Press Release -“Water for Free” Android mobile app 2.0 launching

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Hong Kong, 19 June 2017: Water for Free is a mobile app that helps users to refill their water bottles while on the go by showing the locations of water dispensers throughout Hong Kong.  Since its launch in the summer of 2013, it has been widely popular among those who care about the environment. Thanks to the crowdsourcing of new locations, the Water for Free map now records more than 1100 water dispensers, up from 500 when we first started. Crowdsourcing has also raised awareness of the environmental problems caused by our abusive consumption of plastic bottled water. 4 years have gone by, it is time to launch Water for Free 2.0 in order to step up our fight against bottled water.

Water for Free 2.0 offers the following new functions:

  • Photos: we are adding photo of each water dispenser so that you can locate them more easily
  • Water temperature: do they offer cold/ hot/ room temperature water? We can tell you that.
  • Notify us: newly discovered water dispensers? Spot mistakes in our database? Please let us know. You only need to press a few buttons and it is done!
  • Where do you want water dispensers installed? Please speak up and we will fight for it together.
  • Happy sharing: You can share info of any particular water dispenser via social media or messaging platform. Let’s meet your friend next to a water dispenser so that you won’t get thirsty while waiting.
  • Pathfinder: suggest walking route for you to get to the nearest water dispenser.

​While we are trying our best to collect information and photo of each and every water dispensers marked on our map, we need help from members of the public. We are recruiting volunteers to help monitor all these water dispensers.  Please stay tuned!

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In view of the fact that abusive consumption of bottled water always takes place during outdoor events, Water for Free launched its water dispenser rental service in last September, which provides temporarily installed water dispensers as an alternative to handing out hundreds, if not thousands of bottles of water. For example, Water for Free provided three water dispensers to Pink Dot HK 2016 at West Kowloon Cultural District.  During that one afternoon, over 3000 participants drank from these water dispensers.  Had it not for our water dispensers, these participants would have no choice but to be forced to consume bottled water.  In other words, Water for Free @ Pink Dot HK successfully displaced consumption of more than 3000 bottles of water.  We sincerely urge organizers of other outdoor or indoor events to arrange for water dispensers/ trucks instead of handing out bottled water.

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In order to strengthen the coverage of water dispensers in Hong Kong, we now invite cafés, shops and organizations to join by providing water for free to those who BYOB. Such a kind offer can have a positive impact on your brand image, increase traffic to your venue and help protect the environment. A win win win!  As a token of our gratitude, we mark these cafes, shops and organizations with a special tag on our map.  In addition, we will continue to pressure MTR Corporation to install water dispensers in each and every station as soon as possible.  HKSAR government, being the major shareholder of MTR Corporation, should not shy away from its obligation to make this happen.

​According to the 2015 Waste Statistics issued by the EPD, Hong Kong produces 136 tons of PET plastic waste daily.  Each bottle weighs about 25 grams, this means that we throw away over 5 million PET bottles per day. So we are asking for your help, please SAY NO TO BOTTLED WATER and use a reusable beverage bottles instead.

To download Water for Free mobile app 2.0, please go to

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.computancy.apps.waterforfree

Iphone version: please click here

Video featuring Water for Free @Pink Dot HK2016 : https://www.facebook.com/poksuiwaterforfree/videos/1816158492006383/
Follow Water for Free on facebook:@撲水- water for free

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For media inquiry, please kindly contact:

彭凱恩 Rachel Pang
E. waterforfreehk@gmail.com 

Inequality in Hong Kong

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The Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) of HKSAR Government recently announced that the Gini Coefficient, a measure of inequality (based on original monthly household income) was 0.539 in 2016, a historically peak since 1971.  The C&SD of course did not mention this latter piece of information in its press release.  Instead they said the higher Gini Coefficient “indicated that the household income disparity widened during the period under the effects of population ageing and an increase in households with one person or two persons as indicated above”.

There is also one more thing that the C&SD failed to mention: According to the CIA website, Hong Kong’s Gini Coefficient is so high that it ranks no. 9 in the world, fares better only to the below countries: Lesotho, South Africa, Republic of Central Africa, Federal States of Micronesia, Haiti, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.  As far as all independent economies in the developed world are concerned, Hong Kong’s Gini Coefficient definitely ranks world no. 1.

 

If Hong Kong’s aging population could be cited as a justification to the rising Gini Coefficient, let’s look at Japan, a country which is ageing so fast that its population is actually contracting.  What is its Gini Coefficient? 0.379, ranking 73 on that chart.

Perhaps the C&SD had noticed that comparsion with other countries makes Hong Kong look really bad, its press release directed citizens’ attention away from this comparison by saying that: ” In general, income disparity of metropolitan cities tends to be higher than that for individual countries due to difference in economic structure. Hong Kong is a metropolitan city. It is considered more appropriate to compare the income disparity situation in Hong Kong with other metropolitan cities rather than individual countries.”

Interestingly enough, comparisons are predominantly drawn with cities in the US {New York City (0.551), Washington, DC (0.535), Chicago (0.531), Los Angeles (0.531) and San Francisco (0.521)} a country which has the worst Gini Coefficient in the western world.  And so what? Does the fact that these US cities have similar Gini Coefficient justify our suffering to live in a city which has the least affordable housing in the world?  UN-Habitat regards Gini Coefficient of 0.4 the international alert line.  A situation which if no remedial actions are taken could discourage investment and lead to sporadic protests and riots.  Indeed protest and riots have already happened in this city…

The ultimate ludicrousness shows up at the end of this press release, when the C&SD spokesman added that “the Gini Coefficient only reflected household income distribution. Although the effects of taxation and social transfer were taken into account, it did not consider the assets owned by households and hence could not fully reflect the actual economic well-being and living conditions of some “income-poor, asset-rich” households. The figures should be interpreted with caution when the Gini Coefficient is used as an indicator to reflect the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Since the spokesman asked, let us talk about asset.  According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report, the net worth of Hong Kong’s billionaires in 2013 represented 76.4 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product. Sweden’s billionaires were a distant second accounting for 20.7 per cent of GDP. Next was Russia with 20.1 per cent, Malaysia 18 per cent, Israel 18 per cent, Philippines 16.5 per cent and Singapore 16.3 per cent. US billionaires accounted for 13.8 per cent of GDP, Britain’s 6.2 per cent, China’s 3.5 per cent and Japan’s 1.9 per cent.

The C&SD, let’s use this to measure the gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, shall we?

 

Photo credit: Joey Kwok Photography 

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Urban rooftop organic farming all-win solution for Hong Kong

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Green roofs have once again hit the headlines when the government announced on Wednesday that no one will be prosecuted for the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) roof collapse last year. Safety was the key concern but this incident also prompted questions about the benefit of green roofs.

The collapsed CityU roof was essentially a carpet of vegetation that very few people had a chance to visit and enjoy. Contrast that with farming organic vegetables on planters installed on roof tops, and you have a very different story.

It has been reported that roughly 30 percent of Hong Kong people would like to buy locally grown organic produce but the supply comprises just 2 percent of sales. Clearly there is unmet demand.

In recent years we have seen people giving up well-paid jobs to move into organic farming, and children of retired farmers reviving their family business. Modern-day urban farmers are highly skilled entrepreneurs. They adopt new technologies and learn to farm through internationally and professionally accredited courses. Many of them embrace permaculture principles which simulate the patterns and relationships existing in nature, allowing for diversity, stability and resilience in the ecosystem.

Gone are the days when the image of farming involved wrinkled men in straw hats soaking their feet in flooded soil, accompanied by an ox-driven cart in the far-flung countryside. Trend-setting magazine Vogue ran a feature article on urban farming in its August issue last year, in case you need proof urban farming is indeed in fashion.

Hong Kong offers the perfect setting for making farming palatable to city dwellers — by turning under-utilized rooftops on urban high-rises into organic farms. And if safety is a concern, Wildroots Organic founder Fai Hui said any proper rooftop farming projects are preceded by investigations by a structural engineer on factors such as weight loading. Unlike the ill-fated green roof carpet at CityU, urban rooftop farming can offer a myriad benefits to many people.

The farms can be centrally located so they are close to clusters of people and the end users, offering a ready supply of potential farmers and customers. Carbon emissions from transport are eliminated. Transaction costs decrease. Some of these rooftop farms are located in the central business districts which means a young farmer doesn’t necessarily have to be banished from the heart of the city. Needless to say, rooftop farming is a source of livelihood to this new generation of farmers.

The rooftops of many commercial or even residential buildings in Hong Kong are left unused. Turning suitable sites into rooftop farms means there is no need to set aside land, and makes productive use of idle resources.

Apart from improving urban aesthetics, green rooftops can lower surface temperatures. Studies have shown rooftop gardens reduce ambient temperature as much as 4 degrees Celsius.

Owners of commercial buildings who let their rooftops be converted into farms win an extra brownie point when it comes to their corporate social responsibility, often at relatively little installation and maintenance cost. They can even collaborate with restaurants within their buildings to provide direct farm-to-table meals.

In schools, rooftop farms provide food education at students’ doorsteps. Hui told me about a local school project in which students who learned to grow their own vegetables were generously sharing their surplus with school workers and security guards. The development of a sense of community, co-ownership and sharing could be an antidote to increasingly polarized Hong Kong.

The most direct benefit for Hong Kong, of course, is increased local supply of fresh organic produce, a chance of meeting the 28 percent unmet demand mentioned above and increasing Hong Kong’s resilience, not to mention promoting healthier eating habits.

And the downside? I can’t really think of any.

The government defines sustainable development as balancing “social, economic, environmental and resource needs, both for present and future generations, simultaneously achieving a vibrant economy, social progress and a high quality environment, locally, nationally and internationally”.

Organic rooftop farms fit quite nicely into that definition. But why aren’t we seeing them on more buildings? Urban farmers complain of inertia and lack of incentives. Most landlords aren’t going to take the initiative to convert their rooftops into farms just because it’s a great thing to do. Clearly more public education is needed here, preferably with the government taking the lead with a pragmatic and pleasing approach to entice young people eager to launch their own startups.

Rooftop farming has proven to be an unqualified success in Singapore, which has even less land space and fewer skyscrapers than Hong Kong. Taking a leaf from Singapore and the United States, we need to offer attractive enough incentives to kick-start this new industry, such as by offering tax deductions or financial subsidies.

In Hong Kong, the Small and Medium Enterprise Funding Scheme, the Sustainable Development Fund and Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund are already existing options through which public money may be channeled for the cause. A genuine and respectful dialogue between the government, funders, landlords, technical experts and those already practicing urban farming in Hong Kong will help steer effective allocation of resources to the benefit of all.

The author Ms. Amanda Yik is a solicitor and an environmental advocate.

 

Originally published on China Daily

Individual Action Leads to Change

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A day before the Earth Day, a friend posted the photos above on Facebook with the following message “Don’t tell me using disposables has nothing to do with climate change. For a room full of scientists, engineers, policy makers, researchers and people otherwise dedicating their waking hours to addressing this issue, I don’t understand how one can eat, drink and socialize without confronting this harrowing irony. I was hungry and grabbed a piece of sandwich, but before I finished I had completely lost my appetite…. If we can’t stop rising sea levels from devouring Pacific islands, we can at least try to save ourselves from plastic hell. And apparently, we aren’t even doing that…”

Friends responding to her post asked if she had spoken to the organiser about it. She replied that she did not because she was so dismayed by it that she had to leave. She did email the organiser with a suggestion to stop using disposable plates, cups and cutlery, but was not optimistic that they could ditch the disposables the very next day.  In order to ensure that the organisers received my friend’s suggestion, I helped share her post and emailed it to the board of directors of one of the joint organisers. That evening, I received a reply from the chairperson of the board, which starts out:

Dear Rachel,

“We cannot change the world in one day. ”

I was very disappointed. We are actually not talking about one day, but one whole year. Last year, the joint organiser of this conference, also co-organised the Earth Day Summit and was caught handing out plastic bottled water to participants and was widely criticised for it. This year, they failed to learn that lesson and repeated the same, if not worse, mistake by handing out disposable plates, cups and cutlery. On the very next day of this Conference, the disposable plates and cutlery had been replaced by ceramic plates and metal cutlery! It turns out that we were able to change the world (at least a little) in one day! We owe joint organisers a big THANK YOU for responding to our suggestion and changing for the better overnight.  We hope that they’ll remember this when organising future conferences so that we won’t need to send them similar reminders year after year.

Here is another example of how individual action can lead to change.  A young woman whose family owns a wholesale fruit business told me that they used to supply coconuts to a very large supermarket chain wrapped in foam mesh (to avoid coconuts being damaged during shipping). As a result of complaints from customers and green groups about the environmentally unfriendly packaging, the supermarket chain requested that they stop packing the coconuts in foam (especially since the hard shell provides ample protection). This caused a ripple effect through the supply chain – the Thai exporter no longer packs the coconuts destined for this supermarket chain in foam – reducing the amount of waste ending up in our landfill.

Feeling hopeful?  Let’s speak up to make change happen!

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Soap Cycling

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Most hotels provide bars of soap to guests, but rarely will these bar soap be used up by the time the guests check out.  I always find it extremely wasteful for hotels to throw away these otherwise still usable bars of soap, and that is why I always bring them home and continue to use them.  Yet I understand 99% of the population will not do that…who wants the hassle?  Therefore, years ago, I was excited to learn about a global initiative to recycle these bars of soap so children in the developing world can wash their hands.

I was even more excited to see a similar initiative launched in Hong Kong. Soap Cycling is a nonprofit organization founded by Mr. David Bishop who is a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business and Economics.  It works with the hospitality industry to collect, sanitize and recycle slightly used soaps and other sanitation amenities. These items are then distributed to underprivileged families and schools in disadvantaged communities around the world where the lack of proper hygiene can result in life threatening illnesses.

Since I joined the Soap Cycling’s cycling trip to Fujian during Easter holiday, I was invited to visit and volunteer at its factory in Shenzhen before the trip. The recycling process starts with using a paint blade scraper to remove any dirt from those slightly used soaps.  Then soap is poured into a machine which breaks them into small chunks. Next, the small chucks of soap are put into another machine which grinds them into even smaller pieces. Finally, the smaller pieces are put into a machine which combine them and molds them into new bars of soap.  The soap is then extruded from the machine and needs to be manually cut into individual bars each measures roughly 4.5 cm long. It was delightful to  participate in the process which gives a second life to these slightly used bars of soap which would otherwise have gone to the landfill.

Soap Cycling is the first organisation of its kind in Asia, and is operated largely through student volunteers from HKU.  Students who enrol in the Venture Management Internship Course become interns of Soap Cycling during the semester.  To obtain real world experience in operating a non-profit organisation is invaluable for the students. The constant influx of interns also brings in new ideas and energy, helping to maintain momentum and “freshness”. In contrast, some non-profit organisations that rely solely on full-time employees have difficulty improving.

For example, as a volunteer, I noticed the soap was bending as it was extruded because of a difference in height between the extruder and the cutting table.  It caused the long bar to crack and the cracked soap needs to be cut off and returned to the shredding machine to go through the whole recycling process again. I suggested to them to raise the height of the table to reduce this waste and they have stated they will implement the change.

DO WE KNOW OUR SOIL?

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Written By Lau Hoi Lung. Translated by Angeline Chan.

Soaring property prices, shortage of elderly homes, lack of places for people to enjoy intimate relationships – it seems as though no social problem in Hong Kong is far removed from land issues. The government keeps banging on about limited land supply, lending credence to the saying “Hong Kong is a densely populated city”. Studies on low interest rates and injustice in land distribution have already shown that this saying may well be false. Putting this aside, is it true that building housing is the most important use of land? To form a better idea of what our ideal city should look like, we need to address collusion between the government, developers, rural interests and triads – and more importantly, we should have a renewed understanding of land. The writer will start from soil – one thing that city dwellers give little if any thought to.

WHAT MAKES SOIL FERTILE?

Soil is made of more than sand and stones. In fact, it is primarily made of three parts. Almost half consists of minerals from the weathering erosion of rock and sedimentation of eroded materials. Soil formed from the erosion of tuff (a kind of volcanic rock) or from river bank sediments is the most fertile. Soil from granite is less fertile, and least fertile is soil from sedimentary rocks. The other portion of soil consists of the gaps occupied by air and water. When the soil is dry, air is dominant; when it is damp, water displaces the air in bubbles. The size of grains in the soil determine capacity for water retention and drainage. The third and smallest portion, at about 5%, is organic matter. Yet this is precisely the determining factor of fertility, and even the key to human survival.

Organic matter is formed by the decomposition of organisms. On a hike, brushing away fallen leaves on the ground will reveal humus, which is decaying organic matter. Incredible things occur on the microscopic level. Microorganisms and the hyphae of fungi bind different minerals together, creating soil aggregates of different sizes. These aggregates are not easily compacted, and between them allow for a balance between air and water. These aggregates carry nutrients and form the perfect medium for plants to thrive. Without organic matter, soil would become like sand on the beach: loose, disconnected, and incapable of carrying moisture. In fact, much of the nutrients absorbed by plants are excretions from microorganisms living in the soil.

The quantity of organic matter in soil turns on a few factors: the amount of fallen leaves; the speed of their decomposition; and speed of their further transformation into gases such as carbon dioxide. There is a common misconception that tropical rainforests, being the most diverse ecosystems, are richest in decomposing matter. In fact, due to the high temperature and humidity, fallen leaves quickly decompose and turn into gases. Grasslands in temperate climates actually have higher portions of decomposing matter. Hence the famed “black earth” regions of Ukraine, the US and North-eastern China. To summarize, the fertility of soil is determined by the intertwining factors of geology, climate, and accumulation of organic matter. Apart from these natural factors, the human process of growing food is another essential factor affecting soil fertility.

THE SOIL FEEDS US

A famed line from local film Overheard 3 (2014) goes: “land is for nurturing life.” Yet it is undeniable that farming does affect soil and the underlying ecosystem. As our ancestors shifted from being hunter-gatherers to growers, we gained control over land. We classified plants that we could not eat as weeds and thought of them as our crops’ competitors for nutrients and space. We classified animals that ate crops as pests, and those which ate pests as beneficial. We thus passed judgments of “good” or “bad” upon natural processes, which in themselves have no normative value.

With the removal of weeds, soil becomes constantly exposed to sun and rain. Tilling the soil improves drainage, yet further exacerbates the vicious cycle of soil erosion. This is because tilling exposes hidden organic matter to air and sunshine, accelerating its oxidation. At the same time, pruning and harvest reduce the supply of organic matter and hence the supply of ingredients. Without the connections offered by soil aggregates, soil compacts easily, and farmers till the land more frequently… To keep the soil productive, farmers use mulch to cover the soil, and increase organic content by adding fertilizers and soil conditioners like manure and peanut meal.

Agriculture in Hong Kong in the early 20th century relied on these methods. In rural areas, villagers collected manure by themselves. In urban areas, the government established manure stations to collect human excrement (known as nightsoil). Upon treatment, this was transported to fields in the New Territories for use as fertilizer. Vegetables and rice grown in this manner were sold back to urban dwellers for consumption. This mutual exchange of resources between urban and rural areas was only disrupted in the late 1960’s.

With technological advancement, we increased the productivity of soil. Yet this has also brought many side effects. With the end of World War II came the “Green Revolution”, and petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers became the order of the day. Many Hong Kong farmers came to favour use of chemical fertilizer over manure. This marked the shift from traditional agriculture to conventional agriculture. Chemical fertilizer is highly soluble and efficient. But as it fails to supplement organic matter, prolonged reliance reduces the soil organic matter content to as low as 2%. At the same time, manure became characterized as refuse rather than a resource. This shift in farming methods also had repercussions for the livestock industry. As manure came to be seen as waste, chicken and pig pens were no longer designed to collect manure. Instead, manure was an unwanted byproduct, to be disposed of as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Often, this meant disposal into the nearest river – which is why the Shing Mun River and Lam Tsuen River became so heavily polluted that only extremely hardy fish such as catfish and carp could survive. The Kam Tin River continues to be severely polluted to this day. In the 80’s, the government sought to control the damage by promoting organic farming, and there are over a hundred organic farms in Hong Kong today. The irony is that while organic farmers buy Dutch chicken manure and other organic fertilizers from halfway around the world, manure from 3 million local chickens is dumped into landfills.

SUSTAINABILITY IS ONLY POSSIBLE IF WE TREASURE OUR SOIL

Amidst burgeoning New Towns and small houses, we still have 4,000 hectares of agricultural land – although over 80% is abandoned. Brownfields suffer a worse fate, and end up covered in construction waste, oil and toxic electronic waste. In recent years, calls for revitalizing agriculture have become more popular. Yet we cannot simply take the approach of increasing productivity, lest we make the same mistakes as those of the Green Revolution. It is precisely because we have forgotten the story of soil that we now have problems such as excess kitchen waste, fly-tipping and brownfields.

Even if we revitalize agriculture, we should be careful how we grow. Agriculture in itself is the practice of intervening in nature to collect food. Growing methods range from natural farming, in which no fertilizer is used, to hydroponics, where no soil is used. What sets them – and everything in between – apart is how we choose to treat the soil. Do we respect it and cooperate with it, or do we try to control it? History has told us time and again that the attempt to conquer nature can backfire within the same generation.

Returning organic matter from the city, such as kitchen waste, to the land does more than help to grow good food. There is actually more carbon contained in soil than in the atmosphere and land organisms. In the Paris Climate Change Conference early last year, the French government put forward the 4 per 1000 initiative. Increasing organic matter in the soil by 4/1000 every year not only aids food production, but also helps control release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by carbon sequestration in soil. As it turns out, while heads of state and diplomats quibble over carbon emissions, only to come up with compromises that are easily repealed by the next incumbent, it is in the hands of each city and each community to use our own soils to control the situation. We cannot distance ourselves by saying that Hong Kong is a financial city – our lifestyle consumes the resources of 3.9 planets combined. Steps have to be taken – if not for the next generation, then for our own remaining years on this planet.

(Author’s note: Thanks to Professor Chau Kwai Cheong from the Department of Geography and Resource Management, CUHK, for inspiring students that soil is not dirt.)

Old sofa starts a new life

Whenever I need new a piece of furniture or appliance, I always go on Facebook and ask if anyone I know has a second hand piece for me.  For example, a  few years ago I asked on Facebook to see if anyone has a spare sofa.  A friend responded almost immediately and sent me an IKEA sofa bed which looked brand new when it arrived.  Unfortunately the sofa cover came under constant attack by my cats and two years later it started to look shabby and worn (the above photo on the left).

I thought I just needed to go to IKEA to grab a new sofa cover.  To my surprise I could not find one that fitted my sofa.  I asked a sales rep and he replied: “We only sell sofa covers for models which are currently sold in IKEA.  Your sofa model had been discontinued and hence we do not have the matching sofa cover for you.”  I cannot understand the logic of this.  Of course only when a sofa gets old does it needs a new cover.  Who would need an extra cover for a brand new sofa?!  I went online to search for a solution.  A US website was selling sofa covers specifically for discontinued IKEA sofa models.  However the price was  not cheap and I needed to pay for delivery from US to Hong Kong.

I then asked a seamstress in the wet market if she could help me sew a cover, but she told me that she only did clothes alternation.  There are also numerous shops in every neighbourhood which specialise in sewing curtains but none of them offer to sew sofa covers.

It would be ridiculous for me to throw away this sofa which but for the worn cover is still in great condition (originally sold by IKEA at HKD 6000) and hence I refused to.  Though I must admit that it was quite depressing to look at this worn sofa cover on a daily basis.

Upon hearing the sad story of my sofa cover, a friend who happens to travel to Shenzhen quite often kindly offered to help me look for seamstresses who would make sofa cover in Shenzhen.  It turned out that there are quite a few in the Luo Hu Shopping Arcade which is just right next to the Shenzhen train station.  After a few rounds of discussion and negotiation, a deal was finally made at RMB 1300.  My sofa now has got a nice new cover, as you can see in the above photo on the right.

My message to IKEA: producer responsibility should include extending the life span of its product so that it does not end up in the landfill prematurely.  IKEA should offer to sell sofa covers for its discontinued sofa models.

HKU Takes the Lead to Ban Bottled Water

The University of Hong Kong(HKU)has taken the lead to become the first university in Hong Kong to ban bottled water on campus. Ditch Disposable is a campus-wide campaign led by the HKU Sustainability Office to reduce plastic waste by targeting single-use plastic water bottles and other disposable containers across campus. It starts with an initiative to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles of 1 litre or less at University events, restaurants, retail outlets and vending machines. Sales of water bottles of 1 litre or less will cease from July 1st 2017.  Faculties, departments, caterers and student groups have pledged to Ditch Disposable and Choose Reusable and be early champions.  In order to ensure compliance with their Ditch Disposable commitment, the HKU Sustainability Office has also prepared a toolkit which provides support and guidance to staff members responsible for purchasing goods and event management sustainably.

In order to allow students and staff members to witness the harm caused by plastic waste to the environment, the HKU Sustainability Office and Water for Free co-organized a beach cleanup at Lap Sap Bay on March 18th 2017.  In less than 1.5 hours, the 20 plus participants picked up more than 3000 plastic beverage bottles, over half of which were water bottles.  The most special item being picked up (in the photo above) was Watson’s water bottle with a best before date of March 15th 1997.  It serves as a stark reminder of the fact that these plastic bottles we threw away are actually here to stay.

After the beach cleanup, we went to the nearby Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of HKU for debriefing.  Researcher on microbeads explained how plastic waste has adversely affected the marine ecosystem and confirmed to us that plastic has indeed entered our food chain. The director of SWIMS, while giving us a brief introduction of the history and research works of SWIMS, mentioned the regrettable news that their research works have been seriously disturbed by the recent influx of tourists. May I take this opportunity to urge those who are interested to  visit the shores of Hong Kong’s only Marine Reserve to stay away?  Let’s go to Lap Sap Bay to pick up some plastic bottles instead.