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Environment

Two in three Hongkongers use plastic disposables for dining, adding to city’s ‘waste crisis’

Greenpeace, citing survey findings, asks fast food chains to change practices and help city cut back on the 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste sent to landfills daily

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 11:08pm

While most Hongkongers consciously avoid using plastic bags, at least two in three still use disposable utensils and straws when eating out, adding to the massive amount of plastic waste dumped in landfills daily, environmental group Greenpeace said.

Its recent poll of 1,000 Hong Kong residents between the ages of 15 and 50 found that 66 per cent used plastic utensils and 68 per cent used straws when dining out.

However, 80 per cent of respondents said they did not use any plastic bags when they last went shopping or ate out. All shops in the city are required by law to charge customers HK$0.50 per plastic bag.

Greenpeace campaigner Andy Chu Kong said the survey results showed that Hongkongers had overlooked the environmental impact of plastic disposables.

“Plastic bags are but only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hong Kong’s plastic waste crisis.

“Although Hong Kong people are starting to use fewer plastic bags, they neglect to see that disposable utensils and cups are part of the problem too,” Chu said.

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Government figures show that more than 2,000 tonnes of plastic, enough to fill 100 shipping containers, is sent to Hong Kong’s landfills daily. For plastic utensils and foam takeaway containers, the figure is 179 tonnes, or the weight of 10 double decker buses.

Chu said large businesses, especially fast food giants, should take the lead in reducing the city’s excessive amount of plastic waste, as they give disposable items to all customers, regardless of whether they are eating in or taking away food.

Greenpeace did a study from August to October this year, observing staff at 24 McDonald’s outlets during breakfast and lunchtime, to monitor their use of plastic cutlery, straws and disposable bags.

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It concluded that the 24 outlets likely gave out at least 49,000 plastic disposable items each day, with all of the city’s 240 McDonald’s outlets handing customers about 490,000 plastic items daily.

If all the items were laid out in a straight line, it would measure 67,200 metres, or the total height of 168 towers of IFC, one of the tallest buildings in skyscraper-filled Hong Kong.

“As the world’s biggest international fast food chain, McDonald’s definitely has the resources and manpower to make a change,” Chu said.

Chu added that reducing plastic use was the only way to tackle the city’s plastic waste crisis, which was compounded by the low rate of recycling.

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Plastic recycling in Hong Kong nosedived from 32 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent in 2015 because of weaker demand for plastic raw materials in mainland China.

Falling oil prices worldwide also gave manufacturers less incentive to use recycled plastics for their products, as new plastics – made from the by-products of oil and gas production – became cheaper.

Greenpeace urged McDonald’s and other fast food chains to use stainless steel or glass containers especially for those dining in, offer discounts to customers who bought their own utensils and containers, and give cash rebates to those who brought back used glass containers.

Chu also called on Hongkongers to view the city’s plastic waste problem with the same urgency as if their home was flooded from a broken tap.

Some people, he said, would be frantically using buckets to empty water while others might first look around to see how serious the damage was.

“But what is the most logical thing to do? Of course you should [head straight] to turn off the tap to stop the problem at the source,” Chu said.

In a statement responding to inquiries from the Post, McDonald’s said it had “always been committed to environmental conservation”.

The fast food chain added that it had introduced a number of initiatives over the years to encourage customers to work with it on waste reduction, especially on the issue of disposable plastics.

The company said straws were not proactively handed out to customers, and it also launched a policy in 2015 where it stopped providing plastic bags for single drink takeaway purchases unless requested.

It added that drinks and food bought from McCafe, a coffee offshoot, were served in ceramic cups, plates and glasses, with stainless steel cutlery. McCafe also welcomed customers who brought their own tumblers or cups.

“We will continue to review our product packaging and material as well as related policies from time to time for sustainable environmental development in response to the market and customer needs,” McDonald’s said.