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.
It 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!)
Rethink, Refuse, Repair, Regulate, Research, Redesign, Responsibility