Water Dispensers: an Alternative to Bottled Water

 

At Water for Free, we have given many school talks to educate students about plastic waste pollution. But giving talks is not enough, we need to foster behavioural change. Although most schools have water dispensers, with filters that are replaced regularly, the dispensers always look old and unappealing.  In contrast, a few meters from these dispensers there are always a couple of colourful, attractive vending machines with soft drinks, water and juices displayed in nicely lit-up panels. Our conclusion was, we needed better looking and functioning water dispensers to level the playing field.

Thanks to a small donation from LUSH, we were able to prove this hypothesis by installing dispensers – that provide both warm and cold water – at a few primary schools. Pat Heung Central Primary School was one of them. We also gave educational talks to their primary 4, 5 and 6 classes. This particularly enlightened school already banned bottled water sales on campus. Notwithstanding the ban, when asked how many of them have consumed bottled water in the past week, more than one third of the students raised up their hands. It is no wonder Hong Kongers “produce” 6 million+ PET beverage bottles per day that are destined for the landfills.

When we showed the students photos of turtles eating plastic bags, and the carcasses of sea birds with their stomaches full of plastic and explained that in fact microplastic has already entered our food chain, a student gave the following ‘smart cookie’ response: “I don’t eat seafood. I only eat vegetables. Hence it’s no problem for me!”  We explain to her that she’s not immune to plastic pollution because recent studies have shown that microplastic has started to contaminate our salt and tap and bottled water (with bottled water actually containing more plastic).

Everyone was touched when we showed them part of the documentary film “Plastic China” which features a girl of their age living a life atop piles of plastic waste. At the end of our talk, we asked them what can they do to help. Many raised their hands and said “say no to bottled water”. Since over 90% of them have mobile phones, we also invited them to download Water for Free mobile app and help to add new locations to our map.

When we saw them lining up with great excitement at our newly installed water dispenser to refill their water bottles during recess, we concluded there are solutions to plastic waste pollution. The key is to not only education but enabling behavioural change by providing an attractive alternative to bottled water – thereby addressing a key shortcoming our current system. If your school or community centre is interested in our programs, please contact us at waterforfreehk@gmail.com.

Plastic’Apolcalypse

On boxing day, I went to PMQ to watch the excellent but heartbreaking documentary film “Plastic China“.  The film depicts a village in Shan Dong province which has numerous primitive plastic recycling plants processing plastic waste imported from all over the world.  The protogonists are the owner of one of these tiny factories, his employee (minority migrant worker from far away Sichuan province) and their families.  The migrant worker cannot afford to send his children to school, so they hang out on the piles of filthy plastic waste all day, go to scoop dead fish from a super polluted stream, and roast them on a fire fueled by burning plastic. The owner’s son can go to school, however the owner himself has sacrificed his health by operating the open “flame cooker” that turns the waste into plastic granules.  He feels a lump on his lower back but he dares not to go for a medical checkup for fear of what he will find.  In fact both the employer and the employee live in hell like situation.  It is said that the release of this film and the ensuing loss of face, caused the Chinese government to severely restrict the importation of plastic waste beginning in 2018.  From now on, only recycled plastic that has been turned into granular form can be imported into China. 

One day after I watched the film, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) released the report Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong 2016 at 6 p.m. in the evening.  It turns out that the daily disposal of PET (drink) bottles at landfills in Hong Kong has increased from 136 to 158 tonnes when compared to the 2015 figure – a stunning 16% increase in one year. At this rate the amount of PET plastic entering our landfills will double in just over 4 years. No wonder the EPD chose to release the report quietly by close of business right after the Christmas holiday.  With the above mentioned China restriction coming into effect, it is expected that the disposal of PET bottles at landfills will shoot up even further.  

One day after the EPD released this report, the Guardian, in its article entitle “$180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge” reported that:

“Fossil fuel companies are among those who have ploughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons. The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade…”

This reminds me of the so-called environmental friendly marketing campaign initiated by Shell Hong Kong a month or two ago which encouraged the public to use reusable cutlery/ lunch boxes/ water bottles.  While globally Shell is investing billions of US dollars to produce more plastic at a cheaper price, locally it is spending merely  millions of HK dollars to buy “green groups” and launch this greenwash campaign.  The level of hypocrisy and ridiculousness involved makes you unsure whether you should cry or laugh.

The EPD has commissioned a 18 months consultancy study on a  plastic bottles manufacturers’ responsibility policy and has said that it may adopt the bottle deposit scheme.  To ensure that government policy does not adversely affect their business interests, the beverage industry has also reacted by forming a working group (a thinly veiled lobbying group) called “Drink Without Waste” with leading retailers (e.g. Dairy Farm – the operator of 7-11, Ikea, Wellcome, etc) and a few business-friendly green groups, and hiring Deloitte to conduct a 6 months study.  In view of the grim situation for plastic waste and the bright prospects for plastic production, I opine that plastic bottles manufacturers’ responsibility means that they have to bear the full cost of collecting and recycling each and every bottle that they have manufactured.  The government has to impose a tax on virgin plastic to the extent that it will cost marginally more than recycled plastic.  This will drive demand up for recycled plastic, ensuring that every bottle is collected before it pollutes our oceans and lands for generations to come. Other methods will incur high administrative costs, encourage gaming of the system to shift the burden from producers to taxpayers, and result in inefficiencies. In a free market economy, the best and most proven solution (think cigarettes) is to tax this cancer to the planet.

 

Say No to Shark Fin Soup Loud and Clear

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I found the signing petition initiated by the WildAid on the website supporthk.org demanding Maxim, the biggest Chinese restaurant group in Hong Kong, to stop selling shark’s fin soup a little depressing.  7 years have passed since I took part in the campaign which successfully forced Citi Bank to drop its credit card promotion for card holders to enjoy shark’s fin meal at Maxim at a discounted price.  Since then, multiple green groups have tried but yet failed to force Maxim to stop serving shark’s fin soup.

Since I stop eating shark’s fin soup almost a decade ago, whenever I receive an invitation to a banquet, I always ask if there will be shark’s fin soup served.  On one occasion, I attended a banquet because the host promised me that they would make an alternative arrangement for me. However, when the stark’s fin soup was served (a large bowl of soup which was then served in 10-12 little bowls), my bowl was still there spinning around on the Lazy Susan while the waiting staff offered me a bowl of seafood soup.  After that I became very determined – if the host’s answer is “yes there will be shark’s fin soup”, I would say thank you for the kind invitation but I cannot attend.  In addition, I won’t offer the “red pocket” of any amount (i.e. cash gift which guests have to give when attending a banquet. A cash gift is also expected from those who cannot make it to the banquet, albeit a smaller amount would be considered acceptable.)

A short while ago one of my cousins got married.  She told me in advance that there would be no shark’s fin soup served, and there would be announcement about protecting sharks at the banquet.  Typhoon no. 8 hit Hong Kong on her wedding day and hence all buses and mini-vans stopped service during the whole day.  I walked in a heavy rainstorm for over 20 minutes in order to get to the train station.  While I walking in my soaking wet shoes, I thought seriously of turning around and going home.  But bearing in mind my cousin’s commitment to protect the marine eco-system I had to show up.  When the announcement of Say No to Shark’s Fin Soup was made it was followed by silence, until I started clapping and then others slowly followed.

Recently there was a media report about the on-going price for cash gift (see below).  Guests attending wedding banquet held at an ordinary Chinese restaurant are supposed to present a HKD 800 cash gift.  If the banquet is held at a 5 stars hotel, then HKD 1200 is expected.  The cartoons next to the report describes the thinking of the guest while presenting the cash gift: the cartoon cloud conversation says “why did you a pick hotel…?” (so I have to pay HKD 400 more).  Since Hong Kongers are generally tired of this ritual of Chinese banquet, I am suggesting to all of you who care about the marine ecosystem to Say No to Shark’s Fin Soup in a loud and clear way: stop going to banquet which serves shark’s fin soup, and do not present cash gift for such invitation.

Please also sign the petition initiated by Wild Aid.

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HK gov’t bans vending machines selling bottled water on gov’t premises

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Another victory in Water for Free’s SAY NO TO BOTTLED WATER campaign: Following recent announcements by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University banning the sale of bottled water from their campuses earlier this year, the Hong Kong government decided to ban the sale of bottled water from all newly installed vending machines placed on government premises (including country parks, public parks managed by LCSD, government car parks, government offices, public transport interchange and ferry piers) after Feb 2018. For already installed machines, the government will encourages vendors to stop selling bottled water on voluntary basis and will enforce this policy when the contract comes up for renewal.

Water for Fee has been the only green campaign that has been criticising the government for placing excessive numbers of vending machines selling bottled water on government premises and installing too few water dispensers. We welcome this new policy, which hopefully will also lead to all government subsidised schools and organisations following suit in the near future. We encourage the Hong Kong government to step up it’s effort to install more water dispensers, especially in places where there currently vending machines selling bottled water.  To this day, there is not a single water dispenser installed in any of the museums, city and town halls and most of the district libraries managed by LCSD.  The MTR Corporation, which is majority owned by the government, also needs to start fulfilling its social and environmental responsibility by providing access to drinking water for riders that does not pollute the environment.

We applaude the government for taking the first step in this fight against the war on plastic pollution.

For media enquiry, please email waterforfreehk@gmail.com

Please click on below photos for the specific media interview

TV Most: 17 July 2017

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Oriental Daily 10 October 2016

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15 August 2016

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For more, please visit waterforfree.org

 

Water for Free – signing petition

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Shell Gas Stations install water dispensers

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Since the cost of collecting, transporting and recycling the used plastic bottles is higher that what the recycled material is worth, 96% of the used plastic bottles in Hong Kong go straight to the landfill.   To have sufficient number of water fountains around town can greatly reduce our reliance on (or even addiction to) bottled water.  We believe that public bodies as well as sizable private corporations should bear their social responsibility and install water fountain for public use.

According to the 2015 Waste Statistics issued by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Hong Kong produces 136 tons of PET plastic waste daily.  This amounts to more than 5 millions plastic bottles.

PETITION LETTER:

We are so delighted to see that Shell has recently provided the community with more convenient solutions on waste reduction with its “Bring Your Own Foldable Gear” promotion .  Customers can redeem a set for spending HK$400 or above on fuels or lubricant products at any Shell station. As mentioned in the press release, “Shell is now joining hands with people in Hong Kong to fight the waste problem by making small differences in our everyday habits, by reducing consumption of single-use disposable products.”

We note that Shell stations are all over Hong Kong.  A number of these stations also have convenient stores selling a lot of single-use plastic water/ drinks bottles to customers.  We sincerely urge Shell to take one step further in fighting the plastic waste problem in Hong Kong by installing water dispensers at each and every Shell stations, so that customers who have bought the foldable bottles (or any other reusable bottles) can refill them for free.

Please click here to sign

 

Rules of the Green Game

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A few weeks ago I was invited by the host of the RTHK radio program 《1 2 3 show》 to share my experience founding Water for Free.  I specifically spoke about the fact that for over 4 years, Water for Free has been publicly demanding that MTR install water dispensers at each station, as this is obviously an essential part of fulfilling their CSR obligations.  Yet MTR has been turning a blind eye and instead continues  to profit from the sale of bottled water.

During the program, a listener left a message on the host’s Facebook page saying that s/he had updates about MTR’s policy regarding water dispensers but didn’t elaborate. We don’t know whether the listener was an employee of MTR or authorised to speak about the apparent unwillingness of MTR to install water dispensers at its stations. However,  in a visit organised by the Business Environmental Council (BEC) last year, MTR Corporation had a meeting with a whole bunch of ‘business friendly’ green groups – groups that will never pressure corporations in public to fulfil their CSR obligations because they rely heavily on corporate and government funding.  According to a meeting participant, the issue of installing water dispenser in MTR stations was described as “complicated” and further “study” would be carried out. A year after this meeting, we still can’t find a single water dispenser installed by MTR. What we continue to see are the never ending stacks of bottled water and drinks sold in almost every shop in every MTR station – both outside and inside the paid area. Even though passengers are not allowed to eat or drink inside the paid area.

For ‘business friendly’ green groups and green initiatives that rely on large corporations or charity foundations (many of which have close links to business interests or act as tax shelters) for funding, they have to be very careful when picking what environmental issues to address, in order to ensure that they do not adversely affect the business interests of the donors.  The first rule of the game is – don’t bite the hand that feeds you. (Greenpeace is one of the few green groups that maintains its independent voice by eschewing corporate and government funding).

Recently, the Ocean Park Conservation Fund filmed a video of an actress/ singer scooping garbage from the harbour. The video clearly shows her primarily scooping up plastic bottles (she actually utters the words “plastic bottle” while scooping one up), and yet the message she delivered on the video was “Say No to Straws”.  Similarly, another campaign funded by a major bank focused on saying no to paper cups.  The environmental impact of plastic bottles is significantly higher than straws and paper cups. So why would they ignore plastic bottles in favour of straw and cups? The second rule of the game is – follow the money. Straws and cups are unbranded commodity products in a fragmented market and simply don’t generate the same level of profit. In contrast, the top 3 bottled water brands generate significant profits for Hong Kong’s largest listed conglomerates (that have wide-ranging business interests).

Water for Free mobile app 2.0 and its website is self and crowd-funded, and is operated and managed by volunteers.  We expressly target big corporations that sell bottled water and MTR which benefits financially from the sale of bottled water inside MTR station.   This is David vs Goliath, and we invite all of you to join and be David.

Bamboo Tissue Toilet Paper

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PRICE  HKD 20 per pack (10 rolls)

WHERE TO BUY   Salvation Army Family Store   (Only certain branches have them in stock, please call and check before you go shopping)

PRODUCT RATING Great value for the money.  FSC Mix label, ISO 9001, ISO14001

GREEN RATING Quite Green.

While most of the toilet paper brands available for sale at supermarkets in Hong Kong still proudly annouce that they are made from 100% virgin pulp, Kimberly Clark toilet paper stands out as the only brand there with a FSC Mix label, selling for HKD 37-38 per pack.  Recently, I discovered that Salvation Family Store started selling its house brand of 100% bamboo tissue paper, also bearing the FSC Mix label, of comparable quality, but at a much cheaper price (HKD 20 per pack).

According to the info on FCS official website, the FSC Mix label means the wood within the product is from FSC-certified material, recycled material, or controlled wood. While not fully FSC-certified, controlled wood cannot be:
illegally harvested;
harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights;
harvested in forests where high conservation values (HCVs) are threatened;
harvested in forests being converted to plantations or non-forest use;
harvested in forests where genetically modified trees are planted.

On its package the followings are listed as the selling points of bamboo tissue:  naturally anti-bacterial,  growing much faster than trees (50 times), less land use but more harvest than trees, no need to use pesticide or chemical fertiliser, absorbs 35% more CO2 and releases 35% more oxygen than trees, and most important of all…to panda lovers at least…it is not made of the type of bamboo which pandas like to eat.

I wondered if the first claim, namely, bamboo is naturally anti-bacterial is based on science, therefore I tried to google for an answer.  Most of the search results are merely assertion that it is, except a paper published in the Journal of the Textile Institute entitled The origin of the antibacterial property of bamboo” which reports its study result demonstrating otherwise. I also found the website of the Mistra Future Fashion research program which explains the questions concerning bamboo-fibers’ anti-bacterial quality in a way that layman like me can comprehend. 


The bamboo tree actually contains anti-bacterial substances as the tree trunk uses it in order to protect itself against insect attacks and fungus. This means that bamboo can be grown without the use of pesticides, which together with other factors such as fast growing rate and low water consumption makes it a sustainable raw material for textiles. However, the anti-bacterial elements in the trunk do not get transferred to the fibers used in textile manufacturing. 

I will verify those other selling points when I have time.  For the time being, I am very happy to recommend this product based on its FSC Mix label and its good price.  I always enjoy shopping for pre-owned clothing and other donated items from the Salvation Army Family Store.  And now there is one more reason for me to go there more often.

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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