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After seeking face masks littered everywhere in Hong Kong as the city continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, Gaurika Pant, a secondary school student at Hong Kong International School (HKIS), decided to undertake her own research into plastic consumption amid the crisis. According to her survey results, Hong Kong residents could be discarding as many as 35.6 million disposable masks every week, a figure that she hopes to reduce by convincing as many people as she can to make the switch to reusables.
Pant has been involved in environmental-related projects for several years, volunteering with local NGOs such as Plastic Free Seas at beach clean-ups and creating graphic designs for the organisation’s website. So when it came to finding a topic for her school project, Pant was set on researching something that could make a difference to the city’s environmental woes.
“I would see masks littered everywhere, and as an environmental enthusiast, it made me wonder what could be done to reduce and prevent this,” she told Green Queen. “I decided to conduct a survey to understand people’s consumption habits during covid, primarily with masks and reusable items.”
To collect the data for her project, Pant sent out an anonymous survey to over 170 people across the city. One of the key findings from her research was that the usage of reusable items was on the downtrend, primarily from the uptick in single-use face masks, but also due to the return to disposable cutlery and cups.
In terms of reusable cups, we see that 10% of the individuals who previously used reusable switched to single-use plastic cups when getting takeaway.
Read: OceansAsia founder says the public should phase-out single-use masks where possible
“In terms of reusable cups, we see that 10% of the individuals who previously used reusable switched to single-use plastic cups when getting takeaway,” she explained.
Of all the individuals who participated in her research, less than a third – 29% – wore reusable masks. But some demographics showed higher acceptance rates for reusables, with around 50% of the retired respondents stating that they are using reusable masks instead of disposable ones.
For Pant, this is a sign of hope that it is possible to convince more people to opt for more sustainable mask alternatives that can be worn again instead of tossed out, which can help reduce the extra 71 tonnes of non-recyclable waste being thrown out every single week due to disposable mask wearing.
“It is possible to increase the usage of reusable masks,” Pant told Green Queen. “I think that overall, sustainability awareness has increased. From changes made at my school and within my community, I have seen people shifting towards sustainable and reusable items.”
On a daily basis, people still use a lot of single-use plastics, and we need to find ways to encourage reusable items.
Read: 5 reusable masks that we are loving & breathing through
“I think that people are ready to make the switch, provided that reusable masks ensure health, safety, and also comfort.”
According to Pant, for many people, the barrier to opting for a non-disposable mask is comfort. “I feel that more people would be willing to switch to reusable masks if they are better designed.”
But the young student believes that it isn’t just masks that people need to be aware of when it comes to plastic consumption. “On a daily basis, people still use a lot of single-use plastics, and we need to find ways to encourage reusable items.”
Currently, the world throws out 600 billion single-use cups, 1 trillion plastic bags and 480 billion water bottles annually – and these figures are rising amid the pandemic due to unfounded fears that reusable items pose a higher risk for the transmission of the coronavirus, many fuelled by right-wing groups looking to dismantle climate and anti-plastic legislation.
Scientists have reiterated that reusable containers, cups and cutlery are safe to use during the Covid-19 pandemic, as long as they are properly washed and sanitised before and after use.
Lead image courtesy of Gaurika Pant.