Season’s Greetings from Plastic Free Seas

PFS-2014-9-hi.resAs 2014 draws nearer to a close, we are looking back on our achievements of this year and documenting some of our known facts – to date, over 9000 students (in 52 schools) have been reached with school talks, a primary youth conference, workshops and action events. We have organized and participated in 31 beach cleanups and worked with many companies throughout the year with corporate talks and beach cleanups. We also helped facilitate the epic 5 day fundraising 75km Round Lantau Island Swim Challenge and our biggest achievement this year was the soft launch and trial run of the PFS Sea Classroom onboard the Little Blue Trawler.

These are our known achievements, those that we plan for. But one of the things that make us want to keep doing what we do is when we hear stories about what has happened as a result of our planned events.

Below is one of these stories.

On our first education trip out on the Sea Classroom we had over the course of the day 43 students and 6 teachers join us for a beach cleanup and a visit to the Chi Man Wan fish farm platforms. We showed the students evidence of our trash getting into our food chain through fish bitten plastics that we had found, some on the beach and some on the platforms.

Almost 2 weeks after that trip I spoke with one of the teachers and she told me how much of an impact that school excursion had made on her. She said she had never known about the consequences of the trash on our beaches and in the sea and when she held a piece of fish bitten plastic it was a shock. She spoke with her mother in India about this as her mother sends her offerings in the river tied up in a plastic bag. She said to her mother that she should stop using the plastic bag as it would then come back in negative ways and explained what she had seen. She had never thought like this before and realized that in so many ways we were causing harm, often through unintended outcomes. But changes could and should be made, no matter how seemingly small they may be. One action, or one conversation, repeated many times can make a big impact.

It has been a great year for Plastic Free Seas and we are looking forward to more ripple effects from the work that we plan for in 2015. When people choose to make a positive difference in what they do – you never know what it will lead to!

Enjoy the rest of 2014.

5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day …

The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them.

-Florentijn Hofman

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In May 2013 the 16.5m Rubber Duck inflatable installation bobbed around Tsim Sha Tsui on a stopover on his round the world expedition/exhibition.

Hong Kong went crazy over this installation and all over the city you could buy replicas of ‘the’ rubber duck.  Goodness knows how many were sold.

Can this giant friendly, floating Rubber Duck really relieve mondial tensions?  Or is it just another catalyst for encouraging mondial pollution?

On the beach today at Lung Kwu Tan on a far flung corner of Hong Kong we picked up 5 yellow ducks!  I wonder how many yellow ducks are still floating around Hong Kong.

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Lost’n’Found with Liina Klauss

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What is the point of art?  Is it to make you question an idea?  Appreciate beauty and design?  Challenge yourself?

This is exactly what Liina Klauss does with her Vendor’s booth of Lost’n’Found treasures in Stanley for the Ocean Art Walk 2014.

Drawn in by the rainbow colours of meticulously organized ‘trash’ that has washed up on beaches around Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  When you realize that all the mostly plastic items on display were once used, loved, had purpose and had value before they found their way to the sea.  It is a conflicting mix of frustration, revulsion and admittedly quiet pleasure in seeing these objects retrieved and repurposed, connecting with people in a way they never could as isolated trash on the beach.

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The ‘bathroom’ on the shelf with toothbrushes and a cosmetics container literally brings this home.  This stuff is mine.  I use this stuff everyday.  What happens to all the stuff I have used?  Where did it end up?  Landfill? Recycled? Accidentally ‘lost’ out of the system I intended it to go?  Is one of my toothbrushes floating out at sea?

One of the many fantastic things Liina does, is getting her intended message across simply.  Connecting people with what we need to protect and showing natural beauty interspersed with what should not be found on our beaches.

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Showing intricate corals, shells, seed pods and driftwood as well as the crusted homes of marine life on lost objects makes the connection with what we need to protect, wonder over and take responsibility for.

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IMG_3424The responses from people to Liina’s installation are written on the wall.

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IMG_3448What is your response?

What will you do?

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Protect.  Reduce.  Wonder.  Refuse.  Discover.  Repurpose.

 

What if …

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What if everything we threw out of our homes had our name on it?  What if everything that we discarded had its value printed on it?  The cost of packaging?  The value of the wasted food?  If in dollar terms we could see just how much our trash bins were worth at the end of the day; in real amounts the cost of our garbage.

What would that mean?  Would we waste less?

What if we physically had to hand over how much ‘garbage’ we produced on a daily or a weekly basis to a stranger or to someone we knew.  What changes would this evoke?  Would it be embarrassing to see how much food was wasted, how many still usable items were discarded because you changed your mind, it was slightly broken or the color scheme in your kitchen/bedroom/lounge changed and a particular item no longer matched.

What if you had to make public how much you threw away as unseparated trash? Would it make you recycle more or  teach your helper or family to separate your garbage for recycling?

What if you knew that in 1000 years your trash could be dug from a landfill where it had been preserved in a dry sealed mummified form and that future archaeologists would find all your trash documenting how wasteful our lifestyles in 2013 were?

What if you had no one to collect or takeaway your trash and you had to store it for a week, a month or a year.  The average person in HK generates 1.36kg of trash per day which is about 500kg per person per year – 2 tonnes of waste for a family of 4.

What would this mean?  If you knew the value of your trash would you be less like to buy things that wasted your money?  More likely to voice your dissatisfaction with paying so much for packaging? Recycle or compost where you could to get the most value from your products and not see future resources squandered?

Use less?  Eat less? Waste less?  Think more about the impact you have?  Be a more conscious consumer?

What if on your packet of biscuits/coffee cup lid/disposable fork/straw/plastic bottle cap it was printed with its final resting place?  What would you think if your biscuit packet sat in landfill forever, your coffee cup lid ended up in the middle of the ocean, your disposable fork stuck in a drain, the straw on the high tide line of your local beach and the plastic bottle cap ingested by a seabird?  Would it make you think more about using it and discarding it so easily?

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                                                                                                                                   Photo: Chris Jordan

For some who are in HK for only a couple of years, will their individual legacy be a tonne of trash? Dismissed as somebody else’s problem.   Will one lifetime in HK leave behind a 41 tonne waste legacy*?  This city with a spend, buy, consume attitude … the old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle should really be changed to reduce, reduce, reduce!

Maybe then we will really make a difference with this waste crisis we are facing.  Only one simple word to remember.  Only one simple concept to embrace.

Reduce waste, reduce packaging, reduce disposables, reduce unconscious consumption …

*Lifetime = approx. 83 yrs for Hong Kong

Are you washing your face with plastic?

TeaTreeHave you ever read the ingredients list on the back of your facial scrub?  Do you understand what all those technical and chemical ingredients are and do?  Do you really know what you are using to scrub away your facial or body skin cells?

A lot of cosmetic companies these days have been using a synthetic, non biodegradable plastic as the main abrasive in their scrubs – Polyethylene or PE micro beads!

Previously, the exfoliant was crushed shells like walnut or almond, salt or sugar.  Completely natural and completely biodegradable and harmless.

Because of the size of these micro beads it is extremely difficult to remove them from waste water treatments once they have gone down our sinks.  The end point for many plastic micro beads is the ocean and seas where they are known to be ingested by filter feeding organisms.  Whilst in the ocean these micro beads have the potential to absorb and concentrate toxic pollutants from the surrounding water.  We don’t want these in the food chain.

Most people are completely unaware that these products may contain plastic micro beads. Take for example the product above.  On quick glance it appears the scrub uses wholly natural ingredients.  The back of the bottle marketing spiel says “Superdrug Tea Tree & Peppermint Exfoliating Cream Wash contains natural walnut shell granules to gently exfoliate and cleanse your skin…’ But the ingredients list tells a different story.  Number 7 on the ingredients list is Polyethylene whilst lower down (ie with less volume) at number 12 is Juglans Regia (walnut) shell powder.

Plastic Free Seas contacted Superdrug about this explaining how Polyethylene  was not a good choice of exfoliants due to the environmental harm the micro beads cause but their response was “…we have no plans to replace Polyethylene Beads with natural or naturally derived alternatives at the moment…”

DarlieDarlie on the other hand were of a different opinion.  Did you know the blue flecks in this brand of toothpaste are plastic?  It is quite shocking really to think that tiny pieces of plastic have been added to a toothpaste.  When  Darlie were contacted their response was “The blue speckle used in All Shiny White toothpaste is safe for use. As a continuous improvement effort, the blue speckle will be replaced by hydrated silica in near future.”  Great news! 

Plastic Free Seas is part of a global campaign with US based 5 Gyres Institute (http://5gyres.org/how_to_get_involved/campaigns/) and in Europe the Plastic Soup Foundation (http://plasticsoupfoundation.org/eng/) to raise awareness and affect change in the cosmetic industry to phase out plastic micro beads.  There have been some pretty big successes so far with Unilever taking the lead in 2012, followed this year by Colgate-Palmolive, The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Beiersdorf and Procter & Gamble.  Only Unilever and The Body Shop though have committed to a phase out date (2015).

The pressure is on in the UK & Asia.  A couple of companies have a big market share here and are difficult to penetrate.  But we are persisting!

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So what can you do?  Always read the ingredients list to see if your scrub contains polyethylene.  Don’t assume because it is expensive it won’t – the most expensive scrub to date I have seen was HKD $390.

Refuse to buy scrubs containing plastic.

Tell everyone you know about plastic in body care products.

Get on to social media sites and ask these companies when they are going natural?  And write directly to the companies too.  The more pressure we can apply the quicker they will change their formulas.

‘Like’ the Plastic Free Seas Facebook page to keep up to date with campaign news and read the Plastic Free Seas website page on Micro beads to learn more about this issue.

Plastic Free Seas has written to the HK Government to expand the Product Eco-Responsibility Ordinance to include products that contain plastic micro beads.  It is being raised in LegCo on June 18th.

Plastic micro beads are designed to pollute – together we will stop the bead!

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Plastic Bag Levy to be extended to all retailers in HK.

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After the initial success of the introduction of the HKD 50c plastic bag levy in July 2009 the government has announced that it plans to increase this levy from the 3300 initial businesses (mainly supermarkets) to include all retailers that give out plastic shopping bags.

In mid-2010, one year after the initial levy was introduced,  the total number of plastic shopping bags being disposed of in Hong Kong landfills was about 4.44 billion per annum, of which over 96% were non-levied plastic bags i.e. those that were available free.  This equates to about 634 plastic shopping bags used per person per year – after the supermarket levy was introduced!  Sound unbelievable?  I guess if most people are shopping almost daily in a wet market that is easily 3-4 shopping bags there.  Followed by a trip to a retail store for a body care product (in another bag), a takeaway drink in a bag, a newspaper in a bag … it all adds up.

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The government landfill survey reveals that plastic shopping bag disposal attributable to retail sectors outside the scope of the levy scheme rose by 6% between mid-2009 and mid-2010. This means the problem of excessive use of plastic shopping bags remains serious  and is not something that will decrease without a widespread actionable force.

Through the polls conducted by the Central Policy Unit to assess the effectiveness of the levy, 80% of respondents considered the Plastic Shopping Bag (PSB) Levy Scheme has helped them develop a Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) habit.  By disincentivising the use of plastic bags, people respond positively.  An extension of the levy to include all plastic shopping bags is part of the Government’s comprehensive waste management strategy and follows the international trend to restrict the sale and use of plastic shopping bags.  Estimates of a reduction by 90 % have been quoted.  From personal experience on the beaches, the plastic bags we see now are more likely to be those not covered by the 50c levy scheme.

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Flat-top bags (i.e thin film clear bags without handles) will also be subject to regulation. This proposal will help deter the problem of excessive use of flat-top bags not solely for food hygiene purposes which is increasingly reported.  These thin film bags are routinely used to cover frozen goods or refrigerated goods to shield the inevitable condensation from other products.  By placing like items (i.e. all cold goods or all frozen goods) in one reusable shopping bag removes the need for individual product separation through use of a thin film plastic bag.

As for the plastic shopping bag manufacturers, they may suffer some loss in business when the proposal successfully achieves its target of further reducing plastic shopping bag use.  But in view of the growing awareness of environmental conservation over the past years worldwide, they have already been facing strong market forces to phase out less eco-friendly products and align their business with products that will cause less environmental harm.

It is great to see the government taking this levy one step further.  Our beaches, parks and waterways will be much cleaner as a result and we will all benefit from this.

For further reading

http://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/psb_extension/en/legco.html

What will our legacy for our children be?

Today I was down the beach walking with my 8yr old son when he turned and said to me excitedly  “Mum I found a secret way through the bushes to get to a rocky outcrop.  All you have to do is follow the polystyrene path!”

He said this in such a matter of fact way … just follow the polystyrene path.  As I scrambled through the bushes following Finn on the path that really was mostly made up of decades old broken pieces of foam I tried to recall my secret hideouts as a child.

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Of course there was some litter, in the bushland we would find rusting tin cans, some broken glass and some bits of plastic.  There were things that people threw carelessly out of car windows and littered the highways but luckily I grew up just before this massive addiction to plastic, especially bottles.  So when we found a secret river it was not already littered with detritus that had blown or floated in mass quantities.

One thing I do remember that was littered in abundance though was the detachable ring pull from the aluminium cans.  We used to find them everywhere but then they redesigned the cans so the ring pulls now stay attached and are recycled.

What will Finn think of when he looks back on his childhood?  Will he remember walking on beaches covered in trash, playing manhunt in bushes full of styrofoam?  Will plastic trash be a part of his childhood that he just accepts unquestioningly?  Or will things be so different in the future that a trashed beach will be an oddity?

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Will we have started a real movement away from the creation of all this waste?

I hope when he and I look back in 20 years he will say to me …  Remember when we lived near that beach that was always covered in trash and I used to hide with my friends in the bushes that were so full of polystyrene pieces?  I’m glad people don’t use so much plastic now.  We used to pick up hundreds of bottle caps each beach cleanup.  Thank goodness they made them recyclable.  Oh and wasn’t it weird how everyone paid for single use bottles of water every day.  I can’t imagine not using a reusable bottle and refilling it when I need to.   And plastic bags hahaha remember how people used them for everything!  Even when they could just hold an item in their hands.  I remember seeing a girl drink a McDonald’s softdrink that was inside a small plastic bag, when she sucked on the straw the plastic scrunched in her face … that was so funny!  Why did people do that?