Why it is so hard for Hong Kong to ditch plastic, and how appeals to self-interest can help
- Appeals to civic-mindedness will probably have minimal impact, so think instead about how to reward those who use and produce less plastic
I refer to your report on the excessive use of plastic disposables at large fast food chains in Hong Kong (“Cafe de Coral, Fairwood and Maxim’s use 180 million pieces of disposable plastic a year, Greenpeace finds”, December 14).
Beyond the staggering statistics of single-use plastics, what rings alarm bells is the mindset of the public and conglomerates on green habits.
Central to a capitalist society is self-interest. Rightly or wrongly, individuals are inclined to act according to their evaluation of personal benefits. It is convincing enough to discourage a wasteful lifestyle in the wake of the landfill crisis, yet it comes as no surprise that campaigns for civic-mindedness do not have the desired impact, due to the not-in-my-backyard mentality. People are generally apathetic about the mounting plastic waste problem because they find the environmental repercussions so distant in temporal and spatial terms that any threat is not deemed worthy of immediate attention.
Similarly, business initiatives are often driven more by the profitability angle. The launch of the “no straw” campaign offers food for thought. Several fast food eateries and food delivery companies have stopped handing out straws and/or lids unless upon request. With this, management strives to project an image reflecting the social responsibility of the enterprise. But this can also be a marketing strategy that aims to attract environmentally aware customers to their business, and hence generates more revenue.
As for providing polystyrene takeaway boxes, would it be that difficult to switch to paper? Environmental aims could also be served if the restaurants considered rewarding those bringing a reusable food container, by offering them discounts.
John Ng, Lai Chi Kok