Greeners Action estimates that people will be handed 41 million umbrella bags at entrances to malls, commercial buildings and government facilities this summer. Photo: David Wong

Fourteen million one-off umbrella bags add to Hong Kong’s waste crisis

Greeners Action says property managers should consider alternatives including automatic umbrella dryers, racks, floor mats and recycling bins to prevent dripping

Hongkongers may end up using as many as 14 million disposable plastic umbrella covers during the wet season from June to September, prompting a green group to call for alternative environmentally-friendly options to deal with dripping brollies.

Around 90 per cent of the 53 shopping malls, commercial buildings and government facilities monitored by Greeners Action across Hong Kong this past month distributed the plastic freebies during the rain, mostly citing the need to keep their floors dry and preventing falls.

Green group targets plastic umbrella bags

The average quantity distributed at the entrance of these buildings was about 288 every 45 minutes. Around 7 per cent of the venues had staff dishing the sheaths out to tenants or shoppers even if they were not sought.

Factoring in that tally and the average 576 hours of rainfall between June and September recorded each year by the Observatory, a total of 14 million umbrella covers would be doled out at the 53 properties.

“People use these bags only when they enter the property and they discard them when they leave. Time of use is short but the waste they generate is serious,” assistant project manager Yip Chui-man said.

“Whether it’s the property [management] or the public, both sides need to take a further step and reduce the use of these bags.”

Yip urged mall operators and property managers to consider other ways to prevent dripping umbrellas by deploying more automatic umbrella dryers, umbrella racks, floor mats and recycling bins at entrances. Using a different material for flooring could help prevent slips.

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A loophole could be exposed if so many of these plastic covers were still given out when mandatory waste charging comes into force in 2019.

Of the 35 private malls and commercial buildings and 18 government facilities – shopping arcades, hospitals and offices – only four had plastic recycling bins, seven had umbrella dryers and 12 offered storage racks.

“Yes, some of these bags are said to be biodegradable and are made of different materials. But they are still single-use items and a huge contributor to waste,” Greeners Action project assistant Kristie Lo Tsz-kiu said.

She said it was possible to reuse the covers as they were unlikely to be too dirty.

About 800,000 of the 3.7 million tonnes of municipal waste discarded in landfills in 2015 consisted of plastic, up 8.9 per cent from the preceding year, according to the latest available Environmental Protection Department statistics.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of covers used. It has since been corrected.