image image

Hong Kong environmental issues

Businesses and environmental groups come together to tackle Hong Kong’s waste issue

Drink Without Waste formed to discuss how to reduce pollution caused by plastic and cardboard drinks packaging

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 5:29pm

Each day, 136 tonnes of plastic bottles, 91 tonnes of cardboard drinks packaging, 41 tonnes of aluminium cans and 275 tonnes of glass bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong.

Many of them end up in landfill sites or polluting the wider environment, and the sight of empty plastic bottles washed up on the shores of pristine beaches is all too familiar.

As a result, a cross-sector working group including drinks manufacturers, green NGOs and waste management organisations has been launched to tackle the problem.

Drink Without Waste is the first of its kind that involves stakeholders from across the board, and will initially focus on reducing waste from single-use drinks packaging.

This is particularly crucial for drinks packaging made of plastic and multilayered cardboard, since the government has not yet set up a comprehensive recycling system for these materials, unlike for glass and aluminium.

The group plans to release its first report in 2018, after six months of research and consultations with experts, stakeholders and the wider community. It hopes to come up with solutions that are not single-handedly ­focused on reducing consumption, but on cutting waste as a whole in line with the government’s environmental aims, ­according to group member Steven Molyneux-Webb of the local green think tank Civic Exchange.

Hong Kong government vending machines to ditch small water bottles in battle against plastic waste

Edwin Lau Che-feng, founder of environmental NGO The Green Earth, says: “I am glad to join this collective in order to find practical, holistic solutions that encompass a wide angle.”

Lau says, for instance, there are several food and drink establishments that offer customers special discounts if they bring their own cups and food containers, and this type of scheme should be extended.

Working group chairman Paul Zimmerman says: “We’re trying to keep the research as open-minded as possible. Some ­solutions may have high or low costs, so we will consider that. Some things look easy but may not be in practice.”

Zimmerman, who is also founder and CEO of Designing Hong Kong, an NGO dedicated to sustainable urban planning, adds: “Green groups are here to make sure we have an honest process, to make sure that it’s not hijacked by any particular interest.”

Say no to bottled water, drink from the tap, and help reduce Hong Kong’s carbon footprint

The idea for the group has been in the pipeline for five years, he says. It initially started as a ­series of informal discussions ­between various groups, including Civic Exchange and Designing Hong Kong, about how to solve the problem of man-made waste washing up on beaches.

Zimmerman says other NGOs were already tackling reducing waste arising from food containers, but nobody was specifically targeting beverage packaging.

So he along with others ­approached some manufacturers to fund research, and quickly saw the value of adding other voices to the debate. Plans for setting up the formal working group snowballed from there, and discussions took off in August.

“I hope this does create a radical change in Hong Kong environmental policy, because it needs a radical rethink. It cannot be business as usual,” Zimmerman says. “This, I believe, is the only hope – by putting all the stakeholders ­together in one working group.”