Talking to the powerhouses behind Plastic Free Seas and DB Green, Kate Farr discovers what we can all do to keep beach pollution at bay.
Cigarette butts, empty cans, bottles and even used syringes – not a list of items swept up from the floor of a particularly seedy nightclub, but a snapshot of the vast quantities of waste regularly found to be littering our beaches.
The beaches surrounding DB have long been at the crest of Hong Kong’s tidal wave of marine lap sap. Sam Pak Wan has hit the press on several occasions over the past 18 months with disturbing reports of medical waste being washed ashore, and Nim Shue Wan was badly affected in August after Typhoon Hato damaged a cargo ship, resulting in fuel oil leaking directly into the bay.
So what is the solution? Should we simply accept that our beaches are out of bounds?
A home-grown issue
Dana Winograd, of Hong Kong-registered eco-charity Plastic Free Seas (PFS) and local community group DB Green, opens by revealing what the powers that be are doing to conserve our coastline. “Hong Kong Resort (HKR) manages Tai Pak Wan and cleans it every day,” she says. “However, Nim Shue Wan and Sam Pak Wan are managed by the government, so they are cleaned either weekly or bi-weekly.”
While Dana acknowledges the work that is done at Tai Pak Wan, she believes the state of Nim Shue Wan and Sam Pak Wan damages DB’s reputation as a ‘clean’ community.
“We feel it would be beneficial if HKR paid more attention to the cleanliness of the other two beaches bordering DB, especially as so many people – residents and tourists – see these beaches regularly,” she says. “Guests can see Sam Pak Wan from The Auberge, and they often walk down to the beach. People walk to and from DB past Nim Shue Wan – surely their impression of DB must be affected if they see it is full of rubbish?”
HKR, meanwhile, emphasises that it is up to the government to clean these non-gazetted beaches. “We understand that the government conducts regular waste clearing operations at its governed beaches,” an HKR spokesperson says. “As a victim of marine pollution, HKR has repeatedly appealed to the authorities to exert their best efforts to resolve the issue at the root cause, by tackling illegal dumping of marine waste at source and enhancing environmental education.
“Environmental protection has always been the core value in the design, operation and management of DB,” the HKR spokesperson adds. “HKR implements various green initiatives with different partners in the community, including shop tenants, residents, contractors, green groups and staff, to conserve precious resources, foster recycling and educate community members on protecting our environment through joint effort.”
With regards to recycling initiatives, Dana suggests that HKR’s tenants need to play their part. “We would like to see a ban on polystyrene in the HKR managed restaurants, as well as the restaurants that they rent to,” she says. “HKR could also push for a reduction in the amount of single-use plastic used by all of the restaurants in DB.”
And it’s on the topic of plastic that Tracey Read, founder of PFS, stresses the importance of examining our own habits and making positive, easily achievable changes. “Use fewer singleuse disposable plastic items such as straws, water bottles and bags,” she says. “Bring your own reusable containers when getting takeaway food. Be conscious of the excessive plastic packaging at the grocery store, and choose products with no, or less packaging – speak or write to store management about this.”
Stemming the tide
Encouragingly, plenty of DB residents are keen to be part of the solution when it comes to getting actively involved. Kate Wade, founder of DB Green, clarifies: “The monthly community beach clean-ups, hosted by PFS and DB Green, are open to individuals and families, not only from DB but from all around Hong Kong. We provide reusable, one-size-fits-all cotton gloves and rubbish bags, and we ask that volunteers wear closed-toe shoes, and bring a full, reusable water bottle, along with sun protection and bug spray.”
Last August, DB Green celebrated 10 years of Discovery Bay beach clean-ups, and each meet typically involves around 50 participants, who are focused not only on the sandy part of the beach but also on the vegetation line. Importantly, beach cleaning is not just for adults – kids are also welcome to do their bit and see the positive impact community action can have on the environment.
“Clean-ups are a great family activity,” says Dana. “It’s never too early to bring your children down to the beach, although we ask that kids below the age of nine are accompanied by an adult. Even if they only pick up a few bottle caps and then play the rest of the time, they are learning about the [waste pollution] issue, and, most importantly, they are enjoying the beach.” This is especially important because, as Dana accurately states: “People tend to take better care of what they appreciate.”
As our community continues to grow, and large-scale events bring more visitors into the resort, a cleaner, greener Discovery Bay is something that everyone could appreciate.
– DB Green, dbgreen.org
– Plastic Free Seas, plasticfreeseas.org