Mooncakes & Glowsticks

The Mid-Autumn Festival this Sunday is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar and traditionally, family and friends would gather in the evening to celebrate by eating festive fruits and mooncakes.  In Hong Kong a lot of people head to Victoria Park after dinner to marvel at the festive lantern scenes (pictured above) or go to one of the many beaches to enjoy the Harvest Moonrise.

Traditionally the Mid-Autumn Festival  featured mooncakes, lanterns and candles.  Nowadays we see a modern twist on these festival items.  The traditional egg yolk & pastry mooncake now also comes in chocolate form (yum!), paper lanterns are being replaced by tacky battery powered nylon and plastic that don’t even last the night, candles still proliferate but glowsticks are now  the number one ‘must have’ item.

What was once a celebration to give thanks for a good Autumn Harvest, now seems to be a night for waste & excess.

Very low quality lanterns, candles and glow in the dark toys are readily available in supermarkets and convenience stores, nothing but plastic, crepe paper and cheap batteries.  All designed for one night’s use and then to be thrown away in a landfill.

The packs shown above contain 40 glowsticks (also sold in packs of 100) with at least 20 attachment pieces for joining sticks together.

The chemicals inside the glowsticks are not something you want to leach out onto your child’s skin.  Yes the labels are printed stating the product is ‘non-toxic’, ‘non-flammable’, and thank goodness … ‘non-radioactive’  but it doesn’t mean they are safe.  Some of the chemicals used for the chemiluminescense in the past were known to be carcinogenic and depending on what is in them now (and who really knows??) could still be.  The glow stick contains two chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and diphenyl oxalate) as well as a suitable fluorescent dye (which could be a fluorophor or sensitizer – the sensitizers are polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons; an organic pollutant that can be highly toxic).  When the 2 chemicals mix they also release phenol.  All of this is not nice for kids to play with and certainly from an environmental point of view, not nice when the plastics breakdown on the beach, in the sea or in landfill seeping chemicals into the water, sand or earth.

The morning after the celebrations the beach is always covered with hundreds of glowsticks.  Many are already floating off in the sea.  Some are buried in the sand and a huge number are dumped in bins.  Not recyclable or reusable, fun for the kids for the few hours they last but at what long term cost?

Hundreds of plastic bottles litter the beach, mooncake tins filled with candle wax and sand are left, lighters galore, broken lanterns, food wrappings, glass bottles, bamboo mats and paper everywhere.  It is a sad sight coming down the beach the next day.  The attitude of some people that it is ok to create so much waste and take no responsibility for it is dreadful.  What does this teach kids?  They learn about the lantern festival in schools and then they celebrate like this?

We are lucky in Discovery Bay, sitting on the beach watching the moon rise over Hong Kong is very special.  But how can you appreciate the beauty of the night and then leave a scourge on the earth after.  It makes no sense.  I am all for celebrating and having fun and don’t want the kids to ‘miss out’ on anything but celebrating responsibly can’t be too difficult surely.

Buy less.  Does one child need 40 glowsticks?  Take your child’s own handmade lantern.   Use quality rechargeable LED torches.  Take your rubbish away when you leave and recycle what you can.  Don’t bury wax in the sand.  Pick up extinguished candles.  Buy mooncakes with minimal packaging.  Remove a bit extra rubbish off the beach when you leave and set a good example.

This is a modern problem and we need a modern attitude to fix it.

Wishing you and your family a happy Mid-autumn Festival  祝你和你的家人中秋快乐


Talking plastic & Green Drinks

A fun day with Captain Moore in HK yesterday.  Our first stop was the RTHK radio 3 interview   which went really well.  Lots of discussion on the garbage patch and how plastics effects us all.  The recent plastic pellet spill was also on the agenda.

There was only one place to take Charles for lunch after and that is Mana! cafe.  Showing HK how a sustainable cafe should be run with completely biodegradable tableware and food containers that they separate for recycling in-house, serving local food and best of all offering FREE water for refilling water bottles.  I’m a big fan of this place and Charles is too now, Bobsy the owner was there and was explaining to us how difficult it is to implement effective waste recycling within the city at the moment.  He has a no compromise attitude but it is a big battle here.

After our press conference this afternoon whilst waiting for the ferry we stopped to check out the water quality.  We saw everything from sub surface plastic bags to wrappers, pellets, styrofoam and a condom, all sprinkled across the surface of the water.  An interesting discussion with one of the journalists about why some plastics float on the surface, which ones are moving just below the surface and the types of plastic that sink.  We watched a slick of mainly microplastic trash come floating into the pier and saw a few medium sized fish darting through this little soup of plastic.

Green Drinks last night had a very good turnout.  Captain Moore’s indepth presentation was a shock for a lot of people who had little idea of the extent of the effects of plastic on our environment, on the health of the marine ecosystem and of course us.  The questions after were just as interesting.  Are BPA free bottles safe?  The short answer – No!  Switch to glass.  What can we do about the plastic in the environment?  Not a lot at the moment for the micro plastics in the sea but on land we need to reduce our dependence/addiction to plastic – go back to old ways before everything was ‘disposable’. Stop increasing our toxic load from chemicals in plastic and spend money on developing new green technologies to combat the problem.

If you don’t get a chance to hear Captain Moore speak he will be at a book signing of Plastic Ocean at Dymocks IFC today from 1-2pm.  Pick up his book and learn more about his journey to the plastic ocean and what he found there.

Captain Moore starts The Plastic Pollution Conversation in HK

And so it begins …

Captain Moore cleared customs at 1830 today and was at his first speaking engagement 40 minutes later.  He was the guest speaker at the International Coastal Cleanup Challenge team briefing where he talked of the relationship between plastics on the land and their relationship to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The ICC Challenge is in its 12th year now organised by Ecovision Asia and this year they have expanded their cleanup program to include country parks and city cleanups.  Not only will this stop more trash from flowing downstream/hill/drain and ending up on the beaches but it gets more people connected with the whole of the waste issue.  It is certainly a great thing to be a part of!

A big thank you to the sponsors for supporting Captain Moore’s visit too.  Marius from Ovolo  have put Captain Moore up for the week in one of their apartments in Central.  He will no doubt get some great rest there inbetween all the speaking engagements that have been organised for him this week. And Nissa from Ecovision Asia who sponsored his flight from Tokyo.

One very happy Captain at Ovolo resting up before he hits the town tomorrow.  Listen out on RTHK Radio 3 at 11am with Phil Whelan (12th Sept) having The Plastic Pollution Conversation with Charles.  Green Drinks in the evening so if you are free after work drop by Bisous from 7.30pm.

Captain Charles Moore is coming to Hong Kong

I had the pleasure of meeting Captain Charles Moore whilst in Tokyo prior to the Algalita/5Gyres Tsunami Debris Research Expedition.  He was speaking at the TUAT (Tokyo University of Agriculture & Technology) Plastic Symposium which I attended.  Upon hearing about his upcoming ‘Plastic Pollution Coversation’ that he was taking on the Pacific Rim Tour to promote his book ‘Plastic Ocean’ I thought how much of an opportunity it would be to have him in Hong Kong too.  Whilst he is here he will speak with a number of universities and schools and will reach an audience well over 1000 people.  For the students to have a chance to hear about his research and findings on plastic pollution over the years will be very inspiring.  Especially as so many people in HK are now aware of the plastic pollution issues with his visit coinciding with the plastic pellet spill.

Therefore, I am very excited to anounce that he will be in HK next week from the 12th – 17th of September.  He will be attending a number of events open to the public as listed below.

Wednesday 12th September

 11am – RTHK Radio 3 where he will be speaking on Morning Brew with Phil Whelan

 7.30pm – ‘Green Drinks’ Bisous Hong Kong, 9th Floor. LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham St

 Thursday 13th September

 1pm-2pm – Dymocks IFC Book Signing & a chance for a quick chat with the Captain


About Captain Charles Moore

A third generation resident of Long Beach, California,  Captain Charles Moore founded  Algalita Marine Research Institute in 1994.  After a 1997 yacht race to Hawaii, Captain Moore veered  from the usual sea route and saw an ocean he had never known. “Every time  I came on deck to survey the horizon, I saw a soap bottle, bottle cap or a  shard of plastic waste bobbing by. Here I was in the middle of the ocean  and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic.” Ever since,  Captain Moore has dedicated his time and resources to understanding and  remediating the ocean’s plastic load. Along with collaborators from the  Southern California Coastal Water Research Project he developed protocols for  monitoring marine and beach micro-plastics which are now used worldwide.

He is the lead author of two scientific papers published in Marine Pollution  Bulletin:

  • “A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre”. Article by C.J. Moore, S.L. Moore, M.K. Leecaster, and S.B.Weisberg, Algalita Marine Research Institute and Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Published in Marine Pollution Bulletin 42 (2001) 1297–1300.
  • “A Comparison of Neustonic Plastic and Zooplankton Abundance in Southern California’s Coastal Waters”. Article by C.J. Moore, S.L. Moore, S.B. Weisberg, G.L. Lattin, and A.F. Zellers; Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Published in Marine Pollution Bulletin 44 (2002) 1035–1038.

The first paper documented his 1999 study, which shocked the scientific world  when it found 6 times more plastic fragments by weight in the central Pacific  than the associated zooplankton. His second paper found that plastic outweighs  plankton by a factor of 2.5 in the near coastal surface waters of Southern  California.

He also is the sole author of a review article in the October 2008 issue of Environmental  Research, “Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: A rapidly  increasing, long term threat,” and along with Richard Thompson, Fred vom Saal, and  Shanna Swan, edited the July 27, 2009 Theme issue of the Philosophical  Transactions of the Royal Society B titled “Plastics, the environment and  human health.”

To date, Captain Moore has conducted ocean and coastal sampling for plastic  fragments through more than 40,000 miles of the North Pacific Ocean, across 22  degrees of latitude and 70 degrees of longitude. His latest 10,000 mile voyage  took him and his crew two-thirds of the way to Japan across the International  Dateline. Captain Moore’s work has been highlighted in numerous major media  outlets, including ABC’s Nightline, Good Morning America, National Public  Radio, Rolling Stone, and The Wall Street Journal.

See for more.

The Great HK Garbage Patch

Now that school has started again, everyone has come back to Hong Kong and to their usual routines.  The plastic pellet disaster is more under control and I am able to do some normal things too like see friends again.  The first question I am often asked is ‘How was your trip to the Pacific garbage patch?’ and the second is usually ‘What does the garbage patch look like?’

The reactions of people are intersting to watch.  When I tell them about the expedition and how there is not one huge floating island of trash, to some it is a bit disappointing.  They want to see shocking photos of wastelands and obvious giant trash slicks floating across the ocean. For them the sinister soup lying under the surface that cannot be dramatically photographed is not really as exciting or as interesting.  Nor is the intermittently spaced floating trash.  So it is with these thoughts in my head that I approach the cleanup here.

I spent all day Sunday on Sam Pak Wan beach in Discovery Bay helping the many cleanup volunteers who were there to remove the plastic pellets & beach trash.  Compared to what it has been like the last few weeks with pellets and years with trash, the beach is ‘clean’ and it is so beautiful.  Sunday was what is known in Hong Kong as ‘a blue sky day’ (most other cities would just call this ‘a normal day’) because the air pollution was not so dense we could see blue sky and a stunning HK island cityscape.  There are a lot of things I love about HK but the below picture is not one of them.

When I arrived for the cleanup in the morning I watched as a revolting mass of waste came floating towards our beautiful beach that we had spent thousands of man hours cleaning over the last five weeks.  There was actually a slick of waste streaming in hundreds of metres towards the rocky shore.   All I could think of was how much people wanted to see photos of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ when all they needed to do was come down to their local beach to witness in part to what they had imagined.   Here was an impressive garbage patch we can ‘proudly’ call our own.

One tide on an average day was bringing in such a huge amount of waste.  Not as great as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ but it is all here and if we don’t remove this some of it will probably end up there.  Whilst attempting to clear some of this from the rocks I saw all the things we saw whilst in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, hard plastic, microplastics, styrofoam, lids, crates and net balls.  The net balls we saw in the ocean were whole thriving ecosystems.  We found starfish and reef fish amongst the other creatures and each of the net balls contained more than 100 different pieces of nets, rope, bags and other forms of plastic.

The tangled balls attract other debris as well as marine organisms and they float and collect and carry their occupants vast distances.  The fish and marine life depend on these net balls for protection and their food source, their whole life revolves around a trash ball of plastic!  Finding coastal fish in the middle of the ocean is disturbing but having them float to other reef systems as introduced species can have devasting consequences.

Cleaning up here is so much easier than cleaning up the ocean.  But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to do so much cleaning because we didn’t produce, use and waste so much in the first place?