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Say NO to Single Use Plastic! 8 Ways to Reduce Trash in Hong Kong

By Sophie Pettit 9 July 2018
The global plastic crisis is nothing new, but a recent surge of shocking coverage across the world has revealed the ugly truth about just how serious the problem has become. A drone video filmed last year over Hong Kong's polluted waters brought the crisis much closer to home, prompting many people to take action to help tackle the issue. To help you make a difference, we turn to Claire Yates, founder of The Lion Rock Press and co-founder of EcoDrive, a not-for-profit organisation which strives to educate people on how to reduce single-use plastic in Hong Kong.

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Did you know that this city of 7 million people is estimated to throw away a whopping 5.2 million plastic water bottles EVERY DAY? Pretty shocking, isn't it. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that every single piece of plastic that you’ve every used still exists somewhere on earth? Think of every plastic fork you’ve ever used, every plastic bag, every straw – they’re all still sitting or floating somewhere polluting our planet. [caption id="attachment_119054" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Not a spot of sand to be seen on Trash Bay, next to Cape D’Aguilar, Hong Kong[/caption]

[su_quote]Every single piece of plastic that you’ve every used still exists somewhere on earth ... still sitting or floating somewhere polluting our planet[/su_quote]

It's Time to Make a Change!

As consumers we have huge potential to help tackle the problem by reducing our personal consumption of single-use plastic (or SUP), and you'd be surprised how easy it is to do. Here are eight simple things you can start doing right away to help. [caption id="attachment_119021" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The Water For Free app The Water For Free app[/caption]

1. Stop Buying Plastic Water Bottles

One of the easiest ways to make an impact is to carry a reusuable water bottle. If you can consistently remember to carry it, you may never need buy another plastic water bottle again. Get in the habit of filling it up whenever an opportunity arises. If you get caught out, there’s an amazing app called Water For Free (Chinese name Pok Soi) which allows you to find the closest source of clean water to fill up your bottle wherever you are in Hong Kong. If you click on the app, it tells you how close it is, what the opening times are (if it’s a restaurant), and even what temperature is available! By using this app, you'll be on your way in no time with a full bottle of water that's not cost you anything and hasn't harmed the environment. [caption id="attachment_119085" align="alignleft" width="226"] Steel straws from[/caption]

2. Say NO To Straws

Try to remember to ask for “no straw, please” when you’re ordering a drink. If they still bring you one, then politely refuse it. The more people refuse straws, the more pressure it puts on outlets to make changes. If you just silently accept it, nothing will change. If you love straws too much to go without, then take a stainless steel straw with you so you’re never caught short. Many bars and restaurants in Hong Kong are already swapping plastic straws for paper ones or none at all, which is great, but until all outlets follow this rule, it's really up to you to do something about it. For those bubble-tea addicts, there are fat steel straws widely available on the market to suck up those tapioca balls – so there’s really no excuse!

3. Use Reusable Containers 

If you often take a “doggy bag” after a meal, try to carry a reusable container. There are a lot of great collapsible ones on the market which don’t take up much space in your bag. If you’re going to get take-out, then remember to take your reusable container to the restaurant – you’ll be surprised how many places welcome this practice and even give you money off your bill! Be sure to ask for NO CUTLERY if you don’t really need it. Carrying your own set is a certain way avoid this issue, and remember to set your online food delivery default settings to NO CUTLERY. [caption id="attachment_119019" align="aligncenter" width="660"]Market Place by Jasons in Sheung Wan Market Place by Jasons in Sheung Wan[/caption]

4. Take Your Own Bags to the Supermarket

Another place you can use your reusable containers is when you go food shopping. Try taking them to the wet market to put fresh fish or meat in and avoid all those iconic red plastic bags. If you’re at the supermarket and buy from the fresh fish, meat, or deli counter, simply hand over your box to the server – more SUP avoided! Another thing you can do is carry reusable shopping bags with you at all times to put your groceries and loose fruit and veg in. There are so many to choose from and many of these fold up to the size of an iPhone. The easiest place to avoid SUP when shopping is one of Hong Kong’s many wet markets. Learn how to say “no plastic bag, thank you” (mm sai doi, mm goi) in Cantonese, and they will be happy to oblige. Wet markets provide a fantastic variety of loose fresh produce, and supporting local enterprise is a wonderful bonus! You can also shop at "zero waste" stores like Live Zero and help support their cause – vote with your dollars people! [caption id="attachment_119017" align="alignleft" width="288"]The #NoPlasticMmGoi Eco Cup The #NoPlasticMmGoi Eco Cup[/caption]

5. Buy a Reusable Coffee Mug

If you love your coffee, there’s an easy way to make a huge impact – take your own reusuable mug. There are so many on the market now that you’re really spoilt for choice – the #NoPlasticMmGoi Eco Cup from The Lion Rock Press is just one of many that you can pick up for a reasonable price ($180). The majority of cafes also now incentivise you to bring your own cup by offering discounts and drink upgrades, so join the movement and see how satisfying it is to still be able to enjoy your favourite drink with zero waste! Make it a habit to keep your mug in your bag, so it’s always on hand when you need that little pick-me-up.

6. Use Shampoo Bars and Menstrual Cups

Historically, the bathroom is a haven for single-use plastic and it's hard to remove completely, but there’s still plenty of small, easy changes that can be made. Switch to bamboo toothbrushes, which are widely available now and an easy win. You can also use shampoo and body bars instead of liquid which comes packaged in plastic bottles – LUSH has an amazing collection. You can also use shaving bars instead of foam canisters. If you can’t give up your cotton buds, then make sure you buy the ones with paper shafts, which are available in local supermarkets and pharmacies. It only takes a moment to check and make a better decision. You’ll be amazed at how much SUP you can avoid! For the really keen among you, try using DIY paper liners for bins – there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube. And ladies, please give the menstrual cups a go – just think of how many tampons and pads you’ll be saving (not to mention money)!

7. Swap Clingfilm for Beeswax Wrap

Are you a ziplock bag or clingfilm addict? Luckily there are plenty of non-SUP alternatives available. Why not replace your roll of clingfilm with beeswax wrap? It’s easy to use and available in lots of different sizes – you’ll be amazed that you ever lived without it. Silicone food covers are also available, and reusable ziplocks which can be easily cleaned and are completely hygienic.

8. Spread the Word, Use Your Voice

Perhaps the most important tip is to use your voice to spread the message. Talk to your friends, your colleagues, your bosses, your domestic helpers, your children. Help them to understand the problem and what we can all do to help. Speak to your building management about their waste management and recycling facilities, put pressure on the restaurants and members clubs you frequent to make changes to support a change in their attitude towards SUP. We have the power to do so much! START SMALL, START NOW! Visit the EcoDrive website to find out more about the organisation and its work.
Read more! Discover the story behind this shocking drone video of Hong Kong, captured by 26-year-old surfer, Ryan Keller.

Read more! Explore the rest of our Health and Wellness section on Localiiz.

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Sophie Pettit


Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.