Hong Kong—along with 80% of the world’s population—is living in an ecological deficit, which means we’re using more of the world’s resources than we can regenerate.
By 2020, it’s expected that our demands on Earth’s ecosystems (the goods that our lands and seas produce) will exceed what nature can regenerate by about 75%.
As our seas and beaches are flooded with plastic and other debris, it’s clear that what our consumables are made of—as well as how we dispose of them—are part of the same big discussion.
As consumers do we have a social responsibility towards ensuring our everyday purchases pose minimal harm to the planet?
The good news is that there are brands out there who are investing in eco-friendly innovations to improve their materials and make their packaging more sustainable.
From eliminating single-use plastics to choosing carbon neutral materials, here are some ways companies are working with us to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Let’s Talk Plastic
In Hong Kong, 20% of our daily garbage is plastic waste, according to local charity The Green Earth, and government figures estimate that less than 15% of that is recycled.
Light, easy to store and transport, flexible yet tough at the same time: it’s no surprise that plastic has transformed the way we package products.
But a backlash is in full force with single-use plastics set to become a thing of the past, and many companies are taking note.
Did You Know?
Hong Kong updated its policy in 2017 to align with mainland China, which will only accept plastic drink bottles and personal care products for recycling.
Non-profit organization EcoDriveHK, in collaboration with film duo Photo Escapes, shot the short film "Start Small, Start Now: Hong Kong's Plastic Story" to highlight the need to reduce single-use plastics in Hong Kong.
The technology exists to recycle most types of plastic, but a lack of infrastructure in the community prevents all but the most widespread from being so.
It needs to be properly collected and sorted—all of which is expensive—and so it is often cheaper and easier to make plastic containers from new.
Recycling plastic also does not ‘close the loop’ as postconsumer plastic is generally turned into lower-grade products such as fleece, carpet or toys—none of which are then recyclable.
Did You Know?
Hong Kong’s plastic recycling is sorted by government workers by hand.
So if you do not clean out your containers and remove labelling it may end up in landfill, as it’s less cost effective to process, according to an investigation by Plastic Free Seas.
As a guide to how recyclable your product is, check out the resin code imprinted on the plastic, which indicates the type of chemical compound involved in its production.
HDPE#2, high-density polyethylene, is made from petroleum and is commonly used in the packaging of personal care and home products due to its strength.
It is one of the easiest plastics to recycle and is used by many of the industry’s caring producers.
June View: If you do use plastics, HDPE#2 is one of the better options. One of our favorite examples is The Humble Co.’s Natural Toothpaste tubes: Made in a one-step production process, they use Greenleaf technology—essentially thinner layers of plastic that can be recycled with your HDPE waste.
Companies looking to avoid the petroleum-based chemicals in traditional plastics are turning to solutions using renewable raw materials—ie. based on plants.
These are very often biodegradable (think starch, sugar and reeds), as long as no plastic coatings have been used in the manufacturing process. Plus much of this packaging is then considered carbon neutral or even carbon negative (see below).
One of the most innovative alternatives is renewable sugarcane plastic, which is a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastic, but physically and chemically identical.
The renewable crop traps CO2 as it grows, which is then stored in the plastic for its lifetime. It’s also 100% recyclable along with traditional HDPE#2.
June View: Ecostore’s innovative Carbon Capture Pak is made from 92% renewable sugarcane plastic and is 100% recyclable —we love the thought they’ve put into sustainable packaging.
One of the frontrunners for replacing traditional packaging (think plastic and foam) is bamboo—a renewable raw material that can decompose quickly either commercially or in private compost bins.
MOSO bamboo is the most common species (it’s also the ones that pandas don’t eat!) as it can grow in areas that are currently non-productive it’s fast growing and has a high yield.
Did You Know?
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. It can grow up to 90 centimeters in one day.
Some bamboo products can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative (see below) for this reason, as they suck more carbon out of the atmosphere than the production process emits.
June View: We are 100% behind brands that emphasize raw materials. Jack n' Jill bio toothbrushes will break down into a chalk-like stick in a home compost within a year. Home composting is a fantastic way to teach the kids about the environmental impact of their purchases.
Manufacturers that use 100% renewable energy, balance their carbon emissions with the addition of renewable energy, or offset their carbon emissions (by planting trees for example) can be considered to be carbon neutral.
As packaging usually comprises between 10 and 30% of a product’s total carbon footprint, according to magazine Packaging Digest, changes to this can be meaningful.
Some brands are going even further and using plant-based materials (such as sugarcane and bamboo) which are actually considered carbon negative—as they’re actively taking carbon out of the atmosphere.
June View: If you’re keen to find out your personal carbon footprint, Climate Ready @ HK (a government initiative) has a Low Carbon Living Calculator to help you assess your personal carbon emissions.
Brands are on a sustainability race to not only make their packaging recyclable but to actually create it from recycled material.
This post-consumer material (PCM) or post-consumer recycled content (PCR) as it’s known, involves transforming discarded waste into new packaging such as paper, boxes, bottles and tubs.
Using recycled content in packaging reduces the environmental footprint of the package (it saves on carbon emissions compared to producing from new) and it encourages further recycling.
Paper is much further ahead, where you can find products made from 100% PCR paper.
However, challenges around aesthetics, performance and cost means that progress is slow with plastics, and so far brands are only achieving a percentage of PCR per package.
June View: We use 100% post-consumer recycled paper in our packaging as well as recycled gummed tape. The more the packaging industries invest in using PCR, the more demand there will be for recycled materials, creating a circular economy that will hopefully help everyone attain a 100% PCR rate.
At June we believe that every little bit makes a difference. We support brands that are giving back to the planet, we encourage conscious shopping and we embrace your right to choose what works for you.
We believe in arming you with the knowledge so that you can support the planet in any way you can.
Do you have ideas on how we can be doing more at June? Or would you like to recommend an eco brand to us? We would love to receive your comments below.