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Hong Kong environmental issues

Urgent action must be taken on plastic

The ubiquitous use of plastic in modern society is invading the food chain and puts people’s health at risk. But with consumers often having little choice but to use products containing plastic, government intervention is necessary

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 5:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

News reports about plastic contaminating a type of fish consumed in local meals is not just unappetising. It turns the spotlight on how the ubiquitous use of plastic in modern society is invading the food chain and putting people’s health at risk.

According to an Education University of Hong Kong study, microplastics were found in 60 per cent of wild flathead grey mullet samples examined. The plastics are believed to come from single-use cutlery, straws, cups and bottles.

Health risks multiply as Hong Kong fails to control plastic pollution

Last month, a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology study showed that microbeads, which are commonly used in facial scrubs and toothpastes, were found in the digestive tracts of fish and other marine creatures.

The studies echo what has been found elsewhere. From drinking water to sea salts, what we eat and drink are increasingly polluted by plastic.

A 2013 study from the United States found that detectable levels of plastic were found in the urine of 95 per cent of the adult population.

In a study published in Scientific Reports in Nature, the 21 types of tested table salts were all found to contain plastic.

It remains unclear how plastic affects the human body, simply because researchers are unable to find participants who are not already exposed for comparison. But if the wastes we discard are hard for the Earth to swallow, they cannot be good for our bodies.

A staggering 12.7 tonnes of plastics are washed into the sea every year, equivalent to one garbage truck of plastic per minute, according to the United Nations. Earlier, a study found that Hong Kong beaches recorded an average of 5,000 pieces of microplastics per square metre – 2.4 times more than the concentration in the US.

Spartan Race under fire for leaving litter at ecologically sensitive site

We can pretend there is no problem, defer it to future generations, or change our lifestyles and habits today. The latter is obviously the way to go, but it is easier said than done. Consumers often have little choice because the market is flooded with products containing hard-to-recycle plastic and over-packaged produce.

That makes policy intervention necessary. Government efforts in education and regulation in responsible manufacturing and recycling are minuscule compared to an ocean of plastic waste. Urgent action to ban or reduce the use of plastic is called for.