Hannah Chung won’t leave home without her stainless steel lunch box.
It’s the indispensable tool in her quest to live a life that creates no consumer waste.
But is that even possible in a city where strawberries come individually wrapped?
“I’m not there yet,” she admits, eight months into her zero-waste challenge. Speaking at the Lantau Health & Wellness Expo on the weekend she says it’s been “pretty difficult.”
It began with an epiphany in a supermarket late one evening. Everything was wrapped in plastic. She went home and looked in her bathroom cabinet, full of product in plastic containers.
“Outside there were styrofoam boxes everywhere. All of this just added up, I felt I needed to make a change. Once you have it in your mind you can’t unsee it.”
“I wanted to see if it could be done in Hong Kong, where convenience is prized.”
It’s certainly taken her out of her comfort zone. She’s worked with groups like the Zero Waste Alliance of Restaurants, which works on cutting restaurant waste, and charity Impact HK, which makes sleeping mats for homeless Hong Kongers out of plastic bags.
She has met with a lot of Hong Kong’s recycling community and has learnt to deal with the different types of plastic.
PET bottles can’t be cleaned properly and shouldn’t be reused but can be recycled, she explains. Takeaway food tubs can be recycled but only if they’re clean. “If they’re contaminated with food and oil they may end up in landfill.” Polystyrene – also known by its trade name styrofoam – can’t be recycled at all.
At home, she’s donated and swapped a lot of clothes, made stock from food scraps and soaked citrus peel in vinegar to create a cleaning agent. She’s made her own toothpaste from coconut and baking soda and bought locally-made toothbrushes. For feminine hygiene she’s discovered the lunette cup.
The hardest thing is the preparation. It takes a lot of time. But the stainless steel box is a great aid – it means she can buy food even from McDonald’s and not generate waste.
It’s been a steep learning curve. “At the end of the year I will review it, and see what I will keep.”