It's great that people are becoming more aware about the dangers of single-use plastics for the environment, but we have a long way to go in reducing plastic in Hong Kong.
We try to live good sustainable lives here in Hong Kong by conserving water, shopping at vintage stores and embracing vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. But one thing that is hard to manage, no matter how much of a conscious consumer you are, is plastic. Here, Joakim Cimmerbeck traces the substance back to its roots and suggests what needs to happen community wide for us to be successful at reducing plastic in Hong Kong.
The birth of a material
The fourth son of a brass lock maker from Birmingham was born on the 29th of December, 1813. No one knew then that Alexander Parkes would be such a troublemaker; he invented plastic. However, he and his contemporary inventors used no synthetic or petrochemical material, so strictly speaking they are not responsible for the damage made by millions of bottles thrown on a daily basis here in Hong Kong. The inventor for the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was Leo Baekeland, a Belgian living in New York in 1907, he also coined the word: plastic.
Yet, we cannot blame the inventors for the fact that each of the bottles we throw away will live in the eco systems for an eternity. We are the ones that throw them away, not them.
Plastic can be found in almost all modern products: mobile phones, straws, computers. Most cars are around 20 per cent plastic, doctors use plastics to replace bones and joints in our bodies, and the food industry uses plastic to keep food fresh; it’s a very good product for certain long-term uses, but we do not have a good relationship with the substance, and it should probably cost more, as then we’d be less willing to throw it away so easily.
How do we solve being overrun by plastic?
What is the solution? The best alternative is recycling. While we will not see plastic go away anytime soon, over time we will see smarter plastics that are less dangerous for our precious eco-system.
We already see a lot of work being done to get plastic away from our oceans, but we need to do more. We need to change our attitude towards this, and Hong Kong, with it’s significant surplus budget, should invest in a recycling structure Hong Kong wide.
But, we the citizens need to ask for it. Our representatives are only doing what will keep them in power, and we need them to make recycling a top priority. We’re a coastal city and we’re very dependent on the sea that surrounds us. Things are moving in the right direction for Hong Kong, but we can’t slow down and think that because others are taking care of the situation, we’ll be alright.
So how much plastic do we have to deal with? In 2016, we produced 335 million metric tons, that is more than 550 of the Prelude, the largest vessel on our seas today. And while it’s true that China is the biggest exporter of plastic and that they are responsible for around a quarter of all plastic produced worldwide, before you go pointing the finger, just remember that supply is only caused by demand.
The volume of plastic produced has steadily increased every year since the birth of “the modern economy”, ca 1950. From a recycling perspective we have to deal with what is newly produced but from a “making our ecosystem better” point of view we need to deal with billions of metric tons already ingrained in the ecosystem. A study found that in, only, the north Pacific around 24,000 tons of (micro) plastic is ingested by marine life annually.
Let me present some facts as stated by Plastic Oceans:
- Packaging is the largest end use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
- Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
Reducing plastic in Hong Kong: What can you do?
- Stop using plastic bottles, simply use a recyclable bottle and refill
- Refuse cutlery and straws in all your fast food and carry your own reusable set
- Bring your own bags, and refuse extra plastic bags for food items at checkout
- Go plogging, a new wave of exercise that combines the joy of exercise with the joy of stretching and picking up plastic waste across beaches and coastlines.
- Recycle. If your landlord does not have a recycling facility where you live, then ask for it. There are also some government recycling centres where you can drop off certain types of products.
Also, I would recommend that we all join organisations that address these issues, and donate so that they can do better. These are a couple of the ones I particularly like:
There are many many more such as the more well-known NGOs and local organisations. Support some with time and if you can money. If they run events and you can visit them, you will learn a lot and if this, and many more articles like this won’t convince you maybe a day at an event will.