Free Stuff

plasticbagTwo weeks ago I was half of a duo guest speaking to 100+ year 6 students at a Hong Kong school.  Halfway through the talk one of the boys raised his hand and exclaimed incredulously “Do you know they charge you 50c now for a plastic bag?” I said “I know, isn’t it great!” He obviously thought I hadn’t heard properly because he said again “No, you have to pay for it! 50c! You have to buy a bag!”

I said I agreed with the concept and actually thought it would be good to extend it to cutlery, straws and takeaway containers too. There needs to be a monetary value placed on these ‘single use disposable’ items to encourage people to appreciate them as a resource. They are not really free. They are made from precious resources and it costs to manufacture as well as dispose of these products (wherever that may be in the end).  And sometimes it isn’t just a monetary cost if the plastic items harm marine or wildlife.

I tried to explain that it was his personal choice to pay for a plastic bag or not.  He can choose to bring his own bag and keep the 50c.

What got me thinking about this conversation today with the boy was the sight of discarded tissue packets amongst all the other plastic detritus on the beach this afternoon. These mini packets of tissues are such a common sight in Hong Kong, often given out for free with certain purchases.   Not only are they are used for their intended purposes but they are also the cloth du jour for wiping sweaty faces in the humid summer. Every day they are used and discarded in their thousands.  The evidence was here, on the beach.  They were everywhere!

photo (150)In 30 minutes I collected 153 empty plastic packets. Now most of these were obviously purchased but amongst them was a significant amount of the freebie packs that you are offered when you buy a newspaper from Circle K, or were promotional gifts (seems to be popular with phone companies strangely!)

The 2 big questions I have for today are …

Does anyone use handkerchiefs anymore?

Can these pesky plastic packets be made from paper?

153 picked up from one stretch of one beach, how many are on all the beaches in Hong Kong and how many are floating aimlessly through the South China Sea and beyond? And for how long will these plastic packets continue to float around?

This is something that could easily be solved from a design point of view. We need the companies to be more responsible with this packaging.

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2 responses to “Free Stuff

  1. What a great idea- I think it will be hard to get people back to cloth hankies for blowing your nose so paper covers would be a great idea- or at very least a dissolvable cellophane type wrap. Though in place of ‘wet-ones’ a damp face flannel in a waterproof container is great for cleaning hands & grubby faces and is easily thrown in the wash at the end of the day.

    • Thanks Kate for the response. Yes there are certainly alternatives. I know they were traditionally carried bc of lack of toilet paper but most toilets these days have paper supplied. I was always carrying the wet cloth for the kids, so much nice than chemical laden cloths. Anyway, I will be doing some letter writing on this one. It would be incredible to see better designed packaging.

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