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“Experiencing even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda,” writes Chin Chin Lam.

By Chin Chin Lam

It is vital to reflect on the progress made at the 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), which was hosted in Egypt last November.

COP27 carried an important agenda to actualise previously made climate pledges and to deliver solutions to developing countries on climate adaptation and loss and damage. A historic deal was reached to create a loss and damage fund to offer compensation to the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

But apart from this, the progress made in climate negotiations and actions was disappointing and, frankly, quite underwhelming.

You might also like: Did COP27 Succeed or Fail?

The COP27 venue in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh generated controversial headlines itself, with some people calling it a simulation for participants to experience the real-life situation of food and water scarcity caused by the climate crisis. Others were discontent with some of the very much non-soundproof negotiation rooms, and the poor arrangements of transportation to the venue.

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Supplied.

As someone who attended the conference last year, I unfortunately agree with the sentiments above, in addition to the lack of general hygiene and quantity of washrooms, especially in the Covid-19 era. However, the difficulties of holding one of the largest two-week international conferences in a developing country must be recognised.

When compared with COP26 host Glasgow, Scotland, the disparities between a developed and developing country host are clear. One must be reminded that the reason for such disparity in hosting the annual COP event extends to why developing countries are suffering so heavily from climate injustices.

Developed countries have contributed the most to the current climate crisis through mass industrialisation, which grew their economies, while developing countries suffer the effects of global industrialisation and stolen resources through historic colonialism. Experiencing even the “tip of the iceberg” of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda.

The COPs are two-week conferences where global leaders, delegates and civil society from around the world meet and push forward the Paris Agreement, an international treaty negotiated at COP21 that outlined a commitment to keep the mean global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, thus reducing the effects of the climate crisis.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

Often at negotiations – where some rooms are quiet and comfortable – parties can debate for hours on a single word or phrase to be included in a decision text. The irrelevant, minute details are so focused on, the party representatives can lose their focus of the bigger picture and the real critical demands beyond the walls of their meeting rooms.

Progress is slow, and there is a clear [dis]connection to the outside world and a lack of urgency to help countries which are already suffering devastating impacts due to the climate crisis.

(I am writing “[dis]connection” in the format negotiators use when deciding on how to word agreement texts).

Apart from the lack of urgency, there is also a [dis]connection between the narratives portrayed in the pavilions and through the protests of civil society and those discussed in the negotiation rooms.

At the Pakistan Pavilion – in mourning after devastating floods in August caused the deaths of over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million – the simple yet powerful texts of “The Lost and The Damaged – Pakistan’s Climate Catastrophe” and “What goes on in Pakistan Won’t Stay in Pakistan” provoked grief and heartbreak among many participants of COP.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Through various protests and demonstrations at COP27, the cries of civil society echoed throughout the venue. The voices of marginalised indigenous communities, whose livelihoods and cultures are deeply connected to and dependent on nature, were among the loudest last year.

The demands from the next generation were equally roaring, greatly enabled by the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27. Yet the urgency of those calls for rapid climate action was not reflected in the negotiation rooms.

As witnessed at COP27 last year – and from personal experience – people are more likely to take real ambitious action while experiencing the impact of the climate crisis first-hand. The plethora of youth climate leaders I met at COP27, including Marciely Ayap Tupari from the Brazilian indigenous community of the Amazon Forest, and Salote Nasalo of Fiji, were determined to lead climate action after witnessing their own homes severely affected by the crisis.

I am also reminded of the record-breaking extreme heat Hong Kong witnessed last summer, sitting in my room without an air-conditioner (to reduce my carbon footprint) suffering from heat exhaustion, and determined to advocate for more temporary heat shelters in Sham Shui Po.

All the while feeling frustrated with the lack of climate adaptation and resilience policy and action in Hong Kong, further amplifying the risks for vulnerable groups – such as residents of subdivided units, the elderly, people experiencing homelessness, or outdoor workers – who are already suffering from the consequences of extreme heat caused by climate change.

Street cleaner in hong kong

A street cleaner. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Therefore, it is crucial to amplify the voices of civil society at COP, and enable them to have a greater say in high-level negotiations at the conference. This is important to bridge the gap between the currently [dis]connected negotiations and the people who are beyond the walls of the meeting rooms, in hopes of forming more ambitious climate actions and decisions.

There is great power in empathy, a core value of the design-thinking process which is essential to identify the best solutions.

Empathy can be gained through experiencing the consequences of climate change through storytelling, strong imagery or words, and demands echoed by civil society from around the world. It is something that the Pakistan Pavilion, countless protests and youth leaders successfully delivered at COP27, despite most not having a seat at the negotiation tables. The power of people and their efforts must be continued for COP28 next year.

COP28 will be held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and will conclude the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. The global stocktake is a two-year process that happens every five years, and is essential to assess, collectively, the progress of the implementation of the Paris Agreement and address opportunities for enhanced action. COP28 is assumed to be more mitigation focused, as countries review their carbon reduction progress.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam

Civil society will continue to share stories, make voices heard, and demand global leaders and negotiators not only to better represent marginalised communities already suffering from the climate crisis, but also, to apply pressure for faster and bolder action.

With the success of the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27, COP28 should expect the voices of the next generation who are protecting their future to be even louder. This was also reflected by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates, Ms Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, who expressed her desire to expand youth participation in the COP proceedings.

To also bridge the gap between the [dis]connection of Hong Kong to the international climate conference, it is hoped that Hong Kong will officially send delegates, especially youth delegates to participate in next year’s COP28.

Furthermore, it is hoped the city will take much more ambitious climate action to keep the goal of the Paris Agreement – 1.5 degrees – alive, and to ensure that citizens and local communities have the capacity and adequate infrastructure to adapt to the extreme weather events and climate disasters that are already happening.

Featured image by UN (Flickr)

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the Author:

Chin Chin Lam is an urban planner and a youth climate advocate who is determined to transform Hong Kong and other cities worldwide into sustainable developments. Her passion extends outside of her professional work, and she is actively involved with several youth-led, professional, and non-governmental organisations such as YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, Hong Kong Institute of Planners, WalkDVRC and CarbonCare InnoLab.

Chin Chin is also the founder of the Community Climate Resilience Concern Group, which advocates for better climate adaptation facilities for residents of inadequate housing, and the founder of social media platform Urban Acupuncture Hong Kong, which aims to push the agenda of sustainable urbanism to the next generation of city shapers.

River pollution in Hong Kong represents a huge threat to biodiversity and ecosystems. While water pollution levels are improving, the quality of some watercourses located in rural areas remains low. Examining heavily polluted rivers can help assess the effectiveness of current policies and further enhance the health of Hong Kong rivers. 

Criteria for Measuring River Quality

Despite not being as severe as it was in the past, river pollution in Hong Kong remains a threat to biodiversity and entire ecosystems. Agriculture and industrial activities contribute to the degradation of water bodies, with detrimental consequences on human health and the environment.

Several parameters dictate the pollution level of a water body, including pH, dissolved oxygen, E. coli bacteria, biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These parameters influence the Water Quality Index (WQI) and the Water Quality Objectives (WQO), both of which are used to quantitatively and qualitatively assess river health. 

river pollution in hong kong; River Water Quality Monitoring in Hong Kong River Water - Our Invaluable Asset In Hong Kong, there are hundreds of rivers, streams and open nullahs. They are finite resources having different beneficial uses: such as supply to reservoirs, irrigation, preservation of aquatic life, recreation and passage of storm water to the sea. The EPD has a comprehensive river water quality monitoring programme in Hong Kong since 1986, which covers 82 stations at 30 main rivers and streams running through urban areas. The monitoring involves conducting field measurements and collecting water samples for laboratory analyses of over 50 physico-chemical and biological parameters, including organics, nutrients, metals and E. coli bacteria, serving the following purposes: evaluate the pollution status of rivers; monitor long-term changes in river water quality; provide scientific basis for planning water pollution control strategies; assess compliance with the Water Quality Objectives (WQOs); and compile Water Quality Index (WQI) to reflect the overall state and trend of the health of rivers. River Water - Our Invaluable Asset Water Quality Index (WQI) for Rivers

Water Quality Index. Source: Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD)

river pollution in hong kong; Water Quality Objectives (WQOs) for marine waters of Hong Kong

Water Quality Objectives. Source: Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD 

The lower the WQO compliance rate (0-100%) and the worse the WQI grade (Very Bad to Excellent), the more contaminated the water body. Contaminated water can lead to prolific water-borne diseases including cholera, diarrhoea, and typhoid. In the latest Annual River Water Quality Report, issued in 2021, Hong Kong river quality was satisfactory, with a compliance rate of 86%. 81% of the river monitoring stations were graded as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and only 9% were graded as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

However, unorthodox parameters such as antibiotics and microplastics are often overlooked. Several studies, including Deng et al. (2018), Wu et al. (2020), and Tsang et al. (2020), claim that river antibiotic and microplastic levels are just as important to reduce bacterial-resistant populations and biomagnification. This could worsen as the demand for freshwater resources increases under growing population pressure and economic expansion.

To further improve river quality and keep pollution at a minimum, the government has implemented numerous policies. In this article, we evaluate current river pollution policies and suggest strategies to promote a more river-friendly culture and enhance antibiotic regulations and microplastic monitoring. 

Are Current Policies Effective In Tackling River Pollution in Hong Kong?

1. Expanding Sewage Infrastructure

The Environmental Protection Department (HKEPD) and the Hong Kong Drainage Services Department (HKDSD) have developed a sewage infrastructure system across the territory. Untreated human sewage contains numerous pathogens that cause water-borne diseases and is one of the primary sources of low river water quality. A total of 8 sewerage master plans – design plans of sewage systems – were implemented in 1995 and are regularly reviewed to ensure that the water quality isn’t further altered by increasing population and development. However, there are three key issues related to the sewage master plan. 

The first problem is that rural areas are not being prioritised enough. An example of this can be observed in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong’s westernmost district in the New Territories. Despite being reviewed under the sewerage master plan, there is evidence that rivers in that area still suffer from sewage discharges. In 2021, the monitoring station upstream of Tuen Mun River had a low WQI due to sewage from rural areas. Some might argue that the high urban population outweighs the need of the rural population. Nevertheless, due to rural communities being closer to and dependable on rivers, treatment and monitoring sewerage in rural areas should be prioritised.

Secondly, faulty sewage facilities can harm river systems. Gomes & Wai (2020) point out that, despite the presence of sewerages, rivers in Kam Tin – an area in Hong Kong’s New Territories – were polluted from sewer accidents and breaches. Causes for such breaches may include power outages, intrusion of tree roots in opened cracks, and outdated pipeline systems. This result is consistent with the HKEPD river report, which found that the overall WQO compliance rate in 2021 was 38%, as compared with 21% in 1991. As a result, constant maintenance should be conducted to decrease conduit problems. 

The third and final issue is the cost factor. In addition to the building and operating costs, sewage infrastructure may need additional maintenance and cleaning costs when grease and oil often coming from nearby restaurants in rural areas, enter the system. Such deposits may decrease the sewer’s capacity, resulting in a reduced flow of wastewater. Therefore, the HKEPD and HKDSD ought to cooperate with other stakeholders such as restaurants and country dwellers to reduce sewage at the source.

2. Controlling Livestock Waste

The Livestock Waste Control Scheme under the Waste Disposal Ordinance prohibits the discharge of untreated livestock waste and faeces and sets up prohibition areas for livestock rearing. These regulations could decrease foul odour, suspended solids, and eutrophication in river courses, which are important habitats for aquatic life. 

However, the malpractice of agricultural farmers could be a challenge. To reduce environmental adherence costs, pig and chicken farmers may illegally dump livestock waste into nearby rivers, despite the scheme providing sufficient treatment facilities. This claim is supported since rivers in North Districts and Yuen Long are among the worst in Hong Kong, likely due to the fact that most pig and chicken farms are in northwest New Territories. Livestock waste not only includes antibiotics, but also e. coli, ammonia and nitrogen, which makes illegal dumping detrimental to water quality particularly in individual sections of major watercourses. 

Apart from farmer malpractice, the livestock waste control scheme contains strict guidelines that may not always be feasible. For instance, the soakaway system – a series of channels, screens and pits designed to manage wastewater on-site – will often require long planning and financial investment from farmers, leading to hardships, especially for small-scale farms or family-owned businesses. While the strictness of the scheme can be considered necessary, farmers will likely continue to find loopholes if proper financial assistance and constant monitoring from the government are left unchecked. 

You might also like: Causes of Water Pollution And How We Can Reduce It

Policy Suggestions to Reduce River Pollution

1. Promote A River-Friendly Culture

A river-friendly culture can contribute to wastewater reduction. The relatively new term refers to the public interaction with rivers for leisure, enjoyment, and connection with nature. Since the river pollution in Hong Kong is improving, there is a paradigm shift from avoiding to embracing natural rivers. Indeed, rivers can be thought of as a recreational and educational resource instead of a ‘no-go zone’. For successful implementation, it is worth considering various strategies for different rivers, including safety precautions for heavy rain and flooding as well as large-scale infrastructure projects such as the 2006 Yuen Long Bypass Floodway and the revitalisation of Tai Wai Nullah in Sha Tin, which is currently under planning and design. 

The revitalisation of waterways may help promote a more river-friendly culture. The Tsui Ping River in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong district is a great example of this. Tsui Ping River is set to be revitalised with riverside walkways, footbridges, wetlands, and floating platforms by 2024. The project, which involves the cooperation of multiple government departments such as DSD, EPD, and the Buildings Department, is a great step forward in shaping a more sustainable city and provides an integrated and multi-faceted approach toward river-friendly cultures. Moreover, the proposed wetland and greenery could improve the thermal environment plagued by surrounding highways and skyscrapers.

2. Set a Consumption Standard for Livestock Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that help prevent and treat infections caused by bacteria. It comes without saying that the fewer antibiotics are used on livestock, the fewer end up in rivers. 

Even though antibiotics decrease bacterial infections in livestock such as pigs and chickens, over-consumption causes them to lose their effectiveness over time, giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Residues may also run off into rivers through livestock wastewater, disrupting fluvial microbial ecosystems. 

The livestock waste control scheme only focuses on the overall control and treatment of livestock waste but does not specify the limit of antibiotics consumption. High levels of antibiotics such as sulfamethoxazole, sulfadimidine and ofloxacin were detected in some of the most polluted Hong Kong rivers, such as the Yuen Long River and the Kam Tin River. Therefore, similar to the WQO, the government should impose a standard use of antibiotics to reduce pollution at the source.

3. Introducing Microplastics as a WQO Parameter

Under review of the outdated WQO, microplastic concentration can be included as a parameter. With the mass use of single-use plastics in Hong Kong, the risk of microplastic contamination is apparent. 

Microplastics are microscopic fragments resulting from the breakdown of plastics. Common examples include materials such as glitter, microbeads and fragments from larger pieces of plastic debris, as well as from items of clothing. Not only do high concentrations of microplastics lead to biomagnification in aquatic life, ultimately risking public health, but they can also cause stress on wastewater treatment facilities as most are unable to effectively remove all microplastics from wastewater. Therefore, it is important to include parameters like microplastics in WQO to make the assessment of river pollution in Hong Kong more comprehensive and reliable.

An intelligent network management system can be used as a blueprint for introducing microplastics as a WQO parameter. This system focuses on data collection, analysing microplastic particles from water samples and prioritising rivers with high microplastic concentrations. An intelligent network could also use pressure management to reduce the use of non-biodegradable cleaning products, as well as the re-provisioning of water mains such as the upgrade of nearby wastewater treatment facilities that can treat microplastics. 

Although such measures are difficult and time-consuming to implement, finding ways to reduce microplastics in rivers could reduce the overall amount of microplastics transported to the ocean. 

You might aslo like: China’s Refusal to Take Back Food Containers Exposes Hong Kong’s Broken Plastic Waste Management System

Final Thoughts

This article aims to raise awareness and provide new perspectives to the current river pollution problems in Hong Kong.

Undoubtedly, the policies and ordinances in place have significantly improved river pollution in Hong Kong. The government’s expansion of sewage infrastructure has reduced the amount of sewage and wastewater entering rivers and the Livestock Waste Control Scheme provides stringent guidelines for waste disposal in nearby rivers.

However, updated technology, a push to reduce farmer malpractice and illegal dumping, as well as the prioritisation of certain pollutants are equally necessary to maintain effective sewage systems. 

Policy suggestions include promoting a friendly river culture under revitalisation projects to integrate the public with the environment, setting a livestock consumption limit for antibiotics to reduce bacterial-resistant population, and including new parameters to the outdated WQO such as microplastics to safeguard wildlife and public health. 

You might also like: 6 Biggest Environmental Issues in Hong Kong in 2023

With fast fashion on the rise, discarded garments are filling landfills at an alarming rate. In 2018, more than 300 tons of textile waste were tossed out every day in Hong Kong landfills. Globally, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of annual carbon emissions. Fashion brands are now scrambling to promote sustainability and ethical practices in their operations. Here are 15 ethical and sustainable Hong Kong fashion brands. 

15 Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Brands in Hong Kong

1. Basics for Basics

Established by Kayla Wong, Basics for Basics is driven to minimise fashion’s carbon footprint, using surplus fabrics and organic cotton to create simple essentials ranging from graphic T-shirts, Sunday dresses and tank tops to hoodies and sweaters.

To ensure fair trade, the brand is also enhanced with a volunteer rewards program supported by Hands On Hong Kong.

2. Kitdo

Pioneered by Hong Kong-based stylist Denise Ho who has been in the sustainable fashion scene for the past 8 years, Kitdo aims to provide chic and functional solutions to restyle one’s existing wardrobe pieces, rather than participating in the cycle of waste creation and compulsive buying. The first restyling accessories label of its kind, Kitdo is an innovative and consciously-produced styling piece made with lightweight aluminium and strong magnet inserts. Plated with a waterless coating, namely PVD, the beautifully designed accessory is crafted individually with the CNC machine process.

sustainable fashion hong kong; kitdo; denise ho

Restyling a babydoll dress into the peek-a-boo top. Photo by: @kitdo_official

“The average person only wears 10-20% of their wardrobe,” explains Denise Ho, Kitdo Founder. “As a stylist, on set we use safety pins, tape and clips to get the right look out of the clothes on shoot, but these tools can easily ruin the fabric – particularly safety pins. It got me thinking about an alternative that also truly represents my ultimate vision of sustainable fashion. Kitdo expands your restyling options by creating new textures and shapes without putting holes in your clothes. It truly pushes the unlimited imagination of what’s possible with your wardrobe.”

3. Paper Shades

Launched by sibling entrepreneurs James and Madi Chu in 2018, Paper Shades is an eyewear label that designs and manufactures customisable sunglasses from durable and sturdy recycled paper. The UV 400 lenses are paired with biodegradable frames and adjustable arms, available in a variety of designs to suit all face shapes and occasions. 

paper shades

Photo by: Paper Shades

4. The R Collective

Born from Hong Kong-based charity Redress, The R Collective advocates for a circular fashion system and does so by upcycling waste materials- excess fibres, fabrics and fasteners- sourced from luxury fashion brands across the globe and then morphing them into versatile quality garments for women. Through rescuing fabrics, the brand has potentially reduced the emission of over 34 000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent and 65 500 yards of fabric.

The collective donates 25% of its profits back to Redress as part of their engagement with environmental fundraising activities. 

5. Vestiaire Collective

The global resale platform Vestiaire Collective also champions the notion of circular fashion but in a different way. Through facilitating the buying and selling of second-hand designer brand items, the platform extends the average lifespan of clothing by nine months, reducing the carbon, waste and water footprint of each item by 20-30%. That way, consumers may give their wardrobe a second life by purchasing vintage luxury goods whilst simultaneously getting rid of their own items!

6. The Hula

With a similar mission to extend the life of well-crafted pieces, the online marketplace The Hula sells an edit of pre-owned authenticated designer clothing and accessories. According to founder Sarah Fung, a minimum of 5% of net profits go to partnered charities spanning environmental to human trafficking NGOs, and members are also given the chance to donate at time of purchase. The marketplace currently has a showroom in Wong Chuk Hang.

the hula

Photo by: The Hula

7. PYE

Helmed by Hong Kong businesswoman Dee Poon, dress shirt specialist PYE produces classic men apparel with a sustainable fashion seed-to-shirt philosophy. From farming their own cotton in Xinjiang, spinning the yarn with Extra Long Staple cotton, to cutting and sewing their patterns, the brand offers an eco-conscious alternative to typical formal attire. Without compromising on aesthetics, PYE has reduced its water and energy consumption by 57 and 43% respectively over the last decade.

8. Angus Tsui

Dedicated to bridging high fashion with environmental sustainability, the eponymous fashion brand Angus Tsui is known for its futuristic and experimental designs. Many of its collections upcycle textile waste while applying zero-waste and eco-printing techniques. The designer has previously joined hands with H&M to create upcycled uniforms and accessories using sustainable processes.

9. Classics Anew

If you’re looking for vintage clothing, Classics Anew is your cup of tea. Founded in 2014, the brand gives the traditional Qipao a contemporary twist by blending materials such as organic cotton, linen and denim materials with classic Chinese elements like mandarin collars and buttons. Apart from their retail store in Central, qipao-making workshops are regularly held at their showroom in Hung Hom. 

classics anew

Photo by: Classics Anew

You might also like: 10 Stunning Fast Fashion Waste Statistics

10. Net Sustain

Curated by Net-a-Porter, Net Sustain allows one to purchase clothing, shoes and jewellery products that support human, animal and environmental well-being.  Every item on the platform aligns with at least one of their eight key attributes: locally made, craft and community, considered materials, considered processes, considered ingredients, reducing waste, animal welfare, and vegan. 

11. Holenga

Traversing beyond the apparel landscape, Holenga crafts cruelty-free lifestyle accessories, including passport holders, luggage tags and customisable mugs. To curb waste, the company prints-to-order as customers purchase their wares. In particular, their award-winning signature ECO Can Plus- made of corn with zero plastic yielded- is biodegradable and heat-resistant. 

12. Good Days Activewear

Good Days was born during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 and centres itself around sustainable practices and values- be that the materials that go into the products or the labour that goes into producing the goods. It uses a range of recycled fabrics, including recycled polyester, nylon and cotton blends. It also creates fabrics using recycled plastic bottles, fishing nets and nylon carpets, all of which would otherwise end up in a landfill.

sustainable fashion brands hong kong

Photo by: Good Days Activewear

By collectively turning the spotlight on ethical businesses, we challenge the status quo of manufacturing practices. These Hong Kong sustainable and ethical fashion brands are changing the industry for the better; hopefully, the demand from consumers will drive a global industry-wide push to become more mindful of their practices. 

You might also like: 16 Most Sustainable Fashion Brands to Support in 2022

Hazards facing the local dolphin population have one common feature – they are all consequences of human activity. And in Hong Kong, many of them converge in the waters off Lantau – historically the stomping grounds of these marine mammals. 

If Hong Kong had a charismatic megafauna, it would be the Chinese white dolphin. These playful marine mammals were the mascot of the city’s Handover from British to Chinese rule – their smiling faces a welcome distraction from collective existential crisis – and have been the focus of concerted conservation efforts for more than two decades.

But despite those efforts, the existential crisis is now theirs: Chinese white dolphin abundance has fallen in Hong Kong waters by almost 80 per cent over the past 18 years, according to Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) data.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

A Chinese white dolphin near the Hong Kong-Zhuhau-Macao Bridge while it was under construction. File Photo: WWF.

Ignorant of maritime borders, Hong Kong’s dolphins are part of a wider Pearl River Delta population of around 2,000 – thought to be the largest group of Chinese white dolphins left in the world. This offers little cause for celebration; Sousa chinensis is considered “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, meaning that it is “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.”

“The situation is critical,” Doris Woo, the cetacean conservation project manager at WWF-Hong Kong told HKFP. “They have already reached their minimum viable population size,” Woo said. “If their numbers drop below 2,000, it will be very hard for them to go up again.”

The animals – also known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, or pink dolphins for the blush appearance they acquire as adults – live in shallow coastal areas across Asia; according to WWF they were first recorded in local waters in the 1600s.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. File Photo: GovHK.

Today, though, the NGO has identified seven critical threats in those waters: habitat loss and degradation from development and construction; fewer fish to feed on because of illegal fishing and unsustainable fishing practices; underwater noise disturbance from construction and boat traffic; the risk of being struck by marine vessels; toxins and pollutants from industrial and agricultural run-off; drowning after becoming entangled in fishing nets; and rising sea levels, which in turn lead to greater loss of habitat.

These hazards have one common feature – they are all consequences of human activity. And in Hong Kong, many of them converge in the waters off Lantau – historically the stomping grounds of these marine mammals, at least until recent development projects redrew the map.

Hostile Habitat

“As Hong Kong marine construction activities have increased in the last two decades, Hong Kong has become a stressful habitat for dolphins to live in,” Lindsay Porter, a marine biologist and senior research scientist at research organisation SEAMAR, told HKFP.

As a result, dolphins either move away, outside of the zone covered by long-term census monitoring, or “anthropogenic activities cause ‘un-natural’ mortality and suppress reproduction,” Porter said, adding that both factors could be at play.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

A Chinese white dolphin. File photo: GovHK.

“As has been stated by various independent sources since the early 1990s… the population of dolphins that resides within the Pearl River Estuary is in decline,” said Porter, explaining that “what we see in Hong Kong is the easternmost edge of that population.”

The long-term census monitoring mentioned by Porter has been an AFCD initiative for more than two decades, observing and collecting data on Hong Kong’s dolphins and Indo-Pacific finless porpoises according to the same metrics since 2003.

Measured in abundance – a population estimate reached after analysing data collected by the Hong Kong Cetacean Research Project (HKCRP), which conducts the monitoring for the AFCD – there were just 40 dolphins in Hong Kong in 2021. That marks an increase from 2018, when the estimate was 32, a record low, but a huge drop from 188 dolphins in 2003.

The AFCD acknowledged that the decline was linked to government-led development schemes. “A drop in CWD abundance was noted in recent years and the drop coincided with major infrastructural projects such as the Third Runway System project,” a spokesperson from the department told HKFP.

“Reclamation and marine construction works would inevitably bring about ecological impact and disturbance to nearby waters and affect marine species such as CWDs. One of the methods for CWDs to cope with the negative effects posed by these infrastructural projects is to avoid using the affected area temporarily,” the AFCD spokesperson said.

Coastal construction projects destroy habitats and disrupt the availability of prey. They are also incredibly noisy. “During construction activities, the underwater noise levels are intense,” Porter said. Loud subaquatic conditions can hamper dolphins’ ability to communicate, navigate, locate prey and avoid danger.

At worst, “extremely loud noises can kill dolphins,” Porter said.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

The reclamation site of Hong Kong airport’s third runway project. Photo: Supplied.

“Some construction projects last for 10 years or more, so the dolphins are subject to intense noise at almost every moment of the day and night if the construction site operates 24/7, as many do,” she added.

You might also like: Why Endangered Dolphins Are On the Rise

‘No Apparent Signs of Recovery’

Indeed, the most recent monitoring report, submitted to the AFCD in July, paints a damning picture. “In the past decade, dolphin occurrence in the North Lantau region has greatly diminished… with no apparent signs of recovery owing to the consecutive implementation of major reclamation and coastal development works,” it notes.

“Continuous and alarming declines in dolphin usage were observed within the Brothers Marine Park and the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park.”

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

The Brothers Marine Park. Photo: GovHK.

The former was designated off the coast of north Lantau in 2016 in an attempt to atone for permanent habitat loss caused by construction of the city’s section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), as set out in its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

When the Brothers Marine Park became official, an AFCD spokesperson called it “an important Chinese white dolphin habitat” – and indeed it had been. However, HKCRP data showed dolphin usage of the area experienced “a dramatic decline” since 2011 – the year construction of the bridge began. Between 2015 and 2021, HKCRP recorded “zero dolphin density” in the marine park.

“Although dolphin usage was expected to recover after the completion of most marine works associated with HZMB construction and the establishment of the [Brothers Marine Park] in December 2016, their occurrence around the Brothers Islands remains extremely rare in recent years,” HKCRP said.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Chinese white dolphin and calf. Photo: Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.

As for Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, also in the waters north of Lantau, HKCRP said there has been an “alarming decline” in dolphin usage since 2013, which “raises serious concerns because this area has long been considered important dolphin habitat in Hong Kong.”

Marine Park Mitigation

Data collected from acoustic monitoring in the two marine parks in north Lantau waters underlined what HKCRP researchers had observed. “This suggests that the continuing construction activities in waters adjacent to the marine parks (e.g. the 3RS project and the Tung Chung New Town Development reclamation project) are having noticeable impacts on dolphin occurrence within the protected waters… even over a fairly short period of time,” the monitoring report read.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

The third runway began operation on July 8, 2022. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong.

“3RS” is shorthand for the third runway at Hong Kong International Airport, part of a controversial HK$141.5 billion project that opened in July as the city’s aviation industry was languishing under strict Covid-19 travel restrictions. The additional runway angered environmental advocates, who believed the EIA failed to fully evaluate the impact of the project.

Two activists took their grievances to the High Court to try and prevent the Airport Authority from breaking ground. Their legal challenge was rejected and construction began in 2016.

Included in the conditions of the Environmental Permit for the third runway was the designation of another marine park, “as compensation for the seabed habitat and open waters habitat loss associated with the land formation for the 3RS Project.”

This one would measure 2,400 hectares and “would protect and conserve the marine environment around the HKIA from various anthropogenic threats such as sewage discharge, seabed dredging, dumping, coastal reclamation and destructive fishing.”

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Conservationists Doris Woo (left) and Viena Mak. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Currently still in the proposal stage, the North Lantau Marine Park, as it is expected to be called, would connect Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park and Brothers Marine Park. Where this park will differ from existing protected areas is that AFCD will establish “SMART goals” –  specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives that will help assess how well Chinese white dolphin conservation is going.

“This is a very good approach to manage the effectiveness of all the protected areas,” WWF’s Woo said. Such parameters should help identify any “change in the dolphin’s abundance, density and how they use the area after the designation of the protected area.”

But before the North Lantau Marine Park can be designated, the construction of a 45-kilometre subsea gas pipeline connecting Black Point Power Station in Yuen Long with a liquefied natural gas terminal in waters to the east of the Soko Islands, south of Lantau, must be completed. It will run “parallel and within” the western boundary of the proposed marine park and pass to the west of the South Lantau Marine Park, according to the EIA.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Black Point Power Station in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong. File photo: Minghong/Wikicommons.

The LNG terminal is being constructed as part of Hong Kong’s efforts to reduce carbon reliance and safeguard long-term energy security. In August, CLP Power told investors that while the post-trenching work for the pipeline was nearly finished, the “laying of rock protection works continues.” The terminal is expected to enter commercial operation next year.

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Population Migration

Responding to a question from lawmaker Kwok Wai-Keung last month, the Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan said that as “major infrastructure projects near Lantau waters progressively come to completion, there is the possibility that the dolphin number would gradually increase in the next few years and occurrence would become more frequent” – tacit acknowledgement that these projects played a role in keeping the cetaceans away.

Tse was referring specifically to the waters of the recently established South Lantau Marine Park, an area of 2,067 hectares around the Soko Islands that was designated in June as compensation for yet another construction project: the Integrated Waste Management Facilities – essentially a giant incinerator – at Shek Kwu Chau.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Construction work on an artificial island near Shek Kwu Chau in 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Historically an important habitat for finless porpoises and, to a lesser extent, Chinese white dolphins, HKCRP noted “low to moderate dolphin densities” in central south Lantau waters around Shek Kwu Chau, according to its most recent report, which was completed before the marine park was established.

WWF and HKCRP have raised the urgent need to protect the waters around south and southwest Lantau, noting the migration of dolphin populations since north Lantau waters essentially became a massive and ongoing construction site. Even with mitigation measures beyond marine parks written into EIAs for each project, the hope that dolphins might quickly return to a recently hostile environment appears to be little more than a fantasy.

“Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen any sign of recovery in numbers in impacted regions, especially in north Lantau, where there was the bridge, the artificial island, the third runway, and also reclamation areas close to Tung Chung,” Woo said.

‘Disturbed for Over a Decade’

Porter noted the importance of marine parks to Chinese white dolphin conservation, calling habitat protection “the cornerstone of every management plan for coastal marine species that have a restricted range, strong societal structure and localised prey resources.” However, marine parks alone will not bring the cetaceans back.

“Once a marine development is completed, there is an opportunity for the habitat to stabilise, stressors are removed and dolphins and their prey may settle into the altered habitat. The issue in Hong Kong over the last few years is that mega projects have overlapped in both area and timing and the dolphins’ habitat has been in a disturbed state for over a decade,” Porter said.

dolphins; pink dolphins; pink dolphin; hong kong pink dolphin

Lantau Tomorrow Vision. Photo: GovHK.

Porter also took issue with Tse’s suggestion that such construction projects were coming to an end. In his inaugural Policy Address delivered in October, Chief Executive John Lee signalled his administration’s commitment to perhaps Hong Kong’s biggest development plan to date – Lantau Tomorrow Vision. This centres around massive land reclamation to build a series of artificial islands in Lantau’s eastern waters, which, Woo of WWF said would “definitely mean a loss of habitat for finless porpoise.”

Additionally, Woo said that reclamation “will result in water pollution and noise pollution,” which cannot be effectively contained within the footprint of the reclaimed area.

“Even outside Hong Kong there are a lot of large-scale works happening, such as the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge,” Woo added. “The mainland side is equally busy.”

Porter agreed. “We are very far away from there being a cessation of projects in the waters that dolphin and porpoise rely on,” she said.

Featured image: Flickr

This article was originally published on Hong Kong Free Press, written by Mercedes Hutton, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

In Hong Kong, there is growing research pointing to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women. However, women’s voices continue to be marginalised and men continue to have the final say over climate policies. If Hong Kong wants to achieve gender and climate justice, decision-making processes need to be more gender-inclusive. But to do so, the city will have to recognise that gender inequality cannot be achieved merely through legislation but also through cultural shifts in how we conceive leadership. This involves challenging taboos and stereotypes that have acted as barriers to women’s ability to become leaders in Hong Kong.

On March 8, the world celebrated its 111th International Women’s Day, a day commemorating the cultural, political and socio-economic achievements of women. Like most parts of the world, Hong Kong has been a celebrant of the occasion. Building on global momentum, March has been an exciting month for organisations, charities and rights groups in Hong Kong to bring attention to issues like gender equality and reproductive rights, as well as to use the opportunity to promote awareness about violence against women in the city, following a recent study which found that almost 40% of Hong Kong women experienced sexual abuse in 2021.

Recognising that gender inequality is no trivial issue in Hong Kong, there is a growing awareness that citizens need to work together to actively protect and support women from all kinds of injustices. What reflections can the environmental sector make?

Women and Climate Change

The impacts of climate change on women are already well documented in the research literature. Take air pollution as an example. Air pollution is found to be a huge risk factor for breast cancer. High levels of exposure to pollutants, toxins and smoke can disrupt women’s menstrual cycles (e.g. early or late periods), which can have long-term impacts on reproductive health. For pregnant women, the risks are even higher. On top of the aforementioned threats, they are more likely to suffer from cardiac and respiratory disease and other mental health problems. Pregnancies may also be affected, as poor air quality has been found to lead to premature births and low birth weight. These can pose further health risks to mothers.

So not only are women being negatively impacted by climate change, but they are also disproportionately affected, as many of the health risks mentioned above do not apply to men. However, because of existing gender inequalities in society, the climate crisis has led to more women facing increased domestic violence, sexual intimidation, human trafficking and rape because of changing economic circumstances and agricultural practices, especially in developing countries.

In fact, many have described climate change as a “double injustice” to women. As a 2014 paper published by CARE International, a leading humanitarian organisation explains, not only are women disproportionately affected by climate change, but they also lack the resources, options and opportunities to overturn these inequalities. Men have a larger carbon footprint than women, yet climate action policies rarely acknowledge these gender differences.

Are women disproportionately affected by climate change in Hong Kong? While the city remains under-researched as a context, there is a growing body of research suggesting so. Studies have already shown that women in Hong Kong are more sensitive to extreme weather conditions than men. For example, consecutive hot nights can bring a 6% higher risk of death for women, because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat, which makes them more susceptible to heat and weakens their ability to recover. Hong Kong also has a dreadful air pollution problem, as most pollutant concentration levels still fall short of WHO goals. While the impacts of climate change on local pregnancies are relatively unexamined, the replicability of findings from other contexts to that of Hong Kong is likely high.

Climate Inequality is More Than Just A Number

There’s no question that data and science have all pointed to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women – climate change reinforces gender inequality. But numbers can be misleading and unhelpful.

Apart from the fact that inequalities can often go unquantified, attempts to quantify inequality through metrics are always reductionist. Take domestic violence against women in Hong Kong as an example. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities earlier this year, it found that almost 40% of women had experienced sexual violence in the past year. But a statistic like this says nothing about the true impacts of domestic violence. A single experience is great enough to create a cascade of consequences: from contracting sexually transmitted infections to long-lasting emotional problems, broken family relationships or long-term barriers in employment, all of which can never be expressed fully through a simple mathematical equation.

By the same token, the unique effects of climate change on women in Hong Kong can never be quantified in a way that will do justice to their gravity. They will always be omitted from the larger picture. As climate change becomes a bigger issue in Hong Kong, inequalities may only widen. Just because women in Hong Kong may be more resilient and better prepared for future risks today, does not mean that women’s bodies deserve to be continually put to the test.

The question is not why these inequalities have persisted – the reasons are crystal clear – but why it is so hard to disrupt them. To understand why women find it so difficult to effect change on a macro level, it is important to consider constraints to women’s abilities to spearhead Hong Kong’s justice movements.

hong kong female representatiion

The headquarters of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.

The Marginalisation of the Female Body in Hong Kong’s Decision-making Circles

When it comes to decision-making in policy, women are completely outnumbered by men in Hong Kong. For example, female representation in the Legislative Council (LegCo) has never exceeded 20% in its two centuries of history, which is far below the global average of 26% (as of 2020). Most women engaged in climate-related work in Hong Kong reside in non-governmental organisations. Although they may occasionally have an opportunity to express their views in public consultations, they nevertheless do not have sufficient influence in the final stages of policy decisions. As a result, most policy decisions in Hong Kong, whether related to the climate or not, continue to remain in the hands of men who pay scarce attention to the importance of gender. 

As a result, the female body is marginalised in climate policy. As Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), argues, “male-dominated teams will [only] come up with male-dominated solutions”. There is still a tremendous legislative incapacity to recognise the existential impacts of climate change on women: climate change does not only “make life more difficult”; it can put their lives at risk. In the powerful words of Itumeleng Komanyane, International Programme Manager at Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, “If [male policymakers] don’t understand gender, how can they pass anything progressive regarding women’s rights and empowerment?”

Given the dangers of not having enough female voices in decision-making, the case for more women in positions of decision-making should be clear. But this understanding has not been translated into  support for women to take up leadership roles in Hong Kong. Why is Hong Kong’s “double injustice” so hard to tackle?

Hong Kong’s Gender Inequalities in Leadership is a Cultural Problem

Hong Kong’s gender problem is more than just an institutional problem. Even if there are no structures that explicitly prohibit women from seeking certain advancement opportunities, women can still be disadvantaged culturally. 

In a detailed study conducted at The Women’s Foundation (TWF) in 2015, Marya Saidi found that gender stereotypes remain very prevalent in Hong Kong. They are further exacerbated by media representations, which lead to harmful portrayals of women and men and promote unhealthy perceptions, attitudes and behaviours.

The troublesome consequences of gender stereotypes on women’s career and leadership prospects have been helpfully highlighted by two comprehensive survey-based studies. One was conducted by TWF in 2011 and a more recent one was conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and released by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2020. Although there is no law that bans women from becoming leaders, the gender stereotypes in Hong Kong can have equally strong inhibitory effects. They can be considered in two dimensions:

According to the TWF survey, almost 30% of women did not wish to be very successful in their careers, because of family obligations such as housework and looking after children. The existence of a “work-family trade-off” for women has yet to be proven, and a trade-off need not exist in the first place if both mothers and fathers are equally involved in domestic responsibilities. Yet, the fact that these tasks are often considered “mainly for women” has unfortunately led to women being more reluctant to develop their careers and reach for leadership positions. It is also not very helpful when more than a fifth of women’s partners do not want their spouses to be successful in their careers for these reasons.

But just because some women rise to become leaders does not mean they are free from gender stereotypes. Women leaders continue to be “expected to take good care of their families regardless of their leadership roles”. For men, this is not an expectation but a bonus.

Often, the social expectations placed on women are also contradictory. In Hong Kong, women are expected to embody “feminine” traits of being empathetic and compassionate. In contrast, leadership qualities are often associated with “masculine” qualities of being dominant and assertive. The issue here is not role incongruity, i.e., a mismatch between their “nature” and their “jobs”, but the problematic assumption that women and men need to act “according to their gender”. When women cannot be seen as “good leaders” and “good women” at the same time, their desire to stay on as leaders can decrease drastically.

Gender Inequality in Hong Kong’s Green Sector

To what extent are these findings applicable to the environmental sector? While gender gaps are evident in Hong Kong’s male-dominated industries like finance, engineering or construction, gender gaps also exist within the so-called “socially responsible” and “purpose-driven” sectors (such as the sustainability or green sectors). While the social sector is perhaps one of Hong Kong’s most gender-balanced sectors (more than 40% are women), employment figures do not paint the full picture.

A series of interviews with sustainability professionals in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia conducted by Robin Hicks and Aditi Tandon from Eco-Business showed that in the green sector, women were not given the same respect as their fellow male counterparts. Many found their opinions frequently doubted and undermined, and people often did not know how to manage situations when a woman was in charge. Maggie Lee, currently Asia Pacific Regional Lead for Global Seafood Traceability for WWF, recalling an instance where she felt patronised by a director-level person when he commented on her “youthfulness” – and by implication, inexperience – shared that she would turn her camera off when speaking to top-level officials to avoid condescension. When women are not taken seriously, they are severely hampered in their ability to succeed, like attracting funding that is essential to much of their work.

Women are also subject to many other forms of leadership inequalities such as unexplainable pay gaps and unwanted public attention regarding their body shape, appearances and personal relationships. Together, they hinder women’s social and economic advancement and impede Hong Kong’s journey to becoming a more equal and inclusive society. With regard to climate change, this prevents women from being able to determine what is most important to protect and support themselves as they continue to disproportionately shoulder the impacts of climate-related injustices.

gender and climate justice

Photo credit: Mongkhonsawat Luengvorapant/Oxfam (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hong Kong’s Climate Justice Must Begin with Gender

As shown, it is clear that climate change and gender inequality are interrelated. Their effects compound one another: women are more vulnerable to changing environmental conditions; at the same time, the silencing of women’s voices will only exacerbate Hong Kong’s climate change problems. While legislation has been a key promoter of gender equality in many domains of life in Hong Kong, these structural developments have not been enough to remove some of the city’s deep-rooted discrimination and stereotypes. They can be extremely harmful and are the main reason why women continue to experience frustration in their efforts to make a change. 

Women are the building blocks of society; in Hong Kong, they account for more than half of the total population. When they suffer, society suffers with them. Hence, as Sonalie Figueras, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Green Queen asks, “without lifting women up, what chance do we have of creating a fairer, kinder, greener world?”

Thus, Karen Ho, Head of Corporate and Community Sustainability at WWF-Hong Kong, urges Hong Kong needs to really realise and harness the value that women bring to society. The diversity that women bring, along with the unique traits that they offer, enrich organisations and businesses as they offer new perspectives, foster healthier communicative practices within the workplace and help develop more sustainable practices. Relating to climate change, having more women in decision-making positions allows a more inclusive approach to policy. Decisions can therefore be better informed.

The lesson is not that Hong Kong needs to “inject more femininity” into organisations, but that we need to discard those harmful gender labels that specify what a “man” or a “woman” is (not) supposed to be or do. When there is more representation at the senior level, men can also learn from their female colleagues and be encouraged to adopt traits that they believe are not “masculine”.

In fact, since COVID-19, there has been growing interest for organisations to embrace an “androgynous” style of leadership, which emphasises the need to blend these two traditionally diametrically opposed categories. In practice, leadership styles are adopted within organisations based not on who the leader is, but on what works best to support all employees and members.

Overall, Hong Kong needs to be a more receptive society. As David Smith, associate professor at the John Hopkins Carey Business School puts it bluntly, we need “more listening” and “less mansplaining”. For women to be able to speak for themselves, men, having historically been in positions of power, need to be responsive to the concerns of women and pay careful attention to their own practices so as to not let their own egos get in the way of others’ successes.

It is also crucial that gender inequality in Hong Kong is not simply used to reproduce pitiful and patronising narratives about women. Instead, inequality should be seen as an “artefact of absurdity” that can propel all actors in society to start interrogating their own worldviews, values, assumptions and habits to help create a new world.

There is no guarantee that achieving gender equality will lead to climate justice in Hong Kong. Many other inequalities and injustices (along the lines of skin colour, class, religion, age etc.) need to be addressed. Given the challenges of fighting climate change, having more diversity in leadership positions does not mean we will immediately make wiser decisions about our climate and environment – education will have to play a huge part. But if Hongkongers are determined to fight injustice, we must be open to new ideas and solutions – as the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Inviting more people to contribute would be a simple but good start.

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More waste, less recycling. Hong Kong has been dealing with a serious waste issue for years and the problem seems to get worse year by year. While per capita trash disposal rates have been growing at a rapid pace, the recycling rate has steadily decreased. In August 2021, the Hong Kong Legislative Council passed the long-awaited Waste Charging Scheme: it is hoped that this move will help reduce per capita waste disposal by up to 45% and increase recycling rate by 55% at the same time. Since the new scheme will not start until 2023, let’s take a look at some of the most successful recycling strategies and waste management solutions in cities and countries around the world. 

It took nearly two decades for the Hong Kong Legislative Council to pass the city’s first waste disposal bill. The move aims to counteract the massive waste problem that the city is facing. Indeed, waste production rates across the territory have been steadily increasing over the last decades, and especially during the pandemic the city has seen a rapid surge in trash generation, as the use of single-use items such as masks and take-out plastic containers has skyrocketed. Even though the new scheme is a good step towards the right direction, more needs to be done in order to reverse the dangerous path that Hong Kong’s waste problem is taking. 

While we wait to see what effect the new waste charging scheme will have on the territory, we thought it would be a good idea to explore some of the world’s most successful strategies that cities or entire countries have adopted in recent years to decrease municipal waste production and improve its management.   

1. The EU Directive on Single-Use Plastics

Enacted in July 2021, the Single-Use Plastic Directive promotes the transition to a circular economy by banning the use of single-use plastics across all countries of the European Union, including cutleries, plates, cotton buds, straws, and balloon sticks. The Directive also aims at reducing the use of certain types of single-use plastics through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes: these require companies producing packaging such as wrappers, wipes, and tobacco products, to cover the costs for its collection, sorting, and recycling after use. Member States must also restrict the use of food and beverage packaging from the catering and takeaway services. Lastly, the Directive introduced stringent rules regarding plastic bottles production and collection, setting specific standards for the design of bottles and containers so that they are easier to recycle as well as for the labelling on them, which has to indicate the product’s environmental impact as well as clear and concise instructions on how to properly dispose it.

waste management solutions The EU Single-Use Plastic Directive. Source: Europeworld

Hong Kong’s waste management solutions are also based on a Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) and includes mandatory ordinances such as the Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme, which was fully implemented in 2015, as well as PRS on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, a scheme that as launched three years later, which forces suppliers of electrical products such as air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, and computers to pay recycling levies as well as providing recycling labels when distributing electrical equipment. Furthermore, in July 2021, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) launched a public consultation on the Scheme on the Regulation of Disposable Plastic Tableware inspired by the recent action taken by the EU, mainland China, and Australia and proposed a stricter regulation of disposable EPS tableware, a ban on the provision of disposable plastic tableware for dine-in services, along with straws, plates and cutlery for takeaway services. The move is surely a step in the right direction. However, the current scheme does not provide concrete targets and it is not sure if and when such policies will be enforced.

waste management solutions Source: The Environmental Protection Department.  

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2. The Deposit Refund Scheme

Several North American states, south Australia, as well as 10 European countries have so far implemented a Deposit Refund System (DRS), one of the few extremely effective waste management solutions to incentivise consumers to recycle beverage bottles, mainly but not limited to plastic bottles. The scheme has proved to be successful in increasing these countries’ recycling rates, sometimes even bringing them up to almost 100%. Successful examples are countries such as Germany, which has reached an outstanding 98.4% of total return rate since the implementation of the scheme, and Norway, where 97% of all plastic bottles are recycled.  

The system is straight forward: when purchasing certain bottles, consumers pay a deposit, which is reimbursed once the empty bottle is returned to a retail outlet. In Germany, for example, the deposit usually ranges between €0.08 and €0.25. “One-way” plastic bottles are in the higher price range, while the deposit for reusable glass and plastic bottles usually does not exceed  €0.15. The difference in price is a strategic way to encourage people to return especially these environmentally damaging plastics: indeed, having paid a higher deposit for non-reusable bottles, the consumer is particularly incentivised to bring it back once empty. Furthermore, making plastic bottles pricier is also a way to make them less attractive products to buy altogether.

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Even though results differ in every country, DRS is undoubtedly a successful waste management solution and can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on waste production. They are proving to be particularly efficient in reducing littering generation, increasing bottle recycling as well as helping industries and consumers to develop a more responsible and sustainable mindset, in line with the polluter-pays principle such scheme is based on. 

waste management solutions Countries that have a Deposit Refund Scheme (DFS). Source: Statista.

3. San Francisco’s Zero Waste Approach

In recent years, many US cities started implementing policies to recycle and compost more to help tackle the massive waste problem that the country is facing. At the forefront of what is now known as the “zero waste movement” is one of California’s most populous cities, San Francisco. In 2009, the city passed an ordinance requiring all residents and businesses to sort their waste into recyclables, compostables and landfill trash, making it the first American city to make composting mandatory. When one thinks of recycling, materials such as plastic and glass usually come to mind. However, organic matter can be recycled, too: yard trimmings, food scraps and other types of organic waste can be composted and turned into extremely valuable fertiliser for the soil. Waste management solutions such as this process can be highly beneficial for the environment, as it helps drastically reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, improve the soil’s health as well as mitigate the harsh impact of droughts on the land. 

Considering that almost one third of the food produced for human consumption, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes goes to waste every year worldwide. Composting would have massive benefits and it would ultimately contribute to cutting down on the overall trash. Food waste is a big issue in Hong Kong, too. According to Feeding Hong Kong, over 3,600 tonnes of food waste are sent to landfill every day here. Introducing large-scale composting facilities such as the one in San Francisco would help divert this huge amount of food waste away from Hong Kong’s oversaturated landfills, which would then be reused to create enormous amounts of nutrient-rich fertiliser. Indeed, in the case of San Francisco, the introduction of compost, along with other waste regulation policies, financial incentives, and extensive multilingual outreach to residents and businesses, allowed the city to divert more than 80% of all discarded waste from landfills, making huge steps towards its goal to become the world’s first zero-waste.

Cutting out the use of single-use plastics, regulating the disposal of bottles, incentivising waste sorting and promoting compost are all great approaches to waste management solutions. However, for the waste problem there is no silver bullet. That is why it is of utmost importance that, according to its own resources and needs, each country starts taking action to solve the huge problem that waste is for the environment. Nations must find  the right approach and must consequently implement policies to reduce the amount of trash produced and efficiently deal with its management.

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

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Read on for a list of 17 vegan and vegetarian restaurants that have been sustaining and satisfying the veggies lovers of Hong Kong. 

Many meat eaters struggle to believe that it is easy to thrive on a plant-based diet in Hong Kong. As a city renowned for its many Michelin-starred restaurants, good food is a priority for most Hongkongers. This requirement is not limited to the omnivorous community. Hong Kong boasts a wealth of exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurants. While some of the more traditional restaurants are still coming to terms with the distinction between vegan and vegetarian, most places now offer some meat-free options. Hong Kong is also the birthplace of the Green Monday initiative, which has greatly increased the public’s awareness around plant-based eating. With the ever-growing popularity of plant-based substitutes, it is now possible to eat entirely plant-based meals without sacrificing any of the dishes you’ve always loved. Here are 20 vegan and vegetarian restaurants that have been sustaining and satisfying the veggies lovers of Hong Kong.

The 17 Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Hong Kong

1. Green Common/Kind Kitchen

First on our list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Hong Kong is Green Common. As part of the Green Monday initiative, Green Common is a plant-based grocery shop and cafe. Most of their dishes include plant-based meats, and are a mixture between eastern and western. Kind Kitchen by Green Common is located in Nan Fung Place and is Green Common’s full-service cafe. Both restaurants serve entirely vegan food, although the grocery shops contain some vegetarian products.

Location: Various locations throughout Hong Kong

Hours: Mon-Sun from 11:30-21:30

2. Hemingways

Located in Discovery Bay, Hemingways provides a relaxed bar and grill environment that is entirely vegan (even the drinks menu indicates which drinks are vegan-friendly). From pizza to buddha bowls, the wide and varied menu has something for everyone. 

Location: Shop G09, G/F, D’Deck, DB Plaza, Discovery Bay

Contact: +852 2987 8804

Hours: Mon-Fri from 12:00 – 00:00, Sat-Sun from 12:00-2:00

3. Ahimsa

Ahimsa serves up a vegetarian, all-you-can-eat, Chinese-buffet during lunch and dinner hours. The dishes that contain eggs and milk are clearly labelled, making it a vegan-friendly option too. The locations throughout Hong Kong serve similar dishes, although there is more variety in dishes during dinner time. The Central location also offers a new al la carte menu.

Location: Various locations across Hong Kong    

Hours: Mon-Sun from 11:30-16:00 and 18:00-22:00

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4. LockCha Tea House

This traditional Chinese tea house offers vegans and vegetarians the opportunity to partake in a classic Cantonese cuisine, dim sum. Situated in Hong Kong Park, LockCha offers a tranquil escape from the city’s commotion. Each customer must order their own pot of tea, but with a tea menu that is thrice the length of the food menu, this is easily done.

Location: G/F, The K.S. Lo Gallery, Hong Kong Park, Admiralty 

Contact: +852 2801 7177

Hours: Mon – Sun, from 10 am – 8 pm

5. Veda

Located inside the Ovolo Central, Veda is Hong Kong’s first vegetarian hotel restaurant. The menu celebrates both eastern and western cuisines and is, according to the restaurant, “a menu that is meant to be shared.” 

Location: Ovolo Central, 2 Arbuthnot Road, Central

Contact: +852 3755 3067

Hours: Hours: Sun – Thurs from 06:30 – 23:00, and Fri – Sat from 06:30 – 24:00

6. Treehouse

Serving up a variety of salad bowls, burgers and flatbread wraps, Treehouse is a great option for a quick lunch. Made from fresh organic products, the wraps and bowls are customisable, which ensures something for everyone. Treehouse aims to be sustainable and ethical, without compromising taste. 

Location: Shop 1, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central

Contact: +852 3791 2277

Hours: Mon-Sun from 10:30-21:30

7. Confusion Plant-Based Kitchen

A firm favourite among the Hong Kong vegan community, Confusion aims to reduce the confusion around plant-based diets and sustainability in general. Their ethical approach, not only towards the food they serve, but also their staff’s wages and working conditions, sets an example for restaurants everywhere. Confusion’s menu is ever-changing, but always includes a blend of eastern and western foods. 

Location: G/F, 103 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan

Contact: +852 2563 3699

Hours: Mon-Sat from 10:30-16:00 and 18:00-20:30

8. OVOCafe

OVOCafe not only aims to delight the vegetarian palate, but also to promote a greener lifestyle through their innovative approach to food. The cafe serves mostly vegetarian food with a large selection of coffee beans.

Location: 1 Wanchai Road, Wanchai

Contact: +852 2527 6011

Hours: Mon-Sun from 11:30-22:00

9. Veggie SF

With every surface covered in 1950s American memorabilia, the interior of Veggie SF is quirky to say the least. This non-conventional approach is not limited to their interior design; the completely vegetarian menu offers an eclectic range of dishes, with no one particular cuisine favoured. Vegan options are clearly labelled.

Location: 10/F, 11 Stanley Street Hong Kong Central

Contact: +852 3902 3902

Hours: Mon-Sat from 12:00-14:00 and 18:00-21:00

10. Mirror & Vegan Concept

Mirror & Vegan Concept proves that plant-based Italian cuisine is possible. With a menu filled with pastas and risottos, this quaint restaurant delivers delicious vegan food without comprising any of the traditional Italian flavours.

Location: 9/F, 118 Queen’s Road Central, Central

Contact: +852 28680810

Hours: Mon – Sat from 11:30 – 17:00 and 18:00 – 21:30 (closed Sundays)

11. Miss Lee

This cosy restaurant offers contemporary vegetarian Chinese food. Miss Lee caters to a range of dietary concerns, with dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free options available. Miss Lee also has a deli-counter that serves on-the-go options throughout the day. 

Location: G/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central

Contact: +852 2881 1811

Hours: Mon – Sun from 12:00-22:00

12. Chi Lin Vegetarian

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a walk through the tranquil gardens of Nan Lian, and enjoy a Buddhist meal at the vegetarian restaurant managed by the Chi Lin Nunnery. Set behind a waterfall, the restaurant serves beautifully presented Chinese dishes that are more flavourful than typical temple food.

Location: Long Men Lou, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill, 

Contact: +852 3658 9388

Hours: Mon – Fri from 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Sat from 11:30 am – 9:00 pm

13. Isoya Japanese Restaurant

Isoya offers vegetarian forms of many favourite Japanese classics and dishes can be altered to suit a vegan diet. 

Location: 9/F, 83 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai

Contact: +852 5500 8812

Hours: Mon – Sat 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm

14. Thai Vegetarian Food

For a taste of authentic Thai, head over to Thai Vegetarian Food. The Buddhist Thai restaurant serves traditional dishes that are bursting with flavour and fragrance. 

Location: G/F, 28 Nam Kok Road, Kowloon City

Contact: +852 6153 7421

Hours: Wed – Mon from 12:00-15:00 and 18:00-22:00 (closed Tuesdays)

15. Big Dill

If ever you’re in the mood for some vegan comfort food, Big Dill is your port of call. Tucked inside Espresso Martini, Big Dill recreates an American diner feel, with an entirely vegan menu. All of the patties and sauces are made in-house, offering a refreshing alternative for vegans in need of a fast food fix.

Location: Inside Espresso Martini Bar, 123-125 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun

Contact: +852 5270 6777

Hours: Tues – Sun 12:00 – 22:00  (closed Mondays)

16. The Recipe

Tucked away on the ground floor of Legend Tower in Kwun Tong, this hidden gem serves up delicious and affordable rice-sets and cart noodles. The friendly atmosphere and wholesome food make this small restaurant very popular during lunch hours.

Location: Shop 57, G/F, Legend Tower, E Plaza, 7 Shing Yip Street

Hours: Mon-Sat from 12:00-21:00

17. Three Virtues Vegetarian

Three Virtues Vegetarian offers diners the old school, Chinese banquet hall experience. The extensive menu features various vegetarian Chinese dishes. While vegan options are not clearly marked, it is easy enough to deduce what contains milk/dairy. 

Location: 1/F, 395 King’s Rd, North Point; G/F & 4/F, JD Mall, 233-239 Nathan Road, Jordan

Contact: +852 28561333 (North Point);+853 36221888 (Jordan)

Hours: Mon-Sun from 11:00-23:00

These are just some of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Hong Kong. With all this choice, it is now easier than ever to make the switch to a plant-based diet

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A recent study gives fresh insights into the value of restoring oyster reefs to protect the coastal wetlands by investigating the ecosystem around abandoned traditional oyster farms in Hong Kong’s Deep Bay. 

Deep Bay, one of the most important wetlands in southern China, is located on the north-western border of Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the heart of the rapidly developing Greater Bay Area. The bay is also home to a traditional oyster farming industry that goes back 700 years and is listed as Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage. More than 37,000 birds visit the wetland each year, and the territory is identified as a priority area for joint efforts for protection and conservation by regional governments. 

In a recent study, scientists from The University of Hong Kong and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) discovered greater biodiversity in Deep Bay’s abandoned oyster farms compared to neighbouring mudflats. The research paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science in May 2022 quantified some of the ecosystem benefits of both natural oyster reefs and traditional oyster farming methods and compared the areas with nearby mudflats.

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oyster farms

Abandoned oyster farm. Photo by Tom Chan

Hidden Habitat That Supports Ecosystems

Focusing on abandoned oyster farms near the mouth of Ha Pak Nai Stream in Deep Bay, scientists researched the potential ecological benefits of traditional “benthic” oyster farming techniques in the Pearl River Delta and how that could inform work to restore Hong Kong’s oyster reefs and benthic ecosystems.

Derived from the Greek word benthos, – which stands for ‘the depth of the sea’ – the benthic ecosystem comprises the many organisms that make their home on or close to the seafloor and the shallow water habitats such as the marshes and mudflats along estuarine coasts. 

Oyster reefs are historically a vital estuarine habitat providing multiple ecosystem functions and services. However, humans have over-harvested native oyster reefs worldwide, with an estimated habitat loss of 85%. Along many coastlines, native species of oysters and their reefs are functionally extinct.

People started cultivating oysters in the Pearl River Delta during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) and continued as the harvest of natural oyster reefs declined. In the mudflats of Deep Bay, oyster farmers have nurtured magallana hongkongensis – the Hong Kong oyster – for centuries. Once an inexpensive food eaten by almost everyone, the shells were also an essential source of lime used in the construction and agriculture industry in the region.

The traditional method of oyster farming involved placing hard substrate materials such as rocks, concrete tiles, oyster shells, and posts in the soft mud to promote the settlement of oyster larvae. This approach is similar to the technique of using an artificial substrate that TNC practices in its oyster reef restoration projects in Hong Kong, Australia, and the US

By providing hard substrate among soft sediment mudflats, these traditional oyster farms provided a habitat for native oysters and other species. However, in recent decades, oyster aquaculture in the region has declined and what remains now is the method of using rope-suspended raft culture techniques that enhance production.

Oyster Farms

TNC staff sifting through the mud to collect samples for the lab. Photo by Pak Nai (TNC)

Vibrant Life on the Seabed

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and TNC researchers found that the abandoned oyster farms provided habitats for a rich diversity of fauna and were home to 61 species compared to 26 species found in the surrounding mudflats. In particular, the numbers of epifauna species such as crustaceans and molluscs were six and 18 times greater, respectively, in the abandoned farms compared to the mudflats. 

Wildlife and birds are attracted to the wetland areas due to increased food availability by directly feeding on the cultured species or other estuary critters, from the tiny one-millimetre, micro-benthic invertebrates to rare marine worms, molluscs and mussels, crabs, and other crustacea.

The higher densities of crustaceans and worms provide essential sources of food for fish and birds such as waders, gulls, terns, egrets, the endangered black-faced spoonbill, and the vulnerable Saunder’s gull.

The nooks and crannies of the former farms and the build-up of old empty shells substantially increased the biodiversity and biomass of organisms around them. Scientific analysis also showed the abundance of species in Deep Bay’s abandoned farms is comparable to natural oyster reefs in the national marine park in Jiangsu Province, further north on the Chinese coast.

While oyster farms do not provide the same level of complexity as natural oyster reefs, they illustrate the potential for regenerative aquaculture to enhance the diversity and abundance of species by providing structures that resemble natural oyster reefs on previously structureless mudflats.

Learning From the Past and Nature

The long history of oyster farming in the Pearl River Delta means that not only have native oyster populations been prevented from functional extinction in the region, but the habitats left behind may also have provided us with the key to cost-effective local reef restoration. 

TNC Senior Conservation Program Manager Marine Thomas said, “In many ways, through the traditional oyster farming method of building hard structures on the mudflats, Hong Kong oyster farmers are one of the first restoration practitioners as they maintained and brought back wild oysters and reefs where they would have otherwise completely disappeared.”

Could traditional farms be revitalised to complement restoration and showcase an example of ‘restorative aquaculture’? While seafood, lime, and even pearls were the original products of traditional oyster aquaculture in the Guangdong region, revitalising the farms may offer the potential for creating shared value by facilitating and sustaining biodiversity and future ecosystem services.

Further research could inform ecologically conscious aquaculture techniques. For conservationists and scientists working to protect our coastlines, Hong Kong’s abandoned oyster farms may also show new ways to speed up reef restoration and enhance the rebuilding of native oyster populations. 

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Vertical farming is a modern farming technology that uses environmentally controlled agricultural technology to make the most of indoor farming techniques and many describe it as “future farming”. This is especially true given that by 2050, a major portion of the world’s population will have moved to cities. In such a setting and with an ever-expanding population, the desire for local food that is both organic and natural will grow, too. Here are 7 vertical farming companies that are paving the way for an agricultural revolution. 

Why Do We Need Vertical Farming?

Vertical Farming is an innovative agricultural practice that has the potential of solving the impending food crisis. Instead of growing our crops horizontally, produce is grown in stacked vertical layers. By doing so, crops require less or even no soil at all, and water efficiency is increased at the same time. Vertical farming can guarantee regular output of produce and boost crop yields based on its controlled environment including temperature, light, humidity, as well as artificial intelligence.

This green technology can easily be built into buildings, cities and even shipping containers. It can also produce food closer to its consumers, reducing transportation costs and emissions.

Yet, vertical farming is still a relatively new technology. Maintenance costs of automation and watering processes are sky high, and most farms are limited to leafy greens, salad leaves and herbs based on these costs. Here are some vertical farming companies that are leading the way and helping the sector to expand globally.

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Top 7 Vertical Farming Companies

1. Futurae Farms (US)

Yaheya Heikal and Erin James – co-founders of Futurae Farms, a vertical farming company founded in 2021 and based in Los Angeles – are on a mission to find solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems through the use of urban vertical farms. These farms will bring more nutritious and sustainably made fresh foods to people around the world (mainly in urban centres) while helping lower global emissions. After traveling abroad and experiencing first hand the difference in quality of grown vegetables outside the US, Yaheya and Erin saw and tasted the difference in food that had less time from farm to table. The next-generation farming and technology company is now working to create food that is more accessible and nutritious, without sacrificing the environment. “We’re using vertical farms to reduce supply chain issues and mitigate the effects of climate change while ensuring we can feed future generations.” – the founders said. “Climate change is increasingly affecting our ability to produce food using traditional farming methods due to events including flooding, warming climate, wildfires, soil degradation, and desertification. We need to find large-scale alternatives to help supplement food supply.”

2. CubicFarms (Canada)

The origin of the company dates back to 2008, when Jack Benne and his son Leo Benne, both farmers, committed to developing indoor growing technologies to grow fresh produce while minimising their impact on the environment. One such technology is the HydroGreen Grow System, which can grow up to 25 million pounds (11.3 million kilogrammes) of fresh livestock feed every year using just one-tenth of the water needed in traditional livestock feed grown in irrigated fields. This way, they managed to save over 500 million gallons (1.8 billion litres) of fresh water per year – enough to give one glass to every person on the planet. The Canadian company also uses 54% to 62% less energy than typical vertical farms by moving plants according to the light rather than having dedicated lights for each one. 

3. AeroFarms (United Arab Emirates)

Since 2004, AeroFarms implements the latest breakthroughs in indoor vertical farming, artificial intelligence and plant biology to fix our broken food system and improve the way fresh produce is grown and distributed locally and globally. As a sector leader and owner of the world’s largest vertical farm for research and development – located in the Abu Dhabi and completed in the first quarter of 2022, AeroFarms was awarded the inaugural Global SDG Awards celebrating private-sector leadership in the advancement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The company partnered up – among others – with US retail giants Whole Foods and Walmart to sell its leafy greens, from baby bok choy and arugula to spinach and micro broccoli.

4. InFarm (Germany)

Founded in Berlin in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the brothers Erez and Guy Galonska, InFarm is one of the largest vertical farming companies in Europe. The company uses an innovative technique known as cloud farming – a network of high capacity, self-learning growing centres that improve plant yield, taste, and nutritional value constantly, while further reducing the use of natural resources. With over 1,200 farms in stores and distribution centres, InFarm has partnered with more than 30 major food retailers including German Aldi Süd, Kaufland, and Edeka as well as Amazon Fresh, Marks & Spencer, and Whole Foods Market in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland.

5. Spread (Japan)

One of Asia’s leading vertical farming companies is Spread. Established in 2006 with the vision of “creating a sustainable society where future generations can attain peace of mind”, Spread is commitment to facilitate the mutually beneficial coexistence between conventional agriculture and local communities while reducing food waste and improving productivity. The company is known for its crispy and soft lettuce as well as its sweet strawberries, both of which are sold in more than 4,500 grocery stores across Japan. The innovative vertical farming technique implemented by the company ensures high quality and yield year-round, regardless of weather conditions. Moreover, this method only requires 1% of the water needed to grow food with conventional farming techniques and 30% less food is lost during production.

6. Farm66 (Hong Kong)

Sixth on our list of vertical farming companies is Farm66, one of Hong Kong’s largest state-of-the-art indoor aquaponics farms and in 2016, it was awarded the Technological Achievement Certificate of Merit (HKAI). Since its establishment in 2013, the company has been developing and practising the concept of urban farming. Inside its indoor aquaponics farming eco-system, free of weather impact, birds’ problems, pests and bacteria and huge space requirements, Farm66 grows products such as leafy greens, herbs (basil, dill) and fruits. These are then sold by many local retailers including CitySuper Hong Kong, SOGO and Pacific Coffee. Given its limited space and extremely dense population, Hong Kong is almost totally dependent on imports for its food supply. “Vertical farming is a good solution because vegetables can be planted in cities,” said Gordon Tam – co-founder and CEO – in an interview with Forbes. “We can grow vegetables ourselves so that we don’t have to rely on imports.”

7. iFarm (Finland)

Last on our list of vertical farming companies is the award-winning iFarm, founded in 2017 in Helsinki, Finland. Vertical farms built with the iFarm technology use 90% less water, 75% less fertilisers and zero pesticides. They also save huge amounts of energy by optimising technology and reducing the ‘human factor’ and labor costs. All this allows to grow crops in a sustainable and economic manner all year round. iFarm products, such as leafy greens and different types of vegetables but also fruit such as strawberries, are sold worldwide, from Switzerland and France to Saudi Arabia and India. In 2019, the company was awarded the “Best Social Impact Startup” in Nordic Startup Awards and in 2020, it was named Europe’s Hottest AgFood Tech startup by The Europas.

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Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Chloe Lam

Following the latest IPCC report published in April 2022, warning that it is now or never to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the climate crisis is clearly accelerating at a pace like never before. From deforestation to plastic pollution, there are several factors that are causing the exacerbation of climate change. Here are some of the biggest environmental issues that we face in Hong Kong in 2023. 

Biggest Environmental Issues in Hong Kong

1. Outdoor Air Pollution

One of the top environmental issues in Hong Kong is air pollution. According to a study of global mortality and pollution levels published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, 9 million people around the world die from outdoor air pollution every year. Long-term exposure to severe air pollution also poses serious health problems ranging from chronic respiratory infections and diseases to increased risk of cancer. 

Based on Hong Kong Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) records, street-level air pollution in densely populated areas including Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok often exceed WHO guidelines, reflecting a sizeable number of Hong Kong residents breathing in air that contains high levels of pollutants every day.  

Causes of air pollution in Hong Kong derive from sources like fossil fuel motor vehicles and regional smog, which is caused by pollutants from marine vessels and industrial power plants within the city and from mainland China. 

Though the Hong Kong government has announced plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the current rate of carbon emissions shows no signs of slowing down. As for 2021, the number of private motor vehicles registered in Hong Kong reaches up to 657,000, nearly 30,000 more vehicles compared to the previous year. Despite being home to one of the best public transportation systems in the world, Hong Kong residents still heavily rely on private cars when commuting in the city and that proportion continues to grow with each passing year. Within the past decade, the volume of private cars has increased by almost a third, contributing massive amounts of carbon emissions in the city. 

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While the government has made efforts to regulate emissions from industrial power plants and marine vessels that pass through our waters, smog from the Pearl River Delta region has proven difficult to control. Collaboration efforts with Guangdong authorities have been made in improving air quality in the Great Bay Area region, but improvements in air quality have yet to be seen. 

hong kong landfill waste

One of three strategic landfill sites in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. Photo by: Edwin Lee/Flickr

2. Landfill Waste

One of the most glaring environmental issues Hong Kong currently faces is landfill waste. Every year, about 4.17 million tonnes of solid waste make its way to our landfills, and during to the coronavirus pandemic, local waste has exponentially grown thanks to the increased use of food takeout boxes, plastic cutleries and single-use masks. Landfill gases, which are emissions from landfills decompose organic waste, will continue to surge as a result and contribute towards global warming, especially when you consider 40-60% of landfill emissions are methane gases, and have 10 times the warming potential than carbon dioxide. 

As one of the most densely populated cities in the world with a population of almost 7.5 million people, Hong Kong is in an immensely difficult position to create new dedicated landfills sites. Reducing and recycling waste is the only viable long term solution in dealing with the city’s insurmountable landfill waste problem. And while the Waste Charging Scheme passed by the Legislative Council in late 2021 – 16 years after it was first proposed – is a good first step, much more is needed to tackle the issue.

3. Plastic Pollution 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong generate about 3.9 billion disposable food and drink containers every year. This amounts to 170 takeaway meals and 180 disposal drinks for every Hongkonger. As restaurants limit opening hours and seating capacities during the pandemic, people rely on takeaway options and the amount of plastic containers and cutleries used and disposed of has only soared. In 2020, plastics made up 21% of the city’s total municipal solid waste (MSW), accounting for the third-largest share of MSW after food waste and paper. The city’s beaches and waterways are drowning in plastic, and microplastic levels in the sea are 40% higher than the global average. According to estimates,  more than 5,000 pieces of microplastic can be found in every square metre of sea.

Some F&B companies have made the effort to adopt biodegradable and even compostable takeaway packaging and utensils, but a majority of local restaurants and small businesses still opt for low-cost materials like styrofoam. 

The lack of an efficient recycling infrastructure is a major contributing factor in the plastic crisis in Hong Kong. In 2019, less than 20% of plastic packaging waste was recycled due to the lack of adequate recycling facilities. Prior to China’s Waste Ban, where the country placed a ban on importing unprocessed materials, Hong Kong used to offload the city’s rubbish to the mainland for recycling. Since the policy implementation, Hong Kong has yet developed enough recycling plants to compensate. While some government interventions such as the Plastic Recycling Pilot Scheme seem to be working, as Hong Kong experienced a 27% increase in locally recycled plastics in 2020, plastic problem is still haunting the city.

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4. Food Waste

Known as an international food paradise, Hong Kong has a reputation for affordable and a stunning variety of international cuisines. Consequently, this means that food waste is equally high in the city and without a doubt one of the biggest environmental issues that Hong Kong faces. 

Food waste in Hong Kong accounts for about 30% of municipal solid waste that goes straight to landfills. In 2019, a recorded 1,067 tonnes of food waste were produced from commercial and industrial sources such as restaurants, hotels and wet markets. The amount of food waste has also been on the rise especially in the F&B industry where it grew from 800 tonnes per day in 2012 to 1,000 tonnes of waste generated per day in 2019. 

While the government has introduced educational initiatives and an operating organic waste recovery center OPARK, over 3,600 tonnes of food waste are still being sent to Hong Kong’s landfills each day, contributing to over hundred thousand tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. 

environmental issues, hong kong land reclamation Land reclamation site for Central piers, Hong Kong. Photo by: Piqsels

5. Biodiversity Loss

Hong Kong has surprisingly rich biodiversity thanks to its large natural terrain and coastal waters. In fact, 40% of the city’s land belongs to country parks and protected areas, which supports more than 3,300 species of vascular plants, 57 species of terrestrial mammals, and more than 540 species of birds. Our waters also support over 1,000 species of fishes, too. 

However, in order to make space for the city’s already dense and growing population, Hong Kong has devoted much effort in urbanisation and land reclamation. Land development, be it deforestation or illegal waste dumping, is one of the growing environmental issues be in Hong Kong, and has led to significant impacts to the local biodiversity and habits. 

The pink dolphin, also known as the Chinese white dolphin, is a prime example of how local species are threatened by continued land development. The waters surrounding Hong Kong have been part of the dolphins’ habitat for centuries, with recorded sightings going back to the Tang Dynasty. The number of pink dolphins that frequent Hong Kong coastlines has dropped to about 300 in recent years due to heavy vessel traffic and most importantly, its shrinking habitat. The development of the Chek Lap Kok island, which is home to the Hong Kong International Airport, and the associated land reclamation have reduced the amount of fish dolphins can eat while dredging has unearthed pollution from the seafloor causing water pollution. A massive 1,700 hectares land reclamation plan near the easter waters of Lantau Island that was proposed in 2018 will further deteriorate the dolphin habitat as well as increase vulnerabilities to rising sea levels. 

Another serious threat to Hong Kong biodiversity is illegal wildlife trafficking. The city is home to one of the largest hubs for the illegal wildlife trafficking industry thanks to its free ports, geographical location in the Greater Bay Area and accessibility to other Asian countries. Every year, the city sees millions of live animals and their derivatives pass through its ports. In 2019 alone, more than 7,000 endangered animals were illegally traded in the city, including pangolins and live turtles. However a landmark bill was passed in August 2021 which will treat illegal wildlife trading and seizures as a serious crime while placing greater attention on organised criminals and networks instead of carriers and mules. The passage of the amendment aims to deter smuggling operations and supply networks in the city. 

6. Water Pollution 

Hong Kong is a unique city surrounded by the South China Sea, where marine waters cover about 1700 km² and home to a wide range of different marine environments. In the early 1970s and 80s, most of the city’s sewage and wastewater were discharged into the sea, with little to no treatment. As a result, Hong Kong waters experienced a surge in organic and inorganic pollutants, a reduction of oxygen content, and increased bacteria levels. By 2005, Hong Kong generated about 2 million tonnes of wastewater as well as industrial effluents every day, making it one of the main sources of water pollution in Hong Kong. 

Marine pollution has also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tonnes of marine plastic waste made its way into the Hong Kong waters. An estimated 1.56 billion face masks were dumped into the ocean during this period, which experts have said will take as long as 450 years to break down. Microplastics from single-use masks are also incredibly harmful to marine life and the ecosystem, potentially killing up to 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, and over a million seabirds. 

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