Welcome step to cut use of plastic bottles
Government’s decision to stop the sale of small plastic water bottles in vending machines at its premises is a start, but more should be done to encourage a citywide reduction in the use of such containers
Water is a necessity, but the plastic bottles it is most often sold in have to be phased out. Plastics have serious consequences for our health and the environment. The Hong Kong government has long recognised the risks and since 2012 it has been promoting the use of alternatives at its offices. Its decision to no longer stock small bottles in the more than 1,100 vending machines at its venues is a long-needed step.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said in making the announcement last week that the decision was to “set a green example” on reducing waste at source. It aims to encourage the use of drinking fountains and water dispensers and the use of reusable bottles. There has long been a need for such a tack; the environmental group Green Earth estimates that 5.2 million plastic bottles weighing 136 tonnes are thrown away each day. Most end up in our city’s three landfills, although many also make their way into surrounding waters. Hundreds of years pass before they fully decompose and as they break down, toxic chemicals are released into the environment and food chain. Some scientists have linked ingestion of them to increases in the incidence of ailments including cancers, obesity, infertility and neurological disorders. The government’s decision is understandably welcome. But it is far from enough, as the exemptions prove; bottles of more than one litre and drinks other than water will still be available in the vending machines. Nor is an attempt being made to take plastic bottles off shop shelves through schemes to encourage less environmentally damaging packaging such as glass and cardboard. Refundable deposit schemes for containers, successfully in use in at least 15 countries, have not been considered.
Plastic water bottles are inexpensive to produce, convenient and disposable. These reasons are behind annual increases in their production and use. But their proven negative impact on ecosystems means society has to switch to reusable, non-plastic, bottles. The government’s levy on plastic shopping bags has dramatically cut waste and the same foresight is needed with plastic water bottles.