Thank you to the SCMP for publishing a letter to the editor from Dana Winograd (Plastic Free Seas) and Suzanne Younan (Green Dragons Hong Kong) about the lack of recycling at the Stanley Dragon Boat Warm Up races on June 3, 2023.
You can read the shortened published piece here, and the original version below for a better understanding of the situation.
No excuse for events to skip recycling
Hong Kong has held dragon boat races for centuries, and recycling has been available in Hong Kong since the 1990s. So why did we observe a complete lack of effective recycling at the recent dragon boat races in Stanley?
At an event with more approximately 700 participants, most of whom needed to drink water continuously throughout the gruelling competition in the hot sun, only a small number of general waste bins were provided – and one single bag set up for recycling, plus one water refilling station which ran out of water before the end of the event.
As the co-founder of a registered charity focusing on plastic waste reduction, and the founder of an organisation encouraging waste reduction amongst dragon boat teams, we have both witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of plastic waste on the environment. Plastic waste today also affects our own bodies: it is being found in our lung tissue, our blood, in our breast milk, in the food we eat, and in the water we drink.
At the latest Dragon Boat race in Stanley, we had planned to spend the day engaging with participants about the need to reduce waste and recycle what we can. Upon learning about the lack of recycling, we decided to take action. By the end of the day, we collected approximately 3,000 plastic beverage bottles and 1,550 cans, many from rubbish bags and bins, and took them at our own expense to the Green@Community station in Wan Chai.
Considering the existing requirements to apply for a government permit when hosting a dragon boat race, it should be very straightforward to require proper handling of waste at these events, and stop recyclable materials from going to landfill. Why does the government provide waste collection for these events through their contractors, but no recycling collection?
We encourage teams, organisers, sponsors, and authorities
to work together and take defined actions to reduce the enormous waste produced by such events.
While we call upon the government to take the lead, every stakeholder in such large events has a responsibility.
Organisers should routinely provide refill stations for reusable water bottles, with sufficient supply for a long, hot day; clearly labelled and prominently displayed recycling bins and bags, enough to handle the waste of such a large event; separate recycling bins for plastic bottles and metal cans; rubbish bins for general waste; and clear communication both before and during the event to ensure that minimising waste is a priority.
Sponsors should demand to know how waste will be handled at the event before they commit to sponsoring, and provide the resources to manage it correctly.
Teams should minimise the waste they create on event day. A commitment to ‘paddle without plastic’ such as Green Dragons HK promotes, helps remind team members to bring their own bottles and avoid drinks in disposable containers. Teams can bring along different colour rubbish bags, or use cardboard boxes, to enable participants to easily separate their waste at the tent instead of using one rubbish bag for all waste.
Individual participants and guests should bring reusable bottles and food containers, and separate their waste correctly; if there are no facilities, bring the recyclables home to dispose of them properly. We applaud the effort that a few of the teams and participants made – you know who you are!
We cannot afford to continue down this path of environmental destruction. It is time for everyone to take action and protect our environment and the health of our citizens.
What can you do?
As a dragon boat race participant/team, you can:
- Bring your own reusable water bottle and food containers to minimise waste.
- If there is insufficent water refills available, or none, write a letter to the organiser.
- If you drink a lot of electrolytes, consider buying a tub of powder and mixing your own drinks instead of buying it in single-use plastic bottles or sachets.
- If there are no or inadequate convenient recycling stations, write a letter to the organiser.
- If there is no place to recycle your waste, take it home with you.
- Bring different colour bags to enable your team to keep their recyclables separate from the general waste at your tent. IKEA bags are good for this purpose, but a cardboard box will do.
As an organiser:
- Plan ahead. Read the government’s guide for waste reductiion at large events. There is funded support available. HKQAA offers support funded by the governement’s Recycling Fund, and The Green Earth offers support funded by The Jockey Club Charities Trust.
- Ensure sufficient water refills, and consider providing cold water, or ice.
- Provide adquate recycling stations, and arrange for staff to man the stations.
- Encourage proper waste separation at the tents by the teams. If there are no conveniently located waste bins and recycling bins, provide different coloured bags or boxes for waste and recyclables.
- Communicate well with the teams on proper waste management, before and on the day of the event.
As a sponsor:
- Ensure proper waste management and provision of enough water for the full event by including your expectations in the contract, and provide funding as required. This is your reputation at stake.
- A waste management plan should part of the permit requirements for all large events. The plan should include the provision of water refill station and effective source separation and collection of recyclables.