On Earth Day, Hong Kong must reckon with the inconvenient truth about plastic

(22 April 2024 SCMP)
The theme of Earth Day 2024 is Planet vs Plastics, advocating a 60 per cent reduction in global production of all plastics by 2040 for human and planetary health.
You might wonder why plastics are considered a problem these days when they have been widely used in our daily lives, from beverage bottles and meal containers to shopping bags and fast fashion.
So, allow me to take you through the life journey of plastics. Plastics are a kind of synthetic polymer, a product of oil refining processes. Around 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced a year globally.
Plastic bottle waste is just the tip of the iceberg. Even more worrying is the continuous increase in single-use plastic production – around 36 per cent of all plastics made go into single-use packaging.
The production, use and disposal of plastics are predicted to generate 19 per cent of global carbon emissions by 2040. Hence, plastics not only contribute to the global waste crisis but also worsen climate change.
You might argue that this is not a problem as long as we recycle the plastic. The inconvenient truth is that around 85 per cent of this single-use plastic packaging ends up in landfills or even worse being irresponsibly dumped in nature. Over a long period, a piece of plastic will disintegrate into smaller particles, eventually becoming the microplastics found in the air, drinking water, food and the human bloodstream, threatening our health.
Although more people are actively practising waste recycling in Hong Kong, the overall plastic recovery rate remains low (12.3 per cent in 2022). That means our strong desire for convenience has outweighed our recycling efforts.
Today, the ban on single-use plastic products like tableware and umbrella bags comes into effect. Hong Kong is finally following the world trend of tackling single-use plastics.
For an effective implementation of the ban that yields desirable outcomes, the business sector has a role to play. Offering discounts to consumers who bring their own containers or lending customers deposit-bearing reusable containers, for example, can achieve a triple win – for people, profit margins and the planet.
Running your business with reusable containers will help reduce waste and carbon emissions, key elements that responsible companies disclose in their environmental, social and governance (ESG) reports. Those who lead in developing a sustainable business model will reap the benefits ahead of those who follow.
Edwin Lau, Executive director, The Green Earth
Link: On Earth Day, Hong Kong must reckon with the inconvenient truth about plastic