Cut down on plastic use, not just for the sake of animals
- Plastic accounts for one fifth of Hong Kong’s municipal waste. At risk are not just animals and nature, but an increased contamination of the food chain for humans
Marine animals found dead with their stomachs full of plastic is becoming increasingly common in overseas countries, the latest being a 31 foot sperm whale washed ashore in Indonesia last month. Among the plastic waste found in its body were two flip-flops, 115 drinking cups, 25 plastic bags and four plastic bottles. In Hong Kong, a beloved bull named Billy sadly suffered the same fate.
The eight-year-old bovine was like an old friend to residents in Mui Wo on Lantau. He joined a buffalo herd on Pui O beach after his mother was knocked dead by a vehicle. To the dismay of many, he was found dead recently. Subsequent examination showed that his stomach and intestinal tract were blocked with enough plastic waste to fill two rubbish bins. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the animal might have associated plastic bags with food, as he had got into the habit in recent years of being fed by visitors or eating their leftovers.
News reports of such kind are typically greeted with sorrow and cast aside by non-animal lovers. But they highlight the growing damage caused by irresponsible use and disposal of plastic materials around the world. A survey of 34 coastal sites by WWF in Hong Kong in 2015 and 2016 showed that plastic debris accounts for between 60 and 80 per cent of marine litter found along shorelines. In fact, plastic accounts for one fifth of the city’s municipal waste.
At stake is not just the well-being of animals and nature. Increasingly, microplastics used in personal health care products are found in marine life. The heath risk arising from the contamination of the food chain for human beings is therefore also higher. Being a coastal city heavily reliant on imported food makes Hong Kong even more vulnerable. As warned in a local university study released in April, microplastics were found in 60 per cent of the samples of wild flathead grey mullet, a fish commonly found in local meals.
Beach goers and country park visitors can help protect the environment by taking their trash away. More importantly, we need more comprehensive policies and laws to enhance recycling and to cut down the use of disposable plastic products.