic pellet spill last year, when during Typhoon Vicente in July, millions of pellets spilled into the sea from a shipping container. Hong Kong’s beaches were covered and there was a collective effort to clean them.
Christensen said it was interesting to observe how “all the green groups put down their agenda” to deal with the spill and that that level of co-operation has continued.
With the beach clean-ups, Marion and Christensen also teach organisations to hold their own events, to hold clean-up challenges at home, in the office, out in the countryside, and in coastal areas, not only to monitor how much waste they clean up but also to look at how littering can damage the ecosystem, and to encourage people to recycle.
“Growing up in Canada I was practically born recycling,” says Christensen, so she was stunned by the lack of recycling in Hong Kong.
So she set up Ecovision – designing and manufacturing recycling bins among other projects. “My goal with Ecovision,” says Christensen, “was a waste management social enterprise.”
Marion, Ecovision Asia’s project director, and Christensen, the CEO and founder, are close friends and work well together. They love being out in the countryside undertaking sports events. Both are very active in education – statistically 85 per cent of what arrives on our beaches, well we’ve put there. So the duo head out to schools, companies and government to widen education about the environment and increase awareness. They use a wealth of social media to get the word out on how people can live their lives in a more eco-friendly way.
They have also set up Ecozine, a magazine about environmental issues, and hope to create a one-stop internet shop of eco items available in Hong Kong.