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


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

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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Water for Free – signing petition


Shell Gas Stations install water dispensers


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.


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


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


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!


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

Iphone version: please click here

Video featuring Water for Free @Pink Dot HK2016 :
Follow Water for Free on facebook:@撲水- water for free


For media inquiry, please kindly contact:

彭凱恩 Rachel Pang

Inequality in Hong Kong


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 


Urban rooftop organic farming all-win solution for Hong Kong


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


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


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.