Nurdlers we need you NOW!

Thanks to Typhoon Kai-Tak our beaches are covered with pellets again which is a good thing, they have been swept out of rocks and onto the beaches.  The more that we can remove from the tidelines over the next few days the better for the marine life and sea.  I’ve been out to the beaches in Discovery Bay this morning and there are a lot of pellets mixed in with the typhoon plastics & debris.

This is Nim Shue Wan.

And Sam Pak Wan at the North Plaza

The tides are really low at the moment so it is the perfect time to get out there now and help us remove this snow from the beaches.  This is Mui Wo below

Please keep up the great effort.  This weekend is critical for cleaning up as many as we can whilst they are still easily accessible.  There are lots of tools on many of the beaches and bags and gloves too.  But if you are going to a more remote beach please take your own supplies.  Brushes and dustpans are especially helpful at the moment.

For all the latest updates.

http://www.facebook.com/DBGreenHK?ref=hl#!/DBGreenHK

http://www.facebook.com/PlasticDisasterHongKong?ref=hl

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Everybody is going Nurdling!

What a weekend of cleanups!  Over 800 people on Lamma Island, 500 people on Chi Ma Wan peninsula, 200 on Peng Chau, 111 on Shek O, over 100 in Discovery Bay too.  And these are just the areas that we know of.   Everywhere I go I see people on beaches in goups, in families, as a couple or an individual, head down and concentrating hard on removing those nurdles from the sand.  I see people wandering the streets heading to ferry piers and buses carrying sieves and brushes and buckets.  Walking along the beaches all you see are happy people enjoying time with their families and friends and participating in the latest craze to hit Hong Kong – Nurdling.  So many of you are also spending your time on the beaches removing a lot of the other waste as well endeavouring to really clean up all the plastics that are there.

Maybe this is the start of the change when HK people show the government, industry and the rest of the world that they want to reclaim their beaches and have them free from the build up of years of waste & detritus.  Try to wipe the slate (or beach!) clean and start again with a different attitude   Maybe now we will see a push for a real effort by the governement to look at their waste management plans which includes everything; a proper recycling infrastructure, waste reduction measures, and waste disposal technology, we will see more consumers choosing to use less plastic in their daily lives, we’ll see industry look at how they package their products to reduce the amount of plastic & styrofoam they use.  We’ll see people connecting the rubbish that is being cleaned off the beach to their lifestyles and habits.  And over the next few years we won’t see so much rubbish on our beaches, and our water will be cleaner.

That’s what I’d like to see happen from this terrible event and having spoken to so many of the volunteers over the last few weeks I know this is a sentiment shared by many.

This weekend is going to be an interesting one.  Typhoon Kai Tak will be passing by tonight or tomorrow and we are not sure what effect this will have on the beaches and the pellets that are still on the sand, in the rocks and in the water.

We are anticipating a lot of typhoon debris to be washed up with a good mix of pellets all over the beaches.  We are also expecting a lot more pellets to be in the water along the coastlines.  So with this in mind we are asking all our volunteers to head down to the beaches when it is safe to do so after the typhoon.  Obviously be very mindful of dangers that are always present after typhoons such as fallen trees and branches and rough water.  Safety is our first priority!

The typhoon/pellet debris needs to be removed – please don’t try and separate the mix as it will be far more effcient to spend your time removing the bulk of the whole mess.  If you have access to a pool type net or similar and there are pellets in the water, please try and remove them whilst they are close to shore.

And please keep in contact with the Plastic Disaster HK page   http://www.facebook.com/PlasticDisasterHongKong .  We need lots of updates on the situation on all the beaches.

The quicker we can act on this the better.

Peng Chau – the good, the bad, the ugly

Who knew there were so many beaches on Peng Chau?  I was so pleasantly surprised at the number of stunning isolated beaches on this little Island today.  I walked to the back of the island and stood by myself looking out at a great view of Hong Kong Island, my own private beach overlooking one of the most interesting & densely populated cities in the world!

The sad thing was when I turned around and looked into the treeline, my heart sank.  There was styrofoam, plastic, lids, toys, bottles, you name it it was there all mixed in with thousands of pellets.  Sadly much of this rubbish has been here a very long time.  Tree roots have grown through wedges of styrofoam and bottles have become completely entangled.  Large plastic pieces have become parts of the tree unable to be removed.  It is a dreadful scourge on the beach.

There weren’t a lot of nurdles on the beach sand but once you started looking into the piles of styrofoam and trash you could see there were actually thousands of nurdles mixed in with the rubbish and many had obviously been there for a very long time.  They infiltrated the rubbish pile right down to the layer of dirt.  Hong Kong has been concentrating on fresh nurdles but here was a very dirty little secret being uncovered.  Why was there such a high concentration of old nurdles here?

Now the volunteers all came to the beach to help pick up the nurdles.  Many for the first time too.  It was interesting for me to speak with them and see their reaction to this.  Some got it; the connection between the environmental/health hazard of the plastic nurdles and the huge environmental hazard of this pile of waste.  The shock on their faces as they scooped and dug and removed bag after bag of this trash was palpable.   There were lots of comments about the need to remove this from the beaches as well, with or without an infestation of nurdles.

Today on this beach only well over 50 people came to help clear this horrendous patch.  When I left mid afternoon, many more people were coming and we had already collected at least 40 bags full.  Everyone worked hard and once progress was made, you could really see the difference from all the effort.  The pellet spill is proving to be a massive wake up call on marine pollution in general.  Seeing these huge deposits of our waste on these remote beaches is opening a lot of people’s eyes to the bigger picture of plastic usage in Hong Kong.

There will be more people on Peng Chau tomorrow.  This beach is number 5 on the DB Green map and number 16 on the new Plastic Disaster map.  There is likely to be a lot of waste still on this beach so if you want to see it for yourself and help clear it away, please do.

Thanks to all the volunteers who are still coming out in such high numbers.  Your dedication & enthusiasm is so wonderful to see and be a part of.

Tracey x

Talk about a revolution …

What an incredible weekend!  Hong Kong you have done yourself proud.

Photo taken by Cheung Chi Wai capturing the spirit of the day on Tung O.  Co-operating to remove the hundreds of bags of collected pellets.

Two weeks ago today Typhoon Vicente hit Hong Kong and left us with a terrible legacy that will be with us for many years.  I never thought this plastic pellet disaster would be a uniting point for Hong Kong.  What we have witnessed these last few days has been unprecedented.   Thousands of volunteers have taken up the call for action like never before to come out en masse to our beaches.   Through social media and then mainstream media, everyone in Hong Kong has heard of what has happened and so many have come out to help.

Many of these people are way out of their comfort zone.  They have never attended a beach cleanup and interacted in their environment as they have now.  Gary and I have been so overwhelmed with offers of support.  We have been absolutely inundated with emails, text messages, phone calls, Facebook posts … all from people asking where they can help out.   And help out they/you have!  Hitting the beaches, motivating friends to join and removing thousands of kilograms of pellets and plastic rubbish.

On Friday and Saturday we organised planned cleanups in Discovery Bay.  Friday’s turnout was modest but Saturday’s was awesome!  Over 400 people came here from all over Hong Kong to help out with some even travelling from Fanling.  And they worked hard too; removing piles of pellets contaminated with typhoon debris and sweeping the beach of nurdle trails it was fantastic to see.  But it didn’t stop there, the next day they came back.  And they are back again today.

I have just returned from the beach inspired.  People have taken it upon themselves to organise their own cleanup groups and come down to help.  They are sweeping nurdles from the sand, scooping the soup of pellets from the water and piling the mounds of typhoon debris that still remains in bushes into garbage bags.  There are some really ingenious nurdle capturing methods evolving.  Everyone is down there working hard, having fun, connecting with their environment and really making a difference.

When I have thanked them all for coming down to help out, their responses are all the same.  “It is my duty”, “These are our beaches too”,  “I want Hong Kong to be a clean city with clean water”.   These people do care about where we live and I really feel that this is the start of a movement that really pushes for the things that we NEED in the city.  Clean air, clean water, clean surroundings.  The will is certainly there to improve things we just need to keep acting.

On Sunday we went out to Tung O on Lamma Island to the site of the worst spill.  The whole container load of pellets which is 1000 bags (25,000 kg) washed into this area.  This really was ground zero in terms of contamination.  It seemed that most of it washed into one area.

Sunday was the first day of mobilsation of people to this area.  There was such a build up of momentum for this day, people wanted to help so badly.  They had seen the photos of the ‘snow’ that was covering this beautiful and isolated part of HK and wanted to see for themselves the enormity of the pellet spill.

Most of the people travelled to Lamma by ferry and to get to Tung O it is then a 1 hour hike.  By the end of the day we had over 1000 people in one bay, on the beaches and in the rocks.  Words can’t describe accurately how special this was to see.  All these people cared so much and made this big effort to get here bringing with them buckets, spades, seives, bags, water and anything else they thought they needed.  They were streaming into the bay from the hiking trails and off junk boats.

Ocean Park had also become involved over the weekend to help mobilise volunteers and they brought with them hundreds of people.  Lamma Corner (NGO) helped co-ordinate this mass of incoming visitors.  Sinopec also had 50 of their staff to come and help cleanup with their volunteers including some senior management from Beijing.  The government was there too with teams from the FEHD & Marine Dept.

Thanks to Yiu Nam for this photo

If I had had the chance to take a breath and think about what I wanted the outcome of this disaster to be I could never had imagined that my ‘plastic dreams’ would come true.  To have thousands of people come down to the beaches day after day and get involved in a cleanup event is unheard of.  Removing the nurdles from the beaches and sea was the number 1 priority.  But having people really see for themselves the wider effects of our daily living in HK was the best bit for me.  Having the chance to talk to these volunteers was inspiring.

On the beaches we saw families with children enthusiastically picking out nurdles from the sand and their parents picking up plastic bottles, bags & styrofoam that was also littering the beach.  We need to join the dots, or the nurdles, and realise that this problem of plastic on our beacches is only going to be solved when we change our behaviours.  Picking up plastic, nurdles, bottles, straws, wrappers and everything is necessary but reducing dependence on them in the first place will have a very big impact too!

Keep up the fabulous work HK and thank you – you people amaze me and give me hope!

Sinopec Plastic Pellet Disaster worsens

I am often surprised and shocked by a lot of things that happen in Hong Kong – good and bad and the last few days have certainly been both.

The speed of response and manpower that has been offered for this massive pellet spill has been surprising and very much appreciated.  All the government departments that I asked for help have assisted.  Our local management has been great in providing an immediate response to this disaster.   On Thursday we had the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the Food, Environment & Hygiene Department (FEHD) and local management cleaning the beach with a few of us volunteers.   All up we had close to 40 people, workers and supervisors come out to join forces with myself, Gary Stokes, Kevin Laurie, Angie Bucu and my sister Jodi.  And boy did we all work hard.  Millions of nurdles are not easy to get off a beach!

We were able to remove in excess of 150 bags of nurdles from the sand.  Unfortunately further exploration of the rocky coastline revealed that the disaster was far worse than first thought.

We found around 200 Sinopec branded bags that day making a total of 5000kg of known pellets – alas, half of them had already spilt their contents.

The frustrating thing was trying to get in contact with Sinopec to ask if they had an environmental management plan to contain a plastic pellet spill and to find out how big this was likely to be.  Surely a company with such a glowing and incredibly proud CSR policy would know what to do and be out here to follow up, I thought naively.    The receptionist I spoke with basically told me that they did not have an environmental deptartment and there was no one that could speak to me and then hung up.  For the rest of the day their one phone was off the hook.  I sent them a fax and hoped that it would be read and responded to.

Fortunately after 36hrs delay senior management did respond and they came out to Discovery Bay to meet with us.  We took them to see the 110 or so full bags we had (with dozens of empty bags there too) and then to both local beaches where 40 more bags (intact and not) had washed ashore.

The Sinopec staff were very apologetic and promised to help cooperate with us to find the company that was responsible through the barcodes visible on the bags.  We now have these details including the shipping company and the locations of the spill.  Unfortunately Sinopec do not have any policy or advice on what to do once the pellets leave their factory and what happens if there is a pellet spill.

Gary & I have been spending a huge amount of time following up on this, spreading the word and trying to find out how much of HK this is affecting.  We know through social media sites that it is widespread and every hour or so we are getting calls from government and updates from people over HK reporting on their local beaches.

Sadly it seems this is now massive and we still don’t know the final numbers.  Confirmed this morning was that 3  40 ft shipping containers had been recovered from the sea with 2 of them open.  We don’t know how many of these bags fit into a container but the loss could run well over the 1000 bag mark.  If so, the consequences are devastating.

For me today, being on the beach at the DB Green Post Typhoon cleanup it was even more depressing than normal.  Typhoons have a way of showing you how badly you are treating the planet.  As I was filling my 1st, 2nd, 14th, 25th garbage bag of plastic and vegetation I couldn’t help but think about the scale and tragedy of it all.  The sheer amount of nurdles that were interspersed within the massive amounts of plastic wrappers, cups, straws, toys, styrofoam and nets and every single household item imaginable was truly shocking.  Now we have the full cycle of plastics, as if it wasn’t difficult enough already!  How have we got to this point where at least 10 tonnes of mostly plastic rubbish in all its forms can be dumped on one beach from one of the top cities of the world?

One thing that has amazed me though was the FEHD cleanup team that was dispatched to help  remove the 150 + bags we found on the rocks.  I met them on Friday at the beach at 9am (they had arrived and were cleaning since 6!) and was really shocked. That morning we were to remove over 2000kg of bags and this was the team that was sent.  There were 5 workers and the 2 women when asked, told me they were in their 70s.  I spoke of my reservations to the supervisor and his response is below.

They certainly were fine – they were actually unbelievable.  These people are the most hardworking and strong workers you will ever find!  The women were incredible carrying the 25kg sacks on their shoulders over the slippery rocks.  I was really humbled to be working alongside them.  Certainly the unsung heroes of HK.

A lot of people have been asking me what they can do to help.  The urgent need is to get the plastic pellets off the beaches before they get into the water.  Whilst they are resting on the sand they are really easy to sweep up with a dust pan and brush.  If you have 30 mins or more to spare it would be great to get down to your local beach and fill up a garbage bag.  It isn’t dirty work, the plastic isn’t harmful whilst it is on the sand and anyone can do it.  The garbage bags can be put in the normal rubbish bin.  Also, please let me know what the state of your beach is as we are co-ordinating cleanups with the FEHD and we also want to get a good idea of which beaches are most contaminated and get to them fast.

Every nurdle counts, you never know where that nurdle could have ended up!

Typhoon Vicente aftermath

On Monday night HK suffered its worst typhoon for 13 years.  Typhoon Vicente was classed as T10 or Hurricane force with winds reaching 156km per hour.  For us here in Discovery Bay the winds hit very hard.  The rattling windows, howling, whistling winds and pounding rain were frightening throughout the night and as I lay awake my thoughts were with those less fortunate than us that didn’t have strong shelter protecting them.

The devastation the next morning was obvious and everywhere in Discovery Bay.  Big trees were completely uprooted and blown over in the plaza, along the streets and sadly on the main beach; the only ones providing shade for the kiddies using the beach playground.

I was on the main beach (Tai Pak) yesterday but today I went to Sam Pak Wan at the north plaza to see the state of the beach.  I had intended to take some photographs to use for a Post- Typhoon cleanup this weekend I was going to organise through DB Green but what I saw there almost made me cry.

I knew it was going to be bad.  It always is after a typhoon, especially one as big as Vicente whose winds powered straight into DB but I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

The whole beach was covered in the usual tonnes of horrendous detritus spewed from the sea consisting mainly of styrofoam and  ‘single use’ plastics.

But worse still, this time it also had what looked like a complete covering of snow.  The words from my son years ago echoed in my head “Mum, will it ever snow in Hong Kong?’  Yes, Finn this week it has and the snow will last not just for a day but far beyond your life and that of your great grand children!

The snow was in fact nurdles.  On the beach we found 30 bags each with 25 kgs of nurdles inside or 750 kg.  11 of the bags had split open and covered the whole length of the beach, that is 275 kg of nurdles on the sand.  I did a weight estimate of the nurdles and surmised that the 275 kg equates to about 11 million plastic nurdles spilt on the sand with a total of at least 30 million on the beach!

So much publicity is given to oil spills and the harm it does to wildlife and beaches, and rightly so too, but this plastic spill is also an environmental disaster and needs to be treated as such.   These pre-production plastic pellets – nurdles, are a health hazard with serious consequences to marine life and humans too.  Not as obviously dangerous and shocking in photographs as a bird covered in oil is, but still equally as toxic.  Once in the seas and oceans, these nurdles are sponges for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which are industrial chemicals or pesticides.  POPs are highly toxic chemicals that can cause an array of adverse effects in humans such as cancer, reproductive disorders and disruption to the immune and endocrine systems.  The easiest and most common way for these nurdles and therefore POPs to get into the food chain is to be mistaken as fish eggs and eaten by marine life.  The effects of the POPs bioaccumulates in the food chain, so basically as the smaller fish get eaten by the larger fish the toxic loads increase as well.

Above are fish eggs attached to some ocean debris which was found from the Algalita/5 Gyres Tsunami Debris expedition.

So what can be done?

Hopefully a lot and it will take the efforts of many people and organisations to rectify this.

I will be contacting Sinopec who manufactured these nurdles to respond to this incident in an immediate and professional manner.  As a company who has a Corporate Social Responsibilty policy in place I would expect them to have available the means to clean up a spill such as this.  I am well aware that this incident happened during a typhoon but it is not an excuse to do nothing.  I will also be contacting the Environmental Protection Department, the Marine Dept and the Food Environment & Hygiene Dept who collectively oversee our beaches as well as Discovery Bay’s City Management and my local District Councillor.  I will continue with my planned beach cleanup on the weekend with community support and hopefully by then all the nurdles will have been removed from the sand so we can concentrate on the hundreds of kilograms of ‘disposable’ plastics caught in rocks and bushes.  There is so much rubbish on the beach that it is going to take a lot of effort from all.