As we are halfway through with #plasticfreeJuly, it is not hard to notice that packaging is difficult to avoid, and ‘human-ing' after a long day can sometimes get in the way with our mission to walk the extra miles to get package-free groceries. Even those who are determined can still get ambushed by single-use plastic utensils.
Many participants of the movement in HK I’ve spoken to, express their scepticism towards local recycling. They are right to do so. It leads everyone questioning, where are they going after being collected in the bin? How are they being recycled? All these questions are a great way to start.
1. Questions are good
If you ever wonder where are the cleaners in your building taking the recyclable and how are they handling them, I encourage you to ask. If you are not happy with the contractor’s or management company's answers, be persistent (but nice). Transparency is key to making sure malls and residential developments are not green-washing, by putting out recycling bins for show.
2. Recycling bins are flawed.
To call it a ‘bin’ to begin with is a mistake. Tossing something in a bin is a no-brainer (That, can be proven wrong by the amount of rubbish dotting the beach/ hiking trail after public holidays.) On the contrary, recycling requires more than just tossing.
Every article on recycling mentions this dip in overall recycling rate: dropped from 61% in 2011 to 35% in 2015. Well, there is the habit of tossing to blame. Recyclables are no longer regarded as resources, to most they are waste, worse still, ‘ma faan’ (Translation: pest). The quicker the disposal, the better. Sorry to crush you with guilt, throwing anything into a recycling bin without cleaning and separating them could be worse than throwing trash in the bin.
3. One dirty bottle, whole bag of recyclables ruined.
If you see greasy wrappers, mixed with bottles with a bit of soda gathering at the bottom, don’t bother putting your recyclables in that bin. Likely that whole lot of dirty recyclables will be sent straight to landfill.
“Baguio [Baguio Waste Management & Recycling] is an excellent company who collect waste from all the 2,500 waste separation bins on behalf of government, but there is a big problem at their waste headquarters in Fanling because of contamination,” says Nigel Mattravers, director and general manager of Alba Integrated Waste Solutions (Hong Kong) in a SCMP article. Once traces of soda or sauces from packets drip down the separation bin, that’s it. Dirty waste cannot be recycled.
I am not gonna brush it off by saying cleaning and separating your recyclables is easy, cause it’s not, at least not always. But doing our own dirty work would have helped the process immensely, and more people need to know that.
The standard procedures:
- Remove labels
- Remove lids/pumps
- Clean with soap
4. Where to recycle / Who to go to
- Separation bin system for recyclables
Pros: Nada, apart from ‘Ah, it’s there.’
Cons: It might as well be another rubbish collection point. With the government's so-called campaign, ‘prioritising’ bottles and the 3 types of paper, further narrows down the opportunity to recycle resources.
- Guerilla / Flashmob recycling group
( Map / PDF link )
Pros: Run by passionate volunteers (NOT service providers), aiming at educating and revolutionising waste management in their respective neighbourhood. Dedicated to segregating waste and sending recyclables to reputable recyclers or local outfit.
Cons: Language can be a hurdle. Short window of time each week, some area each month.
P.S. I personally run the one in Mui Wo with locals, and I would like to encourage you to reach out and join in. We are a lovely bunch and I have learned a lot from the community.
- HK Recycles
Pros: They cater to operation all shapes and sizes, with trackable data and precise info.
Cons: A scoop on your monthly expenses.
- Local scrap and recycling outfit
Pros: You can’t get any more hands-on than delivering your own recyclables to the facilities yourself.
Cons: They are usually a hole in the wall, definitely off the Google-grid. You might find one on a casual stroll around older districts like Yau Ma Tei, North Point, Shum Shui Po... Again, language can be a barrier, BYO Cantonese-speaking pal.
Pros: 20% of Hong Kong’s recyclables are collected by scavengers between the age of 66 to 96. A lot of them live on reselling scraps and cardboards to recycling facilities.
Cons: Always ask first. It’s hard to strike a balance, cause on one hand you don’t want them to lug around trolley-full of cardboard, but you want to help. If you’ve seen them around, ask if they would like to take yours. If they don’t want them, don’t pressure them either.
5. No plastic to recycle? Go find some.
Go plogging or whatever it’s called. It’s literally picking up rubbish as you go.
Go to beach clean-ups and be prepared to be put off by plastic for life.
Sign a petition.
Hope you are getting on alright with #plasticfreeJULY. Last stretch homies! See you next week for more plastic free tips.