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Hong Kong’s drive towards a clean and green future gains pace

Recycling is among the initiatives that aim to address huge waste problem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 11:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 4:27pm

Can you imagine a world without plastic? It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. Given that plastics as a consumable only became popular in the 1960s, all generations previously managed to do without the throwaway shopping bags, bottles and packaging that have become so ubiquitous in a handful of decades.

In that time, Hongkongers have gone from being a city routinely bringing their own food and drinks containers, to dumping an estimated 5.2 million plastic bottles every single day.

Recycling falls a long way short of solving the waste problem. According to local environmental lobby group Green Earth, only 14 per cent of plastic bottles disposed of in Hong Kong get recycled, while on a global scale, the recycling rate for all plastics drops to a mere 9 per cent. If that trend continues notes Roland Geyer, an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara‘s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, roughly 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste – weighing more than 36,000 Empire State Buildings – will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

Hongkongers seem to have got the message with it comes to plastic bags, with 80 per cent of respondents to a Greenpeace survey confirming they did not use any plastic bags when they last went shopping or ate out.

Two in three Hongkongers use plastic disposables for dining, adding to city’s ‘waste crisis’

Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry, has also found that Hongkongers “have no desire to throw away their unwanted clothing”. During a two-week citywide campaign conducted last November in partnership with Miele, 4.5 tonnes of clothing were collected for reuse.

Noting studies suggesting that more than 60 per cent of Hongkongers now consider recycling their clothes, Christina Dean, Redress founder and chair, finds this mindset “inspiring”. “We are witnessing a growth in public interest and motivation around the important issues of clothing care and waste, and the potential to create positive impact,” she said. “This, combined with a shift towards improved models of consumption – from the minimalism of capsules to quality beating quantity – is positive news for the environment and people, but there is still a lot of critical work to be done.”

Redress is now collecting clothing year-round, via a partnership with fashion brand Zara.

Simply drop your unwanted garments, shoes and accessories in the collection bin at any of the 14 participating Zara stores in Hong Kong (a list is on the Redress website). Depending on their condition, these items will be reused, upcycled, recycled or down-cycled – where low grade donations are used for stuffing materials, rags and the like through local partners – with the aim of minimising the 343 tonnes of textiles sent to landfills every day – the equivalent of about 16,908 garments every hour.

Once they become part of your lifestyle, it will be effortless and you’ll soon realise how easy it is to make more eco-friendly choices
Tamsin Thornburrow, founder, Live Zero packaging-free bulk food store

A permanent clothing collection point has been added at PizzaExpress Sai Ying Pun.

There is also an opportunity to shop greener for stylish second-hand garments at the next Get Redressed pop-up shop, to be held at OnTheList, at 6 Duddell Street from July 3-6.

Eco-technologies are also turning waste into luxurious homeware. British company Weaver Green has perfected that process, selling a range of cushions, rugs, bags and blankets through local stockist Inside at Ap Lei Chau. The collection made entirely from recycled plastic bottles has the soft feel of wool or jute, and according to company co-founders Tasha and Barney Green – who hit on the idea while travelling in Asia – Weaver Green textiles are machine washable, mould resistant, UV stable, hard-wearing “and perfect for use indoors in kitchens, under dining tables, in bathrooms, hallways and outside on garden terraces”.

Right on our doorstep, Guangzhou-based experimental design studio Bentu is regenerating urban construction and manufacturing waste into progressive, contemporary furniture and lighting collections.

For the brand’s Ceramics Made collection, which debuted at Milan Design Week in 2017, pieces of waste tiles from Foshan City’s ceramics industry are mixed with high performance concrete for added strength – which allows the material to be cased in slim profiles – then polished to a smooth finish.

One of Bentu’s latest projects recycles rock and soil mined from the construction of Guangzhou Metro to create sophisticated, terracotta-look desk accessories for the home or office – and making terrazzo bench seats for the Metro stations. According to its creators, the Mined Soil Minerals of Guangzhou Metro regeneration experiment gives waste new life by letting it become part of everyday life. “From the beautiful forms to the emotional connections, from a single individual to the whole view of human society, we help soil waste to connect with the world again with dignity and value,” they say.

When having takeaway food delivered, it’s also possible to select ‘no cutlery’ on the mobile app. Foodpanda introduced this option, cutting use of disposable cutlery by 20 per cent (with a goal of 100 per cent).

Food delivery companies try to help Hong Kong kick its 25 million-a-day plastic utensil habit

For everyday purchases, more shops are making it easier to buy grocery items without any packaging. The website NO!W No Waste has a map tracking all the shops in Hong Kong selling goods packaging-free, and the restaurants that give discounts for bringing your own lunchbox. Information and pictures are published every week on the company’s Facebook page. The objective, says Fanny Moritz, founder and CEO of NO!W No Waste, “is to progressively build this map and make it easy for anyone to go zero waste in Hong Kong”.

Another zero waste hero, Tamsin Thornburrow, founder of Live Zero packaging-free bulk food store in Sai Ying Pun, offers these tips for starting the journey towards a greener lifestyle: bring your own shopping bag everywhere, don’t accept plastic freebies, use a bamboo toothbrush, buy less plastic wrapped products, use reusable produce bags, and recycle whenever you can.

It’s all about committing to a few small changes and making them a habit, Thornburrow says. “Once they become part of your lifestyle, it will be effortless and you’ll soon realise how easy it is to make more eco-friendly choices.”