Where are the sandcastles? A lament for our lost beaches.

IMG_4062 This is Evie.  She was born in Hong Kong and has spent her childhood growing up less than 100m from a beach.

Her home here is on an island in a tropical archipelago with incredible marine biodiversity.  Would you believe there are even pink dolphins living off the island she lives on! Actual dolphins that are bright pink!  There are also green sea turtles, finless porpoise and even migrating whales that pass by.  But Evie does not like the beach or like to go in the water.  She doesn’t do any water sports either. But I can’t really blame her and I feel sad, angry, resentful and frustrated that her childhood memories and her associations with the beach will not be fond ones.  There will be no memories of sandcastles, unhindered exploration of rock pools or joyous hours splashing in the water.  Only resentment at doing endless, pointless beach cleanups.  She didn’t make this mess but she has helped clean it up.


Unfortunately this is becoming the new norm of beaches in Hong Kong, especially at this time of the year … summer.  The time of the year when you want kids to be out at the beach playing and having fun.  Diving under the waves in the cool refreshing water.  Splashing about with their mates laughing, enjoying themselves.  Running on the hot sand and spending carefree days … outside.  But it is not fun any more.  And actually it is not safe either.  Amongst all the plastic is medical waste – needles and syringes and myriad other objects that should not come into contact with bare feet.


It used to be that after a day at the beach you would leave with salty, squeaky clean skin and hair. There would be sand in-between your toes and lots of other places.  Now, you leave the beach feeling dirty, contaminated and with microplastics sticking to your skin.  The filth of the beaches is accepted as normal by far too many people.  To see people coming to the beach and ‘not seeing’ the rubbish that swirls on the shoreline and piles along the tidelines is disturbing.  To see the next generation not wanting to engage in nature and explore our unique and wild places is truly frightening.  The disconnect between ourselves, our lifestyles and our life sustaining habitats is something that should set alarm bells ringing.  What legacy are we leaving for our children?  What do we want them to value?  What do we want them to care about?IMG_6343  How can we expect them to care about dolphins and turtles and migrating whales when the only ones that are in the news are the ones that wash up dead with bellies full of plastic trash. Trash that we have made when we eat food or snacks, drink on the run, clean our bodies or our houses.  The opportunities to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitats are limited or non existent because they themselves are struggling to survive in our local polluted waters because of continued, unabated threats. The hopelessness is overpowering.  It will take a lot of commitment and strong will of governments and corporations and also everyday people to change the current narrative of making money at any cost, consumption for convenience, poor design of products and packaging, poor waste management practices, devaluing our natural life support systems (our oceans!) and putting the individual ahead of the community.  We are all part of this big mess that we are making and we all need to acknowledge this and turn the tide on the world we are making.  We all have our role to play – what can you do to make the biggest difference?

World Oceans Day 2015

World Ocean Day is today and I am happy to be sitting in the office having spent the last 4 days soaking up (way too much!) sun on beaches and the sea all over Hong Kong.   We are blessed here with what we have around us – more than 220 islands and thousands of kilometres of stunning coastlines.


The last 4 days have been fun, intense, disheartening, hopeful and hard work!  Plastic Free Seas has lead 4 beach cleanups all over Hong Kong.  Here are my thoughts from these events …

Thursday: Canadian International School onboard the PFS Sea Classroom with a trip to a beach on Lamma Island for a cleanup.


Empowering kids with easy to adopt local solutions to the global issue of plastic marine pollution is a no brainer.  Giving them a good reason to say no to single use disposable items that are often freely given away, makes a difference.  After removing more than 100 straws from a small beach it is easy to remember to say ‘I don’t need a straw with my drink – thanks!’

Friday: Morgan Stanley Corporate Cleanup Lung Kwu Tan


What can you do with 47 people on a 250 metre beach that looks like this?  There was an extremely depressing amount of trash washed up on this isolated beach that is near the habitats of Horseshoe crabs as well as Hong Kong’s Chinese White Dolphins.  The volunteers spent 1.5hrs throughly cleaning as much as they could – including all the small bits of broken down polystyrene.  37 metres of beach was scoured and 120 bags of trash removed!  Often it is just the big pieces of trash that are removed on cleanups leaving behind the small bits that are easily ingested by marine creatures and making their way into the food chain.  What were their takeaways from the day – carry your own cutlery, use a refillable water bottle, have a takeaway food container for use at the office.  Refuse polystyrene!

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Saturday: Community cleanup with Sea Shepherd HK

Just outside of the Aberdeen typhoon shelter is a small beach (submerged on very high tides) that is often a depository for floating trash and as you can see in the rocks, trash left by a few inconsiderate visitors!  Sea Shepherd HK organised the ‘Hit the Beach’ event with a few days notice and had about 40 people turn up to be shuttled out by speed boat to this 82m beach.  Lots of enthusiasm was shown by everyone especially the children who collected over 40 bags of trash and recyclables, more than 220 straws and a huge amount of plastic pellets, polystyrene bits and small broken down plastic fragments.

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The highlight for me was meeting Charles.  An enthusiastic 6 year old who was so knowledgable about ocean issues and committed to making a difference.  He is going to do an assembly at his school with things collected from the beach to highlight this issue and show a lot of people what they can do too.  His goal is to be Captain Charles (Moore) II but he wants to sail across a clean Pacific Ocean with no garbage patches!

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Sunday: Cleanup with Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club at Middle and Round Island

50 people of all ages turned out for this event to clean 3 beach areas.  From what looked like a beautifully clean beach (first picture in this post – Round Island), a mass of trash was removed from the rocks and the bushes above the high tide line.   Everything was removed from fishing gear, toys, balls, shoes, single use plastic items to plastic bags and polystyrene boxes.  We had a great discussion afterwards about waste reduction for events and how a simple thing like the club having large dispensers with filtered water for refilling reusable bottles can save a lot of single use disposable plastic bottles – simple way to reduce waste and better still save money!

MiddleIsland RoundIsland

What was least obvious and most depressing about the beach that I was on with volunteers was the amount of micro plastics not just on the beach but floating on the sea surface.  It is easy to pick up the big pieces but sieving through the sea water is impossible – how much of our water is covered in this?


So what are the 4 things that I know after these 4 days on the beach …

1.  Connecting people to the issue of plastic marine pollution is necessary!  Once you see all the trash on the beach you can’t un-see it!   Showing people evidence that our trash is ending up in our food chain with fish bitten plastics makes a real impact. Once you know about the problem you can do something about it.

2. There are A LOT of fantastic people in Hong Kong that are willing to come out in the hot, hot sun to work hard, get dirty and make a positive difference!

3. There is so much we all NEED to do.  Beach cleanups everyday will not solve the problem.  It is like trying to empty an overflowing bath tub with a bottle cap whilst the tap is still running.  Government needs to enact real source reduction policies immediately and they need to enforce the laws (against dumping and littering) that exist now.  Everyone needs to adopt lifestyle changes to reduce our consumption and waste.  Companies that manufacture goods have to start considering the environment within their business practices at every level.

4. There are some really awesome kids out there!  The future does look bright with these knowledgable and caring young people set to be our next leaders.

Plastic Free Seas is a local Hong Kong charity that relies on donations to fund our education programs which we offer free of charge in schools.  Our beach cleanups are also supported through donations.  If you appreciate what we do please consider supporting our work.  You can donate through Just Giving.

Happy World Oceans Day!

~ Tracey


The PFS Sea Classroom, Lamma Island, HK

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


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.






Lost’n’Found with Liina Klauss


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.


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.


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.


IMG_3448What is your response?

What will you do?


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


What if …


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?


                                                                                                                                   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!


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!