The rise of food takeaways during the pandemic is fuelling the use of more than 100 million disposable plastic items every single week in Hong Kong during the pandemic, a study has found. From plastic cutlery, food containers, bags and straws, the number of single-use tableware being consumed by the city’s residents more than doubled from 2019 figures. Describing the trend as a “plastic disaster”, local nonprofit Greeners Action have lodged public campaigns to drive the adoption of reusables.
Research released by Greeners Action, a Hong Kong-based environmental charity, has revealed the astonishing amount of waste produced by the rise in food takeaways amid the pandemic. Based on a survey conducted in 2020, the study estimated that the number of takeaway food orders in the city have surged 55% to reach 21.1 million every single week, up from 13.5 million before the pandemic began.
With more than 52% of respondents reporting that they have made more takeaway orders in place of dining-in due to ongoing social distancing restrictions, the poll found that the plastic items consumed by households had risen sharply, with disposable plastic cutlery consumption of more than five items per week jumping from 10% in 2019 to 30% in 2020. The use of plastic containers, on the other hand, rose from 12% to 45%.
In total, the amount of single-use plastic tableware – including straws, containers, cutlery and bags – reached 101.8 million pieces every single week, representing a more than doubling of the figure recorded in the year before.
The planet is suffering from [a] plastic disaster.Jac Lun, Senior Project Officer, Greeners Action
Senior project officer at Greeners Action, Jac Lun, described the current trends as disastrous for the environment.
“The planet is suffering from [a] plastic disaster,” said Lun, who urged the public to start bringing their own food containers as one of the solutions to the problem – and one that would help ease customers’ hygiene and sanitation concerns amid the coronavirus crisis. “Not only can it be more eco-friendly, but also more reassuring to have meals.”
Global scientific experts, including epidemiologists, chemists, doctors and virologists have confirmed that reusable containers and cups are completely safe to use during the pandemic, and will not raise the risk of coronavirus transmission as long as basic hygiene is employed.
Lun added that businesses must also play a role in eliminating the amount of plastic waste they produce, and “should not forget their responsibilities towards protecting the environment during the pandemic”.
Some initiatives have been launched to this end, such as the WWF Hong Kong campaign last year that saw the city’s two biggest food delivery platforms, Deliveroo and Foodpanda, sign up to crack down on unsustainable packaging materials by 2025 and set up measurable steps to wipe out plastic tableware completely.
Outside of Hong Kong, however, the delivery companies have taken it further to partner with circular startup BarePack in Singapore, to introduce islandwide reusable containers for takeaway.
Such solutions are still not available in Hong Kong, but Greeners Action says that the public can take individual action, and have decided to renew anti-plastic efforts this year with a campaign to incentivise people to bring their own containers.
After collaborating with multiple eateries and restaurants in the Yuen Long district last year to provide cash rebates for those who ditch disposable packaging, the NGO has now partnered with supermarket chain AEON to provide customers with coupons and discounts if they bring their own reusables and avoid all single-use plastic items when they order from in-store food outlets.
Plastic reduction has already become a trend among the countries, but Hong Kong still does not have any related policies nor measures.Greeners Action
Eleven restaurants are participating in the latest scheme, including popular joints such as Coco Ichibanya Curry House, Royal Ming Garden, Pineapple Canteen and Ootoya, and will be running through the end of June this year.
While a step forward, Greeners Action is under no illusion that these incentives to promote the adoption of reusables are only a temporary fix and are far from a real solution, which must come from government action.
“Plastic reduction has already become a trend among the countries, but Hong Kong still does not have any related policies nor measures,” said the NGO, noting the failure of the city’s leadership to push forward the waste disposal levy, a bill that Hong Kong environmentalists have spent years campaigning for.
“Greeners Action urges the government to implement the municipal solid waste charging as soon as possible, to provide incentives to people and restaurants for reducing plastic at source, and formulate concrete policies and timetable for disposable plastic reduction.”
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.