Plastic Footprint Challenge

Are you up for a challenge?

If you would like to know how much plastic you and your family use each day, then join the Plastic Footprint Challenge.  During this two week challenge the only thing you have to do is keep ALL the plastic waste you would otherwise put in the recycle bin or the trash. Yes that’s right, simply keep it stored somewhere at home, and at the end of the two weeks take a photo of the plastic trash collected and share your story with the rest of us at the Plastic Footprint Challenge. The idea is to observe our habits and understand what plastics we are using, and from this we can make long term changes to these habits.

plastic challenge Ingredients of wellness

Let me backtrack a bit to fill you in

In our small family of two plus two fur-kids, we try really hard to reduce our plastic usage, especially single use plastics.  But like most, we find many things really difficult.  The things I do well:

  • never take a plastic bag from a supermarket or store – even the small white bags (which have no levy) for cold or frozen goods
  • mostly use my own reusable cup when buying takeaway tea or coffee
  • never buy or accept water in plastic bottles and mostly I don’t buy any other drinks in plastic bottles
  • try to not use plastic cutlery unless it’s mine and I take it back home to reuse again
  • try to take my own storage containers for fresh meat and fish purchases at the supermarket (only required for the kids)
  • always refuse straws…and if occasionally I forget to say “no straw” I’ll ask the staff not to bring one for the next drink
  • occasionally remove fruits or vegetables from supermarket plastic packaging before getting to the checkout (I give it back to the staff) – it’s a difficult one but I’m trying to do this more often.

Like I said, we try hard and we thought we were doing well, but I really wanted to do more, especially on the excessive plastic packaging found in supermarkets…but how. Petitions have been made and letters written to supermarkets, acknowledged, and for their part, pledges made that they will do their best but customer experience comes first.  And still nothing has changed…in fact where I live it has even gotten worse.

Then I came across this image from Australian writer Anita Horan on facebook


Courtesy of Anita Horan

This was powerful, and it reached out and grabbed me.  This was how I would understand how much plastic we really use and how much waste we produce.  There needs to be a baseline…right!

And so a few of us here in Hong Kong set out on our two week plastic footprint challenge.  Most of the fellow challengers in this first round, including Tracey Read from Plastic Free Seas and Jo Wilson from Living Lamma, local NGO’s doing a great work to educate and cleanup the plastic waste that ends up on Hong Kong’s beaches, are conscious consumers, and most try harder than me to not use plastics, yet we were all shocked by the results of our challenge.

This is our two week plastic footprint

all 2

Here is what I found

  • try as you might there are too many products for which you have no choice but to accept plastic packaging…so we need to do something to force supermarkets and manufacturers to change their pasitic packaging paridgm
  • too much plastic waste, such as terapaks and milk cartons, cannot go to recycle bins in HK because they are either not recycled in HK or not accepted for recycling collation
  • paper or plastic labels must be removed from packaging otherwise they can’t be recycled – and this is very difficult
  • we can reuse many plastic products if we are mindful
  • our fur-kids eat a lot!

Bad habits we have changed

  • buy cat food in bulk where possible and for raw meat freeze in small portions
  • buy other products in bulk as well – the hemp seed bag lasted us a few months
  • buy vegetables (other than my weekly veggie box) from markets and suppliers that do not package in plastic, regardless of the extra effort and time
  • use my coffee cup for Beer Bay takeaway drinks on the ferry
  • look for products in alternative packaging such as glass containers or paper

Some owning up and things I’ve learnt from others

Unconscious bad habits tend to be part what we refer to in mindfulness as the minds ‘default mode’.  This is where we do things in a non-attentive and mindless way. For me this was how it is with the toilet paper. You see most (I reckon 80-90%) of our toilet paper options in HK come as individual rolls wrapped in plastic in packs of 10 or 12, also wrapped in plastic. The bad habit I’m confessing to is throwing out the plastic wrap from the new roll with the empty toilet roll…..ok don’t leave me now, there is more to this story!

I only became aware of this bad habit when other challengers shared their stories and started to explore where to find toilet roll that doesn’t come individually wrapped.

I’ve also found out that my beloved ‘yogi tea’ comes in paper wrappers that are lined with plastic!  So I’ll be seeking out a new brand, probably loose leaf, after we finish the stock we have.

Another recent finding that may readers may now be aware of is that cardboard takeaway coffee cups are also lined with plastic.  Does that make you mad…?  This was from the film Bag It.

These are a few of my reflections. You can read more about this on the facebook page.

Will you take up the challenge?

You can find out more about the challenge and others stories at the dedicated facebook group.  If you do go ahead we hope you will share your story and images on that page. Our collective stories and images are a powerful tool to demand change from supermarkets, legislators and manufacturers.

Be the change you want to see.

Feature image: Courtesy of Anita Horan