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In early May, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) announced that from June 8th 2016  onwards, it will no longer sell beverages in single-use plastic bottles nor provide members with plastic bags or straws. According to its Facebook’s post, the Club’s Rear Commodore Sailing, Anthony Day said, “Reducing the amount of waste being dumped into our oceans is one of the challenges of our time. Here in Hong Kong, where recycling is effectively non-existent, it’s impossible to sail far without being struck by the amount of plastic that finds its way into our waters and onto our beaches. As one of the world’s larger and most active yacht clubs, RHKYC is then uniquely positioned to be able to show innovation and leadership in no longer using or providing plastic bags, bottles or straws. I am proud of our cadets for showing the way through their successful initiatives promoting the use of reusable water bottles over the past three editions of Hong Kong Race Week and grateful both to our management and to our membership for now taking up the ‘plastic free’ challenge with effect from World Oceans Day.”

Many premises in Hong Kong sell plastic bottled drinks.  The primary reason for this practice is convenience and costs – staff don’t need to prepare the drinks or to wash the tableware afterwards.  It is a very easy way to make money.  An even easier way is to allow the beverage company to place vending machines on the premises.  The beverage company will dispatch staff to re-stock the machines regularly.  In return for allowing the machines to be installed, the premise owner takes a cut of the sales revenue. In order to protect the marine eco-system from being further traumatised by more plastic waste, the RHKYC’s decision demonstrates real leadership in going against this tide.

REAL environmental leadership inevitably involves changes to revenue-generating or core operations and educating customers, which most companies and organisations will shy away from (don’t rock the boat). The prevalence of MBA-style thinking has taught our leaders to use cost-benefit or risk-return models to make organisational decisions. Most environmental changes will result in increased short-term risks or costs to the organisation. This is why the RHKYC leadership is real – it goes against the prevailing model to address a big-picture problem.

While the RHKYC says “no” to plastic bottled drinks, what are our “leaders” in government are saying and doing? Recently, Anthony Cheung, the Secretary for Transport and Housing, when asked by a legislative councillor why there are no water fountains installed in parks and leisure areas managed by the Housing Authority,  gave the following reply “Since the《Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines》is silent as to provision of water fountains, and since water fountain is not a standard facility in public housing estates, hence there is no plan for the Bureau to install water fountains at these locations.”  The Secretary further suggested park users either bring their own drinks or buy them from shopping arcades in the public housing estates. In contrast to the leadership and decisiveness of the RHKYC, Secretary Cheung’s bureaucratic response is really quite embarrassing.

In response to Secretary Cheung, I have the following questions: Does the《Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines》mention the provision of vending machines?  If not, why are there so many beverages vending machines placed in government premises? How much profit has the government made from sales of plastic bottled drinks from these vending machines?  Is this profit being re-invested to subsidise the recycling of plastic bottles?