Event RecapBack
Seminar: “Say NO to plastic! We need bolder actions!”

Plastic waste in Hong Kong has risen from 73 million tonnes in 2014 to 80 million tonnes in 2015, a historic-high in its annual record. More than 2,000 tonnes of plastic garbage are produced in Hong Kong every day. Can we change this lifestyle of enormous plastic consumption or retract from the use of plastic altogether? We invited Mr Hahn Chu, Director of Environmental Advocacy from Green Earth, to be our guest speaker at the Seminar “Say NO to plastic! We need bolder actions!” held on 10th February in Portland Commons. Based on his own experience, Hahn told our participants how waste reduction could be achieved by the civil society.

Hahn started his plastic and waste reduction actions from a pilot campaign back in 2003 – the Moon Kick Action. The rumor at that time was that someone stole the drainage metal covers on the road and resold them for money.  This has led Hahn to rethink the issue of reusable resources and green consumption. Hahn, working for “Friends of The Earth” at that time, engineered the “Moon Kick Action” campaign. This campaign investigated into the style of packaging by various mooncake manufacturers / sellers in Hong Kong and found that these companies have used 17 pieces of packaging on average for just one box of mooncakes. The investigation results reported by the media shocked the public. Some schools also joined the campaign later to urge for a reduction of mooncake packaging, and one school even helped to recycle over 1,000 mooncake boxes.  The schools then co-operated with Friends of The Earth to organize a ‘mooncake boxes-turned-massive domino’ event to bring this issue into public focus. Other than public pressure, Hahn also presented packaging proposals to different mooncake manufacturers, advising them how to keep up with the sales volume while adopting a minimal packaging style and how to build a good corporate image out of it.

There is of course no quick success for advocacy. Hahn developed different strategic objectives at different stages, from shaping public opinion to demanding producer responsibility, and then to lobbying for government policy changes. Within three years, the average number of plastic pieces used in mooncake packaging dropped from 17 to 11, resulting in a reduction of 60 million pieces of plastic waste in Hong Kong. In 2009, the sixth year since Moon Kick Action was launched, the Maxim’s Group finally adopted the suggestions by Friends of The Earth. These included the giving of incentive coupons to customers to encourage mooncake box recycling and the swop to green packaging. Incidentally, this also pushed the government to increase the recycle facilities for the public. 

After the mooncake case sharing and causing an uproar from everybody, Hahn showed the photo of an ‘overpackaged’, expensive, single strawberry from CitySuper. He pointed out that this supermarket was a vivid representation of globalization, as goods from all corners of the globe can be found there.  Showing a small water bottle he picked up from the country park, Hahn pointed out that what took us five seconds to drink up was actually shipped to Hong Kong  all the way from Europe and Taiwan at a carbon mileage of 10,000 kilometers. Most Hong Kong people seek convenience and demand efficiency, and this social mentality has inevitably given rise to over-packaging and a liking for using the disposables. The environmental problems resulted from such practices, however, were shifted to other countries. Hahn posed two questions to the participants -- do the people of Hong Kong nowadays still treasure resources as much as the older generations did, and do they still treasure Hong Kong as their home.

According to the report “Plastics Europe” published in 2015, nearly 40% of the plastics produced in Europe were used in packaging. Hahn thinks we could make a change by demanding for producer responsibility, charging plastic shopping bags and altering consumer behavior. For example, rubbish bins are often filled with plastic umbrella wrappers dumped on a rainy day.  In fact, innovative designs like Inside Out Umbrellas or reusable umbrella bags are already available from the market. Some people also make their DIY umbrella bags.  Indeed, just with some creativity, everyone can contribute in reducing packaging waste. Hahn encouraged all participants to use their own talent in promoting sustainability, even when they were not policy lobbyists like him. What everyone should remember was not to create yet another piece of garbage in the name of helping the environment; this is just another trap of consumerism.

The seminar has attracted many workers and leaders in the waste reduction sector, from polyform recycling project workers to social entrepreneurs targeting zero plastic bottles in Hong Kong and organic farmers.  During group discussion, attendees explored how the plastic waste problem could be alleviated in Hong Kong, including the challenges we were facing, what were the potential solutions and what kind of support we would require. Participants came up with various suggestions, including inviting celebrities as spokespersons, enhancing experimental education, offering eco-design awards, and increasing recycle facilities and the installation of water dispensers for the public.