By Gary Stokes

Fruit packaged in plastic and foamFruit packaged in plastic and foamThe plastic age is upon us, the effects of mankind’ s obsession with this incredible, indestructible material is now coming back to haunt us. Who ever thought that using the most permanent of materials for disposable single use items was a good idea has doomed humanity, unless we can turn the tide and change our convenient throw away lifestyles.

We live in a world where we see supermarkets removing nature's own packaging and replacing it with a foam (oil based polystyrene) sock, placed on a polystyrene tray and wrapped with plastic clear wrap to make it look more exclusive and deluxe, to fetch a higher price. We grab a coffee-to-go from one of the many neighbourhood coffee shops in a paper cup which has a plastic lining, a plastic lid and sometimes even a plastic ‘ plug’ placed in the sip hole to avoid inconvenient spillage. McDonalds now give their sodas in the same plastic lined cups, with a plastic lid and plastic straw and here in Hong Kong these are even placed in a plastic carrier bag to make it “easier” to carry!

The top items found on any of our beaches are plastic bottles, disposable plastic lighters, plastic bags and plastic drinking straws, polystyrene packaging and take-away food containers amongst many others.

Where did we go so wrong?

I remember as a kid going to the grocery store with my mother. She would always say “grab the shopping bags” before we left the house. We would walk up the street to the fruit and veg shop where we would select our fruit and veg from wooden crates and place them in our shopping bag. No plastic in sight.

I always say if we want to find the solution to our plastic problems, all we need to do is look back to the 70s and see how we lived back then.

Straws are in the top 5 items found on the world's beachesStraws are in the top 5 items found on the world's beachesRecently I launched a campaign in Hong Kong, with my brother, called the Last Straw Movement. Our mission has been to approach venues and ask them to switch to paper straws. We used to use paper straws when I was young and they had there issues, they would get soggy and collapse. Plastic was a great solution, or so we all thought back then. But with McDonalds alone using 500 million straws a day globally, this solution is really starting to pile up. Our solution was to source a paper straw from a sustainable source that biodegrades within days/weeks.

What we preach is to 'Say No To Straws', however for those that simply cannot then use glass or metal straws or at best paper, just not plastic that will still be here in 400 years just for a 15 minute drink. To put it into context Shakespeare died 400 years ago, if he had used a plastic straw it would still be here now. In fact almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere!

It is simple changes in our daily lifestyles that makes a big difference. Carry a metal water bottle and refill rather than buy plastic water bottles (we sell them in our online store). That alone makes a massive difference. Say no to straws and again, big difference, carry a shopping bag with you and shop wisely. Try and avoid excess plastic packaging. That’ s not easy, but voting with your dollars will send a message to producers who insist on wrapping it up in plastic.

Hong Kong Premiere of A Plastic Ocean with the film-makers Jo Ruxton and Craig LeesonHong Kong Premiere of A Plastic Ocean with the film-makers Jo Ruxton and Craig Leeson

I was exposed to the plastic crisis on our beaches in Hong Kong when in 2012 six containers full of pre-production plastic pellets (aka nurdles), dumped 150 tons of this raw material on our beaches. We led the clean up operation with the Hong Kong government and managed to recover 110 tons from the environment. This can be seen in the latest movie that has just been released called A Plastic Ocean. I suggest everyone watch the movie and share it with your friends, it is available on iTunes. Sir David Attenborough called it, “the most important movie of our time!”

Recently SKY News in the UK launched a year long campaign called Ocean Rescue which was launched with live broadcasts from beaches in Hong Kong, Mumbai and other hot spots around the world. Beating this problem is possible, but it needs everyone to change. Do not think that what you do won’ t make a difference. Every single piece of plastic stopped makes a difference.

Plastic pollution is not just unsightly, it is killing marine life globally. Plastic breaks down in the ocean to smaller pieces known as micro-plastics. These are often mistaken for food by fish, marine mammals, turtles and seabirds. This plastic absorbs toxins in the water and once eaten transfer these toxins into the flesh of the animal. In many cases these animals are then consumed by us. These toxins will take their toll on our health.

The time for a plastic revolution is upon us, will you join the movement to remove single use plastic?

  1. Carry a water bottle.
  2. Carry a shopping bag.
  3. Say no to drinking straws, or use reusable or biodegradable straws.
  4. Avoid excessive food packaging.
  5. Write to companies that produce your favourite food and ask them to stop using plastic.
  6. Speak to your local supermarket manager and let them know you’d prefer loose fruit and vegetables.
  7. Order takeaway food from responsible restaurants that use biodegradable packaging, or best yet dine in and create no waste.
  8. Carry a cutlery set if you dine in your office or on take away often.
  9. Avoid polystyrene at all costs.
  10. Join a local beach/river clean up.
  11. Be an example for others around you.
  12. Watch the movie A Plastic Ocean.

Future generations will thank you!

Lap Sap Wan beach in Hong Kong covered in trashLap Sap Wan beach in Hong Kong covered in trash