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Environment

Hong Kong should declare war on plastic to mark Earth Day

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 8:51pm

The theme of Earth Day 2018 is to end plastic pollution. Plastic poses an ever-increasing threat to human health, other species and nature as a whole.

Today, many political leaders and scientists have realised our current way of living damages the basic elements which support the Earth’s ecosystem, such as water and air.

It has been estimated that we dump 8 million tonnes of plastic debris in our oceans every year, posing a serious threat to wildlife and food chains.

According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic debris kills around 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds and fish.

But animals are not the only ones at risk. Recent research conducted by US-based non-profit Orb Media on microplastics demonstrates the potential health risks to humans: 93 per cent of the 259 bottled water samples from nine countries contained microplastic particles. The health effects on humans from the ingestion of microplastic are not yet fully understood.

Two in three Hongkongers use plastic disposables for dining

Some countries have already pledged to ban single-use plastic items: Scotland has announced a ban on plastic straws by the end of 2019 and, last year, India’s capital, Delhi, banned all types of disposable plastic items such as cups, plates and bags. In February this year, Taiwan announced a blanket ban on all plastic bags, straws and utensils by 2030.

Back to Hong Kong. As much as 86 per cent of our plastic waste ends up in landfills, or in our countryside and waters. Several companies, universities and the government have stopped buying or selling bottled water. This is surely not enough. Large fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and KFC still use disposable cutlery and seem to have no plans to overhaul such wasteful and environmentally harmful business behaviour.

Hong Kong throws away 5.2 million bottles every single day

To support the Earth Day theme of ending plastic pollution, our government should ban hard-to-recycle disposable plastics such as foam boxes; require producers to recover a certain percentage of their plastic waste; and provide free drinking water in public areas to discourage the consumption of plastic bottled water.

However, the top priority must be for our government officials to dispose of their “make-no-mistake by doing nothing” mentality.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, executive director, The Green Earth