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The Problem

Why Take Out Plastic?

Over a few decades, humans have managed to dump tons upon tons of garbage into the ocean. Of the most devastating elements of this pollution is that plastics takes thousands of years to decay. As a result, fish and wildlife are becoming intoxicated. Consequently, the toxins from the plastics have entered the food chain, threatening human health. In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the number of plankton six times over. This is a large piece of evidence that leaves the problem of polluted oceans undeniable. It is upsetting that more of cleanup effort is not taking place.

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Plastic has not only polluted the roads, forests, mountains but also polluted our oceans. The problem of microplastics in the marine ecosystem is an issue of great concern. Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces.  These tiny particles serve as carriers for bacteria and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs are toxic organic compounds that, like plastic, take years to degrade. They consist of chemicals like pesticides and dioxins, hazardous to human and animal health in high concentrations. Consuming plastic is harmful to animals and marine life, but ingesting bacteria-ridden plastic — or materials containing POPs — could be deadly. You can play a part in reducing the number of microplastics on land, in the air, and in global waters by reducing your plastic consumption.

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Urgent Challenge for Hong Kong

The reduction of plastic waste has been receiving increasing international recognition in recent years as one of the important missions of the 21st century. By various estimates, somewhere between 8 and 12 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year. Aside from environmental considerations, improvements in the recovery of plastic recyclables could also create substantial economic value. In early 2019, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste was founded as a non-profit organization to tackle the issue of plastic waste leakage into the ocean. In its Progress Report 2020, the organization estimates the value of plastic lost to the economy after first use at US$120 billion each year.

Plastic waste poses an urgent challenge for Hong Kong. As of 2021, Hong Kong generates about 1 billion tons of plastic waste per year making it 44th largest producer of plastic waste in the world. In 2019, plastic waste sent to landfills in Hong Kong composed of over 760 tons of plastic bags daily. Overall, plastic waste accounted for the third highest share of the average daily municipal solid waste in Hong Kong. This is illustrated in the graph below:

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Raise Public Awareness

With plastic waste piling up in ever greater amounts, Hong Kong is striving to expand its own domestic recycling capacity. Compared to other Asian cities Hong Kong's recycling rate lacks behind that of Singapore with the overall recycling rate 30% and 61% respectively. But Hong Kong's plastic recycling rate is 14% compared to 7% in Singapore. Aside from ramping up domestic recycling, Hong Kong has been working on mitigating the amount of plastic and other waste in the first place. An internationally proven method to raise public awareness and drive behavioral change in the past has been the introduction of financial incentives to reduce waste. Following the example set by cities like Taipei and Seoul twenty-odd years ago, the Environmental Protection Department introduced a bill in late 2018 to establish a quantity-based charging system for MSW disposal in Hong Kong. However, after multiple discussion rounds, work on the bill was eventually discontinued by lawmakers in 2020.

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Increase of Plastic Due to COVID-19

A range of personal protective equipment (PPE) made from plastics have played crucial roles in protecting people during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is a growing concern over the unprecedented increase in single-use plastics (SUPs) including gloves, protective medical suits, masks, handsanitiser bottles, takeout plastics, food and polyethylene goods packages, and medical test kits since the coronavirus pandemic began. More masks, gloves and certain types of packaging made of single-use plastic need to be managed as waste or are being littered and causing additional greenhouse gas and other emissions.

Imports and production of face masks and gloves have increased in the EU. Production of the EU plastic packaging industry decreased more rapidly during the first months of COVID-19 due to the slowdown in economies. Restaurants have shifted to take-away and food deliveries during lockdowns, increasing the use of single-use plastic food containers. At the same time, lockdowns may have reduced overall sales of on-the-go snacks, food and drinks, reducing the need for plastic for that purpose.

In Hong Kong, the Environment Bureau estimates that up to 15 tons of non-recyclable discarded masks are being sent to the city’s landfills every day, equivalent to the weight of a double-decker bus. With public gatherings limited, Hongkongers have increasingly turned to food deliveries and takeaway meals. A survey by local NGO Greeners Action over the April, 2020 suggested that the volume of single-use plastics given out for takeaways was 2.2 times more than the figure last year, with more than 100 million pieces of disposable cutlery and plastic bags estimated to be disposed of every week.

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