Today (19th September) is the International Coastal Cleanup Day. Many green-minded people may celebrate the day at a rocky shore to have some voluntary cleanup action. Collecting worldwide marine garbage data of cleanup actions since 1986, American green group Ocean Conservancy released its annual International Coastal Cleanup Report last week. It is the first time that food wrappers displaced cigarette butts to top the chart of marine garbage.
The sea keeps feeding in the garbage, cleanup is never enough. One does not simply clean the environment, without rethinking the responsibilities behind these waste plastic food wrappers.
The groundbreaking result from Ocean Conservancy writes on the wall the environmental responsibilities of the producers of consumer food products. Manufacturers, where plastic pollution originated, have chosen non-reusable, non-recyclable, multilayer plastic materials to wrap their food products and shifted the responsibilities for properly tackling the packaging waste to governments and other people.
Candy wrapper, accounting for 13%, is the most abundant food wrapper generated in Hong Kong. In fact, The Green Earth’s previous research found Hong Kong people produced 340 million outer plastic candy wrappers in 2019. The number of units would reach billions if we count both outer and individual wrappers. Due to the “grab-and-go” sales culture and health concern of sugar consumption, The Green Earth expects an increasing trend in the coming decade with much more small sachets to appear in the market.
It is a big pile of high-grade plastics but most of them can hardly reuse or recycle. Take Nestle’s Kit Kat as an example: The wrapper is designed for single-use. Once you open it, you cannot reseal it for reuse and other purposes. It is also a multilayer plastic material (the outer side with prints) and aluminium (the inner side) that is very pricey and technically complicated to separate them by applying chemicals before recycling. No recyclers in Hong Kong will recycle it for those reasons.
The Green Earth urges the biggest confectionery brands MARS, Ferrero and Nestle (40% of the Hong Kong confectionery market) to actuate their International plastic reduction commitments in the Hong Kong market as well. While brands earn a handsome and healthily increasing sales revenue in our city every year, they shall not ignore the waste plastics they produced.
By 2025, the city should have BYOB zero-packaged purchase, non-plastic packaging alternatives happening in supermarkets, convenience stores and candy shops. If the use of plastic material is inevitable, brands shall print on the packaging clear recycling instructions, 100% of the packaging should be recyclable, reusable materials.
Edmond Lau, Senior Project Officer, The Green Earth