(23 October 2023 HKFP)
On the 18th October 2023, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong made an impactful decision that will shape the city’s environmental landscape for years to come. Lawmakers passed a law to ban single-use plastic items, marking a significant step towards a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future. This monumental legislation will come into effect on the 22nd April 2024, which will be Earth Day, making it a truly memorable occasion.
To understand the significance of this ban, it is crucial to consider the context in which it was enacted. Hong Kong grapples with the disposal of a staggering 11,000 tonnes of waste in landfills daily. Shockingly, approximately 21 per cent of this waste consists of plastic items, making it the second most dumped waste after food waste. By targeting single-use plastics, which are designed to be used once and then discarded, the ban aims to address this pressing issue head-on.
While some may express concerns about disruption and inconvenience resulting from the lack of single-use alternatives, it is essential to recognise the innovative solutions emerging in response to this challenge. Many individuals and businesses are transitioning to utensil-reuse systems that not only would reduce waste but also maintain convenience and hygiene. Global studies find that utensils like reusable cups and bowls can easily reach a cost break-even point after rotating and reusing just a dozen times. By embracing these alternatives, we can overcome any initial hurdles and adapt to a more sustainable way of living.
However, it is worth noting that there are few restrictions on online purchases of single-use plastic items imported from other regions. Environmentalists have also noticed that single-use plastic utensils can still be supplied to consumers if they come as a part of the plastic packaging of pre-packaged food. We hope the authorities will promptly plug these loopholes to ensure the ban can prevent the influx of plastic waste from external sources and plastic packaging.
Yet, instead of dwelling solely on potential problems, it is vital to acknowledge the opportunities that arise from this ban. By encouraging reuse and rethinking the sustainability of single-use products, Hong Kong is gradually shifting away from a convenience-based consumption pattern. Plastic utensils, designed for one-time use and immediate disposal, have contributed to the monumental waste crisis we face today. With the ban in place, we have an excellent opportunity to reduce waste, minimise waste charges, and alleviate the pervasive problem of microplastic pollution in landfills and oceans.
Moreover, compliance with this ban can enhance the corporate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) performance of large-scale catering businesses. By embracing sustainable practices, such as adopting reuse systems and switching to plastic-free options, these businesses can not only trim their waste bills but also improve their reputation and appeal to conscientious consumers.
This ban is not an isolated incident; it reflects a global movement towards environmental responsibility. In 2024, 175 nations will sign a legally-binding UN Plastic Treaty, being developed currently, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production, use, and disposal. Mainland China has taken significant steps in curbing plastic use and disposal, with initiatives to cut single-use plastic use by 30 per cent in restaurant businesses since its roll out in 2020. By aligning with national initiatives and international trends, Hong Kong can ensure that it is still at the forefront of environmental regulations and business practices, rather than being marginalised by the rest of the world.
The choice to implement the ban on the 22nd April, Earth Day, adds an even deeper layer of significance. Earth Day is a global reminder of our collective responsibility to protect and preserve our planet. By enacting this ban on such a momentous day, Hong Kong sends a powerful message to its citizens and the world that the city is committed to environmental stewardship. It demonstrates the city’s determination to break away from business-as-usual practices and improve its image as a sustainable and forward-thinking metropolis.
As the ban on single-use plastics comes into effect, Hong Kong embarks on a new chapter in its journey towards a greener future. This Earth Day will be remembered as a turning point, a day when the city took a stand against waste and pollution, and embraced a more sustainable way of life. Let us celebrate this momentous occasion and use it as a catalyst for further positive change, knowing that every step we take today will shape the world we leave behind for future generations.
Steven Chan works for the environmental affairs team at The Green Earth, a local environmental group. He is interested in waste management, plastic pollution and the climate crisis, hoping to shape better environmental policies in Hong Kong.
(23 October 2023 HKFP)