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Hong Kong Joins Global Plastic-waste Fight

John Alexander (left) and Matthew Williams-Ellis
British filmmakers John Alexander (left) and Matthew Williams-Ellis, who travelled to Hong Kong and volunteered their time to make the documentary

As the war-on-waste gains momentum with grassroots campaigns around the world, Hong Kong is rallying to the cause. From community groups and social ventures to enterprising start-ups, the city is galvanising its efforts to minimise single-use plastic.

At the forefront is EcoDrive, a not-for-profit which recently launched an inspiring documentary highlighting the impact of waste plastic on the Hong Kong environment.

Released in time for the global campaign Plastic Free July, the film Start Small, Start Now, directed by London-based Photo Escapes Films, follows the journey of filmmakers John Alexander and Matthew Williams-Ellis as they catalogue the effect of debris on the city’s coastal and urban areas. The two United Kingdom-based photographers travelled to Hong Kong for the filming – volunteering their time – while Photo Escapes “kindly produced the film on a pro bono basis to help EcoDrive educate Hong Kong about our plastic problem”, said Laura Derry Southwood, an EcoDrive co-founder.

The 18-minute short, available in English and Traditional Chinese, also offers simple solutions the local public can apply to reduce plastic waste.

Encouraging Change

Eco Drive
Some of the co-founders of EcoDrive, a Hong Kong environmental action group

Another EcoDrive co-founder, Emily Lam, Ho describes the film as “a compelling illustration of how to encourage change and shows how the power of one person can make a real difference”.

“We hope that our film will provide inspiration for the general public to rethink their consumer choices and reduce their single-use plastic consumption,” she said.

Claire Yates, also an EcoDrive co-founder, said environmental issues, and plastic in particular, have increasingly become a key topic in film and television. “After watching the award-winning documentary, A Plastic Ocean, EcoDrive commissioned the film to shine a spotlight on the crisis so the local community could relate and understand the severity of plastic waste in the city specifically,” she said.

Corporations and businesses are invited to sponsor a screening of Start Small, Start Now; proceeds will  allow the local organisation to screen the film free of charge in schools and community groups across the city. The film has been added to school agendas in the 2018/19 school-year.

“We bought the licence for A Plastic Ocean so that this film can be screened in schools, and have also had it dubbed into Cantonese for the local audience,” explains Tansy Lau Tom, another EcoDrive co-founder. “The combination of our new film telling Hong Kong’s story, and A Plastic Ocean explaining the global situation will prove very powerful to educate the next generation.”

Concerted Effort

Flour Bread Bags
Flour Bread Bags from OOH Design Studio

EcoDrive was established in November 2017 by 11 co-founders – all women and mothers – from diverse backgrounds, including lawyers, entertainers and entrepreneurs. Ms Lau Tom said its aim is to advance environmentally focused social causes in Hong Kong, including advocating behavioural change to address the city’s single-use plastic problem. Working with renowned foundations such as Plastic Oceans, the World Wildlife Fund and Jane Goodall Institute, they organise regular events and campaigns around the city to educate the public, with a particular focus on corporates and schools.

Business start-ups are also joining the pushback.

When industrial designer Mimi Law founded OOH Design Studio in July 2016, her first product was an alternative to plastic for everyday use. It was created after she learned that bakery items account for more than 90 million single-use plastic bags in Hong Kong each year.

Her Flour Bread Bag, as the name suggests, is a bread carrier made from recycled flour sacks. After collecting the raw material from bakeries (often given freely), Ms Law cleans the bags, lines them with organic cotton and sews them into the finished product.

The bag is for sale on OOH Design’s website along with selected retail outlets in Hong Kong. It marks Ms Law’s debut into a planned range of products that “connect our hearts and minds”.

“We hear a lot of statistics about how much plastic pollution is out there but I believe behaviour is driven by the heart,” she said. “More than just upcycling, I want to design things that are user-friendly and protect the environment – addressing the problem from the heart.”

A Stitch in Time

Stitch Up
Colourful, reusable carry-all bags from Hong Kong start-up Stitch Up

Kathryn Davies, a former PhD student at the University of Hong Kong, left her academic studies to establish Stitch Up, a social enterprise that upcycles unwanted scrap fabrics from hotels and textile companies and turns them into high-quality, reusable carrier bags. Suitable for holding daily purchases of groceries, vegetables or snacks, the bags come in a variety of colours and sizes, selling online and through selected retail outlets.

Ms Davies believes single-use plastics “simply shouldn’t exist. But we need convenient alternatives in place.”

The entrepreneur withdrew from academia to “do something more useful”, leveraging the sewing skills her mother taught her. Her idea was to use resources that are already there. And Hong Kong, with its heritage of textile production, was the perfect place to start.

The fabrics are mostly donated. Ms Davies hopes to establish a business-to-business model where stores such as supermarkets provide the bags which customers may borrow on an as-needed basis, returning them on their next shop.

Related Links
Facebook and Instagram @ecodrivehk
OOH Design Studio
Stitch Up

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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