How Greenpeace is pushing Hong Kong to go #PlasticFreeNow

Feature Story - 2019-11-21
Plastic waste is causing a pollution crisis -- overloading landfills and, even worse, poisoning our once pristine coastline. That’s why Greenpeace launched its #PlasticFreeNow campaign in 2016 to achieve reduction at source, meaning you and me, businesses and government finding the best solutions to this pollution crisis. Three years have now passed and we’ve made some HUGE POSITIVE CHANGES…

Many turtles die after accidentally eating discarded plastic. © Troy Mayne / Greenpeace

Many turtles die after accidentally eating discarded plastic. © Troy Mayne / Greenpeace

2016: #PlasticFreeNow kicks off…

Plastic floats and swirls around in seawater; it can look a bit like a jellyfish. That’s exactly the mistake that some marine animals make when searching for food. Plastic in their stomachs can make them ill and even kill them. In 2016, Greenpeace published a report, Plastics in Seafood, that revealed how microplastics (tiny fragments of plastic) have been found inside the bodies of 170 different species of seafood, including types Hongkongers love to eat, such as mussels, lobsters and oysters.

“Waiter! Excuse me, there’s a piece of plastic in my sushi!” © Greenpeace

“Waiter! Excuse me, there’s a piece of plastic in my sushi!” © Greenpeace

On the heels of that report, we followed up with an exposé revealing that 30 major cosmetic brands had weak microplastic phase-out policies. We immediately launched an online petition and hit the streets to raise public awareness. We used our strength in people power to get several big local chains, including A.S. Watson Group and 759 Store, to announce they would stop selling products with microplastics.

2017: We don’t want plastic takeout!

After a year of hard campaigning, Greenpeace finally got McDonald’s to stop using Styrofoam and start reducing plastics.

After a year of hard campaigning, Greenpeace finally got McDonald’s to stop using Styrofoam and start reducing plastics.

Working with volunteers, Greenpeace began an investigation in 2017 on 240 McDonald’s branches. We calculated that in a single two-hour lunchtime, all of the fast food giant’s branches in Hong Kong were handing out 202,800 pieces of plastic (laid end-to-end they would stretch 72 times the height of the IFC tower!) It's absolutely crucial, in our fight against single-use plastic, that market leaders are accountable for the waste they create by shifting their operating models and implementing reduction at the source. We need these big market players to lead the change.

With 15,000 supporters signed on, we got McDonald’s HQ to the table to discuss how to ditch single-use plastic. After more than a year of hard campaigning, in 2018 McDonald’s announced it would start to phase out Styrofoam and Mcflurry plastic cups, and implement “No Straw Everyday”, in which plastic straws would only be provided on request.

2018: Fast food chains, it’s time to go #PlasticFreeNow!

We zoned in on the fast food sector and told them to go #PlasticFreeNow! © Greenpeace

We zoned in on the fast food sector and told them to go #PlasticFreeNow! © Greenpeace

In 2018, we expanded our sights to the eight big fast food and beverage chains in Hong Kong: Café de Coral, Fairwood, KFC, McDonald’s, Maxim’s MX, Pacific Coffee, Starbucks and Yoshinoya. Our study found that six of these were giving out more than 490 million pieces of plastic utensils a year.

Greenpeace activists offer birthday buns stamped with ‘no plastic’ logos to Café de Coral shareholders. © Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists offer birthday buns stamped with ‘no plastic’ logos to Café de Coral shareholders. © Greenpeace

Our campaign on fast food chains to ditch single-use plastic gets more and more eye-catching! © Greenpeace

Our campaign on fast food chains to ditch single-use plastic gets more and more eye-catching! © Greenpeace

We mobilised more than 50,000 people to sign our petition demanding the eight big fast food and beverage chains come up with strong, clear, and detailed plans to go plastic free. From there, we went straight to the heart of the companies, gate crashing Café de Coral and Fairwood’s shareholders meetings to deliver our demands.  With you and all our dedicated supporters behind us, we did it! The companies made the following pledges:

  • KFC promised to stop providing plastic straws and cup lids for in-store use;
  • Maxim’s MX pledged to stop handing out straws for its iced drinks (excluding special drinks);
  • Pacific Coffee announced it would stop handing out single-use straws and tableware for takeout;
  • Café de Coral made three plastic reduction promises: it would extend its “No Straw Everyday” campaign, it would stop handing out plastic disposable cutlery for takeout, and it would swap plastic stirrers with wooden stirrers for hot drinks;
  • Fairwood announced several measures to reduce plastic use, including initially not handing out straws for drinks, followed by a complete phase out of straws.

Join us!

2018: Hong Kong’s first plastic-free community success

In wind or rain, our plucky young volunteers roam citywide to persuade restaurant owners to go plastic-free. © Greenpeace

In wind or rain, our plucky young volunteers roam citywide to persuade restaurant owners to go plastic-free. © Greenpeace

Food tastes so much better without single-use plastic. © Greenpeace

Food tastes so much better without single-use plastic. © Greenpeace

I’m sure you’ve felt it too: Hong Kong is beginning to go plastic-free, and momentum is building! We see more and more people bringing their own lunch boxes and flasks with them. This inspired us to launch a project to help people find “plastic-free food”. Some 150 Greenpeace volunteers went door-to-door persuading restaurant owners to reduce single-use plastics by incentivising customers to bring their own containers by, for example, offering discounts to those that do. Establishments that join this green scheme are provided with a sticker that they are encouraged to display prominently in their store so customers can easily identify participating shops. So far, more than 400 restaurants across Hong Kong have gone “plastic-free”. In 2019, we extended this initiative towards establishing “plastic-free communities” aimed at small stores and restaurants. Our first stop: Shatin where close to half of all small shops and restaurants have already joined! 

2019: Supermarkets! Unwrap our Groceries

The plastics problem here in Hong Kong is serious and it comes from more than just takeout food. According to published research, as much as 176 tons of plastic garbage flows via river systems in Hong Kong into the sea every year. We did our own analysis and discovered that 64% of that, or 112 tons, is just plastic packaging. It was clear that we needed to expand the campaign to include big supermarket chains that are guilty of excessive plastic wrapping – Yata, ParknShop, Wellcome, AEON, City’super, Fusion, International Market Place by Jasons and Taste.

Supermarkets are smothering vegetables in plastic. © Greenpeace

Supermarkets are smothering vegetables in plastic. © Greenpeace

Supermarkets go way over the top when it comes to wrapping fruits and vegetables. You’ll find cucumbers sheathed in cling film and apples lying in  Styrofoam trays. While it takes us just seconds to tear off all that pointless packaging, the environmental damage can last a lifetime.

You might think that it’s the supplier who is the only guilty party, but a Greenpeace study exposed that among 84% of the products wrapped in plastic in supermarkets, over half (52%) were wrapped by the supermarkets themselves! It took us five short months to collect more than 15,000 signatures from Hong Kong residents demanding change. We also recruited volunteers to survey plastic packaging in supermarkets and talked to small-scale store owners in communities to join the the plastic-free community.

We’re asking supermarkets to #UnwrapOurGroceries. © Greenpeace

We’re asking supermarkets to #UnwrapOurGroceries. © Greenpeace

With your support, we got ParknShop to make the first move. They announced that they would trial selling unwrapped fruits and veggies, cutting more than 30,000 pieces of plastic packaging at the outset, and they would plan to extend this to more stores in the future.

To persuade more chains to start reducing their plastic packaging, Greenpeace, in collaboration with HKU, held Asia’s first forum on exploring plastic-free solutions for supermarkets in Hong Kong. Several local stores were invited to participate. From the larger scale retailers, ParknShop, Wellcome and Yata all sent representatives to discuss how to reduce plastics and practical operational models with the co-founder of French plastic-free retailer Day by Day, Didier Onraita, representatives from the UK-based global sustainability consultancy, Antithesis Group, local NGOs, government officials, and researchers.

Following this successful multi-stakeholder exchange, we achieved several more campaign milestones. In their GREAT Food Halls, ParknShop launched an eco-toiletries refill station, making it the first citywide supermarket to offer a “packageless sales model”. Customers can bring their own containers to purchase household and personal care products. Wellcome said it would instruct staff to use less plastic where possible when packaging fruits and vegetables. Also, for the first time, the HKSAR government mentioned the problem of plastic packaging in its Policy Address.

 This is what real vegetables and fruits look like! Plastic-free! © Greenpeace

This is what real vegetables and fruits look like! Plastic-free! © Greenpeace

A novel way of reducing plastic: allowing customers to fill up reusable bottles when they buy personal care products.  © Greenpeace

A novel way of reducing plastic: allowing customers to fill up reusable bottles when they buy personal care products.  © Greenpeace

2020: Let’s get even more creative with #PlasticFreeNow…

As we head into the New Year, we will continue to call on grocery retailers to make ambitious plastic-free commitments. We will harness the strength of people power to clearly demonstrate to companies that not only are customers ready for change, they eagerly welcome it. In the words of Didier Onraita: We, the consumers, have all the power when it comes to pushing supermarkets to change.

Greenpeace campaigns around the world have leveraged people power to shift grocery retailers towards making plastic-free commitments. For example, Greenpeace UK campaigned on one of the biggest supermarket chains there, Sainsbury’s, to commit to halving the amount of plastic packaging it uses by 2025 by ranking supermarkets according to how much plastic they were using. When Sainsbury’s came bottom, within weeks it had made the above commitment as well as promising to consider introducing reusable and refillable packaging and report on its progress every six months.

Let's go #PlasticFreeNow by asking supermarkets to #UnwrapOurGroceries!"

Let's go #PlasticFreeNow by asking supermarkets to #UnwrapOurGroceries!"

Let’s sail towards a #PlasticFree future. © Vincent Chan / Greenpeace

It may look like our plastics campaign has been plain sailing but we have had some serious battles along the way. What’s kept us going is that we know we’re not alone. We have you and all the other Greenpeace supporters who love our planet too. We will continue to campaign for a plastic-free Hong Kong by holding companies accountable to their customers and the environment and ensuring the governmental commitments to plastic packaging reduction have a genuine positive impact. We’re not going to have instant success, but we believe in you and we believe in Greenpeace. We will make positive change together.

Join us!

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