One couple on a mission to clean Hong Kong’s most polluted waterways.
With its fleet of solar-powered boats, Clean Waterways Initiative has been tirelessly working to prevent rubbish and plastic debris in Hong Kong’s waterways from making its way into the open ocean. The non-profit was set up by Ellen Ogren and her husband Angus Harris who saw first-hand how bad the water pollution problem has become. They’re on a mission to clear the seas for their two children and future generations (marine life included!).
With the backing of HSBC, they’ve stationed their boats in two of the city’s most polluted waterways – Aberdeen and Victoria Harbour – and hope to expand their operation to clear other areas. We spoke to Ellen to learn more about the initiative and what we can do to help keep our waters clean.
Tell us about Clean Waterways Initiative. What inspired the idea?
My husband Angus and I set up Clean Waterways Initiative in 2019. Living by the beach in Shek O Village with our two young children, we are constantly reminded of Hong Kong’s marine plastic pollution problem. We saw a dire need for more efficient trash-collecting boats in Hong Kong, so we set out to design a solar-powered boat that could efficiently collect, sort and unload trash from Hong Kong’s waterways.
Our boat, which is a complete re-think of the refuse collection boats that are currently in operation, is a uniquely designed catamaran with a two-stage filtration system. This includes a primary rake for collecting larger items’ debris and a secondary filter for removing small broken up waste particles such as polystyrene. Our boats are 100% solar powered with zero-emission outputs.
In partnership with HSBC, we have so far built four boats which collect plastic and waste from Hong Kong’s heavily polluted waterways. As a Hong Kong-based corporation with a global outlook, and a shared vision and values, we are really grateful to have joined forces with HSBC on this project.
Our main goal is to prevent rubbish and plastic debris from making its way from the densely populated waterways of Hong Kong into the open ocean where it will have a harmful effect on marine ecosystems. We are starting by targeting trash hot spots in Aberdeen and Victoria Harbour, stationing two boats in each location, and hope to expand the operation both in Hong Kong and across borders.
Why should we care?
The world’s oceans are in the depths of a plastic crisis. Globally, nine million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the ocean every year and it is estimated that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the sea.
Tonnes of trash enters Hong Kong’s waterways each day, spreading to the outlying coastlines and the South China Sea. Our beaches are awash with litter, studies have shown that microplastic levels here are 40% higher than the global average. Without action, many marine species and habitats globally face extinction – Hong Kong alone is home to over 6,000 marine species. Also at risk is the health of the people that rely on seafood as their main source of protein.
How can we help?
We realise that cleaning up our waterways will not solve the plastic pollution crisis alone and that’s why educating the next generation is a key element of our mission. The HSBC Clean Waterways Programme includes a series of community education and volunteer programmes that help address and raise awareness of the global plastic waste issue.
If you are a teacher or parent, ask your school/children’s school if they’d like to join our harbour observation tour. Together with local environmental charity Plastic Free Seas, we host educational harbour tours where participants will learn about plastic pollution, marine science and overfishing, as well as get tips on recycling and how to reduce single-use plastic in everyday life. For more information and to make a booking, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ocean pollution needs collective action and as consumers, we hold the power to impact change. Tweaks to our lifestyle habits can make a huge difference. Starting off when we shop, be more aware of how each product is packaged and make conscious decisions. Carry a tote or two when shopping to avoid using single-use plastic bags.
Disposable takeaway items make up a huge percentage of the waste dumped in Hong Kong’s landfills (100 million items are used every week!). If you grab a takeaway meal, use reusable containers and utensils. There are some great steel and bamboo sets available online and in stores around Hong Kong. Lastly, carry a reusable bottle – an estimated 5.2 million plastic bottles are dumped in Hong Kong every day.
Images courtesy of Clean Waterways Initiative.