After dining ban due to Covid-19, takeaway waste clogs Hong Kong's pavements, parks and waterways

A staff member hands takeaway food to a customer at a restaurant in Hong Kong, on July 20, 2020.
A staff member hands takeaway food to a customer at a restaurant in Hong Kong, on July 20, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - A deluge of rubbish from takeaway containers and disposable cutlery is clogging the streets and parks of Hong Kong as coronavirus restrictions on dining in restaurants eat away at the city's capacity to dispose of its garbage.

The dining restrictions in the China-ruled Asian financial hub ban eating in any outlet after 6pm. At other times of the day, restaurants can operate only at half-capacity and with two people per table.

As a result, plastic from eating out has doubled from last year, since takeaway food is the only option for many people who do not cook at home. Hundreds of thousands of people in the crowded city live in compact apartments with tiny or non-existent kitchens.

Pavements in residential and office areas are littered with styrofoam boxes and coffee cups spilling out from bins, while plastic bags and wrappers are seen floating at popular swimming sites.

"For many people, the biggest issue is they don't deal with their own waste on a daily basis so they aren't realising the scale of their own consumption," said Ms Tracey Read, founder of Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong.

The city's residents are consuming more than 101 million disposable plastic items for takeaway every week, according to environmental group Greeners Action, more than double the amount discarded last year.

Hong Kong's government said existing landfills will reach capacity this year, and in June it announced it was disposing of human graves to further extend one site.

Single-use plastic tableware is one of the top 10 categories of marine litter in Hong Kong, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

"Emerging food delivery online platforms are definitely one of the contributors exacerbating the severity of the problem," said Ms June Wong, an executive at the World Wildlife Fund, who focuses on marine litter and plastic.

 
 

WWF-Hong Kong is working with delivery companies, Deliveroo and Foodpanda, to combat disposable plastic cutlery.

The government is promoting the minimal use of disposable tableware “wherever practicable”, such as not asking for plastic bags or disposable tableware when ordering takeaways, an official said.

A waste charging bill, proposed over a decade ago and aimed at tackling soaring waste, was put off the legislative agenda again in June due to time constraints.

Mr Edwin Chau, executive director at the Green Earth, a non-government organisation, said the city needs much stronger measures, such as expanding a plastic collection and recycling scheme to all districts and a landfill ban for plastic.

"Hong Kong cannot not afford to keep ignoring its own waste crisis," he said.