Chapter 5. Green lifestyle tips
It may be more difficult to phase out certain single-use plastic items due to operational reasons. Moreover,there may not be readily available alternatives for all single-use plastic products. In such cases, when prevention is not feasible, it is important to practise reuse as far as possible, to recycle the single-use plastics item, and to ensure the item is disposed of properly.
Reuse is to use an item again or in a different way. Reuse helps reduce energy and cost for harvesting new raw materials, and quantity of waste disposed of at landfills and generation of greenhouse gases. For example, we can reuse a plastic bottle for refilling personal care and household cleansing products, etc. We may also use alternatives that can be reused to replace single-use plastic products, such as cotton bag / woven bag, thermal mug, reusable umbrella bag, etc. However, simply replacing single-use plastics by other alternatives may not necessarily achieve a “greener result”; it is essential to change our lifestyle as well.
Do you know lifecycle assessment on plastic bags reveals that8
A cotton bag needs to be used 50 – 150 times in order to create less adverse impact on the environment than a single-use plastic bag
Non-woven bag needs to be used at least 11 times in order to create less adverse impact on the environment than single-use plastic bag
If we could not reuse a single-use plastic product, the next step is to recycle it. Recycling plastic reduces and may even eliminate the need to extract raw materials, thus reducing the consumption of fossil fuels needed to produce plastics. In order to facilitate and encourage the community to conduct waste reduction and recycling, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has established a new community recycling network, known as the [email protected], which includes Recycling Stations, Recycling Stores and Recycling Spots covering the whole territory. The new community recycling network also conducts promotions to solicit support from the public to go green and instill a green living culture in the community. It accepts at least eight common types of recyclables, including plastics, glass bottles, regulated electrical equipment, small electrical appliances, fluorescent lamps and tubes, rechargeable batteries, paper and metals. The recyclables collected will be sorted and then delivered to downstream recyclers for subsequent processing.
Members of the public can earn GREEN$ (greeny coins) when they bring recyclables to any of the 130+ outlets of [email protected] to redeem gifts, including daily necessities and groceries and products such as bamboo tissue paper.
There are 11 Recycling Stations in operation across the territory. Apart from providing services on the collection of recyclables, the Recycling Stations promote resource conservation through education and connect with housing estates and property management companies in the local communities.
There are 22 Recycling Stores conveniently located across the territory (ten more will commence operation in late 2021/early 2022) offering members of the public a brand new experience in recycling. Recycling can be done in a clean and tidy way, thereby encouraging members of the public to practise green living.
Over 100 Recycling Spots have been set up, particularly at locations near single-block and"three-nil" residential buildings where recycling and waste separation facilities are limited. These Recycling Spots provide regular recycling service at fixed locations on a weekly schedule, with a view to supplementing the coverage of Recycling Stations and Recycling Stores.
For locations of "GREEN @COMMUNITY" facilities, please refer to the website below: https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/sites/default/files/CRN_Locations.pdf
C. Proper disposal
Garbage accumulated on beaches are often flushed into the sea during heavy rain, where marine creatures may be suffocated by mistakenly swallowing plastic waste. We should act now to protect our environment through proper waste disposal!
D. Green shopping habit
The market of single-use plastics is heavily consumer-driven. It is essential to build “green consumer shopping habit” with a view to revolutionising the market. Green consumer shopping habit may include:
- Bring your own bag / bottle/ box
- Buy products with minimal packaging
- Reuse packaging materials as far as possible, such as plastic bag, plastic box, etc.
- Practice clean recycling
Emergence of green products
With increasing global awareness on environmental protection, there are emerging “green products” in the market, for example, plastic products that claim to contain recycled content, and products with compostable, biodegradable (e.g. polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), polybutylene succinate (PBS)) or oxo-degradable labels.
In fact, whether the “degradable” plastics can fully decompose depends of a wide range of factors, which includes the type of additives added in the degradable plastics, the thickness of material, and more importantly whether there are favourable disposal conditions for degradation, etc.
The presence of oxygen, moisture, UV light and high temperature are some of the common examples of favourable conditions that can speed up the time needed for decomposition. However, we may not have these conditions in Hong Kong’s landfills or marine environment. In an environment lacking both sunlight and oxygen (e.g., landfills), anaerobic thermal degradation is unlikely to proceed naturally due to the high temperatures required.
From recycling angle, most degradable plastics cannot be recycled alongside traditional plastics, largely due to their differences in chemical composition. If degradable plastics are mixed in a batch of traditional plastic recyclables, it is likely that the quality of the whole batch would be adversely affected.
Knowledge sharing: Definitions
Biodegradable plastics can be converted into water, carbon dioxide and bio-mass over time with the help of micro-organisms. This conversion is called biodegradation.
Compostable plastics : are a subset of biodegradable plastics, defined by the standard conditions and timeframe under which they will biodegrade.
Oxo-degradable plastics : It is produced by adding degradable additives to conventional plastics, which can accelerate the process of fragmentation when the plastics are exposed to UV radiation or heat. However, tiny plastic fragments will still remain after degradation.
International studies have found that oxo-degradable plastic cannot truly biodegrade10 in the natural environment. It fragments into microplastic flakes under favourable conditions (e.g. UV radiation or heat), which makes it easier to contaminate the natural environment and even the food chain. Different places adopt different approaches in relation to “degradable plastics”.
- Phase out various single-use plastic products by 2020 – 2025 but exclude “degradable” products like plastic bags, straws and packaging
- Update the definition, classification, labelling and degradation requirements of “degradable plastic”
- Required Member States to ban oxo-degradable plastic products by July 2021
- Plan to develop a policy framework in 2022 on the use of biodegradable or compostable plastics, based on an assessment of applications where such use can be beneficial to the environment, and the criteria for such applications
- Plan to ban or restrict certain harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021 (e.g. food packaging and service ware made from oxo-degradable plastic)
Phase out problem plastics and some single-use plastics in three stages, starting by late 202211, i.e.:
- Hard-to-recycle food and drink packaging made from PVC and polystyrene and some degradable plastic products (e.g. oxo-degradable)
- Single-use plastic products, including drink stirrers, cotton buds, produce bags, cutlery, plates, bowls, straws and labels
- Plan to ban products containing oxo-degradable plastic by 1 January 2023
Oxo-degradable plastic ?There is a trend to ban oxo-degradable plastic products in other places, as relevant plastic products cannot fully degrade, and may contribute to microplastic pollution. Hong Kong should follow and explore the possibility on this front.
Consumers’ calls are often the most effective way to drive market changes. In the battle against plastics, are you willing to “think green” before each purchase?
When there are different brands available for the same type of merchandise. Which of the following green considerations would affect your choice?
- Whether the product can be re-used (e.g. reusable metal cutlery vs single-use plastic cutlery for parties, reusable umbrella bags vs disposable umbrella bags)
- Whether “green material” is used (e.g. products and packaging with recycled content)
- The brand’s “corporate environmental responsibility” (e.g. the brand offers “take-back” service for the collection and subsequent recycling of their products)
- Whether the product is not over-packaged
One of the reasons that plastics are so commonly used is their comparatively cheap price. Replacing plastics by non-plastic / reusable alternatives may drive up the costs of the products. To reduce the use of single-use plastics, are you willing to pay more? If yes, assuming that a single-use plastic item costs $10, how much are you willing to pay for the same product made from non-plastic / reusable alternatives?
- less than $0.5 (i.e. less than 5% of product price)
- $0.5 – 1 (i.e. 5 – 10% of product price)
- $1.1 – 1.5 (i.e. 11 – 15% of product price)
- more than $1.5 (i.e. more than 15% of product price)
Story box: The “dual use bag” policy of Taipei City - going green in each purchase / waste disposal
Taipei City has implemented “Per Bag Trash Collection Fee Programme” since 2000. To further reduce the use of plastic bags, the “dual use bag” policy was introduced in 2018, mandating that certain retailers (e.g. convenience stores and supermarkets) can only sell small (3L), medium (6L) and large (14L) dual use bags, produced by the authority or manufactured by the retailers pursuant to the specifications stipulated by the authority, to customers that can be used as both shopping bags as well as designated garbage bags12. The city has successfully reduced the use of about 20 million plastic bags each year since the implementation of dual use bag policy.13.
In Hong Kong, the Waste Disposal (Charging for Municipal Solid Waste) (Amendment) Bill 2018 was passed by LegCo in August 2021, and the Government is actively engaged in the preparatory work. The implementation of municipal solid waste (MSW) charging aims to drive behavioral changes to achieve waste reduction. Under the new charging regime, members of the public will be required to use designated garbage bags for waste disposal. To tackle the waste plastic shopping bag problem in the long run, is Taipei City’s “dual use bag” policy a useful experience for Hong Kong after the implementation of MSW charging?