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Humans of Hong Kong: Unwrapping green living with Raphael De Ry

By Nicole Hurip 29 May 2020

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a brand-new story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. Raphael De Ry created a sustainability-focused store specialising in zero waste and bulk groceries, as well as organic, fair trade products from around the world. We sat down with Raphael to learn more about his philosophy on how to live sustainably, live responsibly, and live happily.

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"I visited Siargao last year with my family. This whole island is super eco-friendly; the mayor, who was a surfer, forced all the restaurants, hotels, bars to pass a class before they could establish their business. That class involved respect for the environment, sorting your waste, recycling, compost, things like that. So you go to the beach there, there is no plastic. Literally, you have to look for plastic if you want to find some.

“We went to many beaches in Thailand and depending on the time of the year and the tides, we can end up with a whole beach of plastic. It was refreshing because you get reusable straws, and you can see the choice of material is driven by the desire to reduce and reuse. Actually, we went after I had closed the K11 shop, and Lee Gardens, so I was wondering if there was really a reason to pursue this venture. So that actually was like a bit of a refresher, to know that, oh, there’s a place like this! It’s far, but it’s still good.”

“We are starting to realise the social impact is important, how the actions that we take are impacting all of us. The work-from-home movement is going to have a ripple effect, from commercial space to choices to what we want to consume. If we work from home, we’re going to eat more from home, we’re going to have a different way of choosing the things we want to put on our tables, the kind of things we want to have in our daily life. I cannot predict, but I do hope that the trend of the new me, and the trend of consuming more responsibly will merge together, and I think we see the trend going in this direction.”

"On a personal level, what I am trying to do is to avoid all the traps that are laid our way, trying to make good use of our resources, definitely helping my kids also, to do that. Just an example: One day, the clock in our kitchen broke, and it was really this massive piece of plastic. It was there when we moved in, a gift from our dear landlord. So we went to Ikea to choose a new clock, and I say to my two kids, hey, which one would you choose? And I chose one that was really nice, mixed materials with metal, looking good and everything.

“And then I said to my kids, ‘Which one did you choose?’ and they came up to me with one that I did not even look at because the design was not appealing to me. They said to me, ‘Papa, we have to buy this one,’ and I asked them why, and they told me, ‘See, this one is just a piece of wood, and the mechanism, so when you need to recycle, you can just take it apart, put the piece of wood for compost, and the rest we will have to find another way.’ This really opened my eyes, and had me thinking, hey, that’s actually the right choice! And that is just one little example that even I, although I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about sustainability, I still fall for the easy trick. I’m still wired this way.”

“I don’t know if you know, the L.O.L. toys, terrible things. These are toys, mostly for girls, big boxes of plastic and inside you get little figurines and things that like, very playful. All my friends’ daughters, they have them, they love it, and it’s fantastic, and my daughter she really wants it. But it’s so bad because she feels guilty when she buys it, but at the same time, she really wants it. But she ended up playing with it for a week or two, and she doesn’t like it anymore. She came to me and told me that I was right, that thing is not great, and stuff. But I feel bad for her because she doesn’t have this lightness of just trying and buying.

“When I grew up, there was no sense of responsibility in our purchases. You put it in the bin, you forget about it, there is no problem. And it is unfair to have that for a seven- and a nine-year-old. At the same time, it shapes them into being more conscious about what they have and also being happier by having less. For kids, it is really painful, but at the same time, I think it really shapes them into having more precise desires.

“Nowadays, being a kid has never been so stimulating. You have many screens, inside every screen you got many layers. I mean, look at an app store. Today, you get millions of apps that are offering different solutions, different games—it is constant stimulation. And stimulation is actually to generate an action, most often a purchase. But it’s a balance between how much you want to get, and how much impact it will have.

“Everything has a carbon footprint; you download an app, that has a carbon footprint in a server farm somewhere, that can be offset with solar panels. You don’t need to have this train of thought for everything that you purchase. But that is something that’s wired in my kids’ mind, that when they buy something, they can ask themselves where this is coming from, where it will go after they use it, and whether it is worth it or not.”

“My kids are playing with my Legos. They still work, you know. What happened was my mom store my Legos when I stopped playing with them, maybe at ten, twelve. Funnily enough, when I gave them to my kids, I actually used them to make the layout of my shops. When my kids turned two or three, my mom she took my Legos, put them in a tub, she washed them, and now they’re going for another ten years of service. I do hope we will store them, and take them out again for as much time as possible.

“The reason I am taking my Legos out of their box is to show that plastic can also be a fantastic material. It’s durable, it’s versatile, and it answers to a lot of needs. We won’t have phones, or medical devices, and many other things, without plastic. It is just the way we use plastic as a single-use, disposable, never-matter material, that is the problem. It’s hard to juggle between the two, but what I’m trying to do with my kids is to give them something that would be of value to them.”

“You have many spheres of influence, but for me, it was Marie Kondo. To me, she’s not about being minimalistic—it is about keeping things you really love. And this actually ripples to the purchase stage. I used to be a very impulsive buyer and a very regretful buyer. I buy something, I play with it for a week, two weeks, two months, two years, or whatever; most of the stuff I buy, after I get it, it was meh. The exciting part of actually getting it.

“I’ve been wanting an Apple watch for months, and actually, I realised that maybe I don’t need it. I mean, there is no real need for it. And so, that shapes how I perform my purchases—the groceries, the technologies, they are totally different but it is the same process either way. You ask yourself: Will I really enjoy that? Will I really benefit from it? Do I really need it? Will I really love it? And all these shape the way I purchase, and how big is my footprint on Earth.”

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.