Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

gloves

This was my roof top yesterday, 90 pairs of gloves washed and drying after a beach cleanup.  The commonly repeated mantra Reduce Reuse Recycle popped into my head when I took this photograph.  It summed up the event quite nicely.  We Reduced the amount of rubbish that was on the beach.  We Reused the gloves from previous cleanups and reused rice bags to collect plastic bottles that were then Recycled.

But it feels like the whole point of the 3Rs was missed.  And it feels like that a lot here.  Too often I hear people say ‘oh its ok to buy a water bottle every day because I can just recycle it’.  The recycle part gives people carte blanche to feel good about buying something plastic.  Recycling isn’t a perfect process, especially in Hong Kong where 99% of our recycling gets sent to China.  Does it get recycled? We hope and expect so but who actually knows?

At the beach yesterday there was a significant amount of plastic waste.  The beach had actually been cleaned that morning by contract cleaners but what surprised me most was the type of litter.  It was all thin film labels, packaging and bags.  There were a few straws but there were no bottle caps, bottles, styrofoam containers and the usual assortment of plastic odds and ends that usually washes up.  It was a strange waste separation act, sorted by the currents of the sea.

seaweedcrackersI walked along and was struck by how many bottle labels there were on a short stretch of beach – 27 in as many metres.  Why so many labels?  Where were the bottles?  Where were the lids?

labelsIt brought back to my mind the Reduce Reuse Recycle message.  In many parts of the world in regards to plastic drink bottles, the bottle caps and labels being made from different plastic to the commonly used PET of the bottles, are not recycled but are ‘waste plastics’.  In Hong Kong they are collected as low value scrap and if the price is right on the day they are sent to China, if not they are sent to landfill.

We have to get away from this idea that recycling is the answer to waste.  It clearly is not.  To recycle 1 out of three component pieces of a plastic bottle is not successful recycling!

What happened to reduce being the most important of the 3 Rs?

We all have a part to play in reducing our waste.  We cannot wait for the government to do something about our near full landfill sites before we act.  We should all be looking at our own consumption and do what we can to make bigger, more effective changes.

Why should the companies that produce all this waste (that they know can’t be recycled) get away with contributing to the trash all around us?  They are making money from this, they have a responsibility too.

Imagine if businesses really adopted this Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, things could really be different.  Businesses have a long long history of changing to suit the market requirements and its time they took  the market’s message of waste reduction seriously.

If only they changed their practices to use sustainable materials with minimal packaging that was completely recyclable and reusable.  If the whole lifecycle of their products was considered in the production methods and costs (Cradle to Grave manufacturing) then we would see huge changes in the waste we make, use and have to dispose of.  We would see less of the thick plastic soup of floating plastic that makes our beaches unpleasant and unsafe for us and the marine life that live there (that we eat!)

floatingplasticSo here are my words I would like to see more commonly spouted than just Reduce, Reuse & Recycle …

Rethink, Refuse, Repair, Regulate, Research, Redesign, Responsibility

Last year, New Year, Next Year

DSC030562012 was a pretty important year in Hong Kong for plastic pollution.

We had the world’s biggest documented plastic pellet spill occur on our beaches in July which grabbed Hong Kong’s attention and forced the government to face the growing plastic pollution problem.  Everybody got involved in the clean up,  from people on the streets that rarely go to beaches, to people who usually only go to gazetted (or government) cleaned beaches, business leaders and of course the government themselves.

The timing worked in favour of triggering long term action on this problem too as our government was newly elected and they saw how many thousands of people got out and were cleaning pellets and trash and saying loudly ‘we want clean beaches’.  It was a united voice talking plastic pollution in Hong Kong for the first time.   Now, new policies are being developed and next week at the Chief Executive’s January 16th Policy Address we will see what big changes they have come up with. Fingers crossed.

It was a great year for me too.  I recieved incredible personal support (thank you, thank you, thank you!) from so many individuals, organisations and businesses to help achieve my goal of raising awareness of the problem of plastic pollution.  The Journey to the Plastic Ocean trip in June was a great platform to use to say ‘Hey! Our daily consumer habits are trashing our beaches, and whats more, all that rubbish is ending up in the middle of the ocean, corrupting our food chain!’.  It made people listen & then inspired many to act.talkinggyres

And now we are well into 2013.  I have quite a few resolutions (one I broke just 21 hrs after I had made it!) but a few that I intend to keep and make them habits.

Like my reusable cutlery in a pouch.

I have a couple of sets of cutlery in there (including 2 stainless steel straws ) so I can eat out with a friend and not have to use disposable cutlery, thus creating less waste.  It feels a bit like a drop in the ocean but every time I use them I notice people looking, then realising the sense in my simple act. I am determined this year to carry it with me always, it is smaller than my wallet so I have no excuse.

My other resolution is to challenge everyday ‘plastic’ habits of convenience or tradition when they make no real sense.  For example, I’m talking to supermarket managers and asking them politely if they can reduce waste by taking simple measures in their store.  One of the things that has really irked me for ages in the supermarkets is the sushi grass in the trays.  My kids eat a lot of sushi and for a while I could take my own container for them to fill as their sushi making coincided with my school run.  It was completely waste free sushi and it was great.  sushi

This plastic is completely unnecessary and a waste for the company and the environment.  So I asked the manager if it was possible to stop putting it in when they made up the sushi in the morning.  He said he would look into it and he did!  Very happy to see that it was so easy to make a small change.  A thank you card is in the post to them …

These personal actions are all small, I know.  But it is more about individuals taking responsibility for their own usage of plastic, being consciously aware of what we ‘need’, use and can avoid.  It is about what we all can do so easily to start turning the tide on our habits of consumption and waste.  When everyone mindlessly uses so much disposable plastic we get phenomenal amounts of waste.  When people start refusing cutlery, unnecessary packaging, over packaging, water bottles, plastic bags, straws, coffee cups … this mountain of waste will start to recede.  We won’t see it littering our beaches and our streets and and we will feel good that we are changing our habits so easily.  It is all small steps but these small steps will take us somewhere better.

Happy New Year to you and I hope all our good new habits will continue through this year and the next.