We all know we need to reduce our impact on the planet but is it really possible to go plastic-free in Hong Kong?
Whether it’s the daily headlines about the impact our overuse of plastic is having on the environment, Hong Kong’s rubbish-strewn beaches after last year’s Typhoon Mangkhut, or the, frankly, terrifying stat that we throw away 5.3 million plastic bottles a day in Hong Kong alone, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we’re in the midst of a plastic-based crisis, and that we need to do something about it. But in a city as fast-paced and reliant on convenience as Hong Kong, how easy is it to commit to a life of less waste?
Like the rest of the Team Sassy, over the past few months I’ve got into the habit of using my reusable coffee cup and water bottle and remembering to bring leftovers in for lunch (most of the time!). So I figured going that little bit further would be easy, right? Wrong! Here’s what I learnt when I attempted to spend a week living plastic-free.
Plastic is everywhere
Glancing around my bathroom and its plastic adorned surfaces on the first morning of the challenge, I realised just how hard (read: impossible) my zero waste week was going to be. From individually wrapped toilet rolls and tampons, to disposable razors and my plastic toothbrush, I couldn’t find a single item that wasn’t single use. Recent team drinks that unwittingly ended up in a bar that only offered plastic cups (and my slightly bleary-eyed supermarket run to pick up some snacks the next morning) only highlighted just how hard it is to avoid plastic at every turn in Hong Kong. Which leads me onto my next point…
Wet markets and zero waste supermarkets are your friends
For the past few months I’ve been trying to buy as many of my groceries as possible at the wet market and zero waste stores (for both the sake of the planet and my finances), but this requires serious organisation. Working full time means the wet market is often already closed by the time I get there, so more often than I’d like to, I end up buying the excessively wrapped fruit and veg offered by supermarkets. As I eat a mostly plant-based diet, I can usually get most things without venturing into a supermarket. But taking the plastic-free challenge meant that cheese, tofu, and even my beloved ground coffee was quite literally off the table because of (you’ve guessed it) plastic packaging.
Preparation is key
The only time going plastic-free felt like a breeze was when I was organised and spent time on meal prep. Making breakfast and lunch in the evening and taking it to work the next day stopped me succumbing to a takeaway lunch with the team (and saved me some $$). Yes, I was carrying around enough Tupperware to set up a small shop, but the lack of single-use packaging and the cash I saved was well worth it.
Convenience and spontaneity were my downfalls
Basically if I deviated in any way from my original plan for the day (e.g. last minute drinks, hunger pangs while out and about), I came unstuck. Buying takeaway food just wasn’t an option unless I was carrying my own lunchbox and utensils (and I wasn’t always that organised).
Sassy Tip: One way I avoided buying water on the go was by downloading Water for Free, an app that tells you where you can fill up your reusable bottle. Good for the planet, and for your wallet (win-win)!
Eating out is tricky – but not impossible!
I’ve noticed more and more bars and restaurants in Hong Kong with “no plastic straw” signs in the past few months, and it’s awesome that places like NOC Coffee, Grassroots Pantry and my Sheung Wan favourite, Tava, are taking steps to be sustainable. But I still found it almost impossible to eat out without some plastic waste being involved. Asking straight away when ordering for “no plastic” helped me to cut down on single-use items, but I still slipped up during the week. A particular low was having my reusable bottle confiscated while watching the Lunar New Year Cup. This meant the only way I could get a drink during the match was, you’ve guessed it, in a single-use plastic cup!
Did I manage to go zero waste for a week in Hong Kong? No, not even slightly. But doing the challenge opened my eyes to how much more I can do to reduce what I’m sending to landfill. Will I be saying no to last minute plans and spontaneity to ensure a plastic-free life? Honestly, no. But the challenge has shown me ways that I can easily reduce my waste in areas I’d never considered before. I’ll be replacing my single-use bathroom empties with more sustainable options (shampoo bars, a solid deodorant and a bamboo toothbrush) and I’ll be investing in a few stasher bags to carry snacks on the go and help me avoid the 3pm biscuit runs. I’ve noticed a real change in mindset about what I’m buying, and thinking more about how I can consume less in every area (buying less fast fashion, trying to make more sustainable choices when I travel and by trying to use up what I already own). So, hopefully my little green steps are making a difference, however small!
If you’re wondering where to go in Hong Kong to pick up zero-waste essentials, we’ve put together this little guide to get you started.
All images property of Sassy Media Group.