Could a different sort of plastic hold the answer to easing the city’s worsening marine rubbish crisis? According to one green group, replacing some polystyrene materials with polypropylene might help ease at lease one major environmental headache – foam plastic storage boxes from fish markets that disintegrate in the water and get swallowed by marine life. WWF-Hong Kong is launching a trial scheme with local fisheries representatives to use more sturdy crates made of cheap, lightweight corrugated plastic that does less ecological harm than foam. Hong Kong’s marine waste clean-up mired in red tape and outdated attitudes Pollution from foam boxes used by the fisheries sector has long been a concern. Favoured for their sturdiness, cost, weight and insulation properties, the boxes are often laid out haphazardly at wholesale fish markets, where they can be broken down and blown into the sea. Small fragments and pellets can also be washed into drains and out to sea. Foam plastic makes up about a fifth of marine refuse, according to a 2015 report compiled by the Environmental Protection Department. “We see many of these boxes floating along the coastline and in places like Aberdeen typhoon shelter, which may have been dumped or blown into the water,” the green group’s project manager for marine affairs, Patrick Yeung Chung-wing, said. “This has a huge impact on the environment as foam is very brittle and light, making it very hard to clean up once it’s in the sea. “The environmental impact [of plastic boxes] will be relatively smaller and cleaning up will be easier.” Fishermen fear Hong Kong’s waste will sink livelihoods Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium chairman Cheung Siu-keung said the trade would be willing to consider the product if it was cheap, functional and durable. “The most important consideration will be the ability to maintain the temperature of its contents,” he said. “Reliable supply will also be important.” The simple, low-cost solution was one of several examined during a WWF trip to Europe organised by Brussels-based Waste Free Oceans to seek feasible marine refuse solutions for Hong Kong. The non-profit group mobilises fishermen, recyclers and businesses in Europe to tackle marine litter. Other European strategies Yeung hoped Hong Kong could consider include deploying special trawl nets to scoop up floating refuse more efficiently as well as incentive schemes whereby fishermen would take refuse in their nets back to shore, instead of dumping it at sea. What a waste: Bulk of Hong Kong marine litter is plastic, say green groups Yeung said Hong Kong would have to invest more in promoting onshore recycling and upcycling – the reuse of discarded objects to create a product of higher quality. “Rubbish should be cleaned up in the sea and sorted onshore and given a new product life. In Hong Kong, there are no groups or companies doing this,” Yeung said. Fisheries representatives have blamed a lack of on-site recycling facilities for the amount of rubbish ending up in the sea. The Environmental Protection Department said the amount of marine litter collected by government departments had been rising steadily over the last five years from 15,000 tonnes in 2012 to 16,500 tonnes last year, averaging about 42 tonnes per day. It does not keep statistics on the recovery rate of marine waste. Clean-up efforts, particularly at black spots, would be stepped up, a spokesman said.