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The plastic menace: Tackling pollution in Hong Kong

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By Tracey Read

Every year, tonnes of primarily plastic waste wash up on Lantau’s beaches and pollute our sea. While, sadly, this is nothing new, two significant events in recent years have brought the issue into the spotlight and have been a catalyst for action in Hong Kong: The 150-tonne plastic pellet spill in 2012 and the worse-than-usual summer marine pollution seen in 2016.

The 2012 spill, which saw swathes of white plastic pellets wash up on Hong Kong’s beaches after a cargo ship lost a number of containers overboard, led the government to set up a multi-departmental working group called Clean Shorelines, targeted specifically with tackling marine pollution.

More recently, last summer, as masses of waste from both Hong Kong and mainland China began to wash up across across the territory, then Chief Executive CY Leung travelled to Shui Hau in South Lantau to join in a beach clean-up, a gesture which helped to raise the profile and highlight the seriousness of the plastic marine pollution problem both here and across the border.

In addition to the government’s response, there are now hundreds of people and groups within the Hong Kong community mobilising not just for beach clean- ups but also demanding changes in how plastics are used in society today, calling for the introduction of a deposit refund scheme on plastic drink bottles, a reduction in the amount of plastic packaging used by supermarkets, and alternatives to polystyrene.

As consumers, we need to be pushing for change at every opportunity. We need to make a statement through our everyday actions. Refuse single-use items such as water bottles, straws, coffee cups, plastic bags and cutlery; bring your own containers and bags to the supermarket for meat, deli items, nuts and fruit and vegetables; do the same for takeaways. Use your voice on social media; send emails to manufacturers, supermarkets and the government.

Plastic is affecting us in all aspects of life. It’s in the fish we eat, it’s wrapped around the food we buy, it covers our beaches, and things will only get worse if we don’t push for stronger legislation and corporate policies. If you haven’t done so already, join a beach clean-up to see the problem first hand and find out for yourself why we all need to reduce our plastic usage. It’s quite sobering.

Contact Tracey Read, founder of local community group Plastic Free Seas, at [email protected], or visit plasticfreeseas.org.

Image by James Allen

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