23 October 2016
Our city disposes of over 9,000 tonnes of waste a day. Can we do the environment a favor by buying less, using less and wasting less? Photo: HKEJ
Our city disposes of over 9,000 tonnes of waste a day. Can we do the environment a favor by buying less, using less and wasting less? Photo: HKEJ

Are you just paying lip service to environmental protection?

I am quite pessimistic about the willingness of Hongkongers to take action to protect our planet.

The average person will normally support the idea, but it’s doubtful how many of us actually walk the talk.

We have all heard that the ice at the poles is melting, but Hong Kong is probably the only place on Earth that leaves the air conditioners on most of the time during winter, on buses and in the ubiquitous shopping malls.

Marine species are disappearing and harvests declining, yet these facts don’t bother the foodies filling the restaurants.

Hongkongers will probably continue to be among the world’s biggest consumers of seafood.

Water conservation, too, seems to be the last thing on people’s minds.

Taps are usually fully turned on when people wash their hands or do the dishes.

In public toilets, taps are set to run for 20-30 seconds before they are automatically turned off. A tremendous amount of water is often wasted.

Recycling has never really taken root in our city. Buying second-hand stuff is not part of Hong Kong’s culture, where people prefer brand new items.

When home owners renovate, the usual way is to tear down everything.

Our quest for chic electronic gadgets seems never-ending; not a few of us switch to the latest model of mobile phone every year.

A Consumer Council report released last month sums up in easy-to-read numbers the attitude of Hongkongers toward environmental protection.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents to its survey strongly agree or agree that they buy energy-efficient appliances.

Almost 70 percent favor the idea of carrying their own reusable shopping bag instead of using disposable plastic ones.

The report attributed the high scores to economic benefits. 

Looks like we want to buy energy-efficient appliances more for the sake of saving money — saving the Earth is just a bonus.

The same for plastic bags. I still remember people asking for extra shopping bags all the time at the cashier.

Now, even though it costs only 50 HK cents (6.5 US cents) per bag, that’s enough to change the behavior of many penny-pinchers.

Not surprisingly, the council’s study finds lower support for things that require extra effort or entail a change in lifestyle.

A meager 6 percent strongly agree that they buy organic food or food labeled eco-friendly.

Just 7 percent of respondents strongly agree that they check whether skin-care products contain polluting ingredients, and only 9 percent strongly support buying products with simple, environmentally friendly packaging.

Barely 13 percent strongly support recycling, and a mere 8 percent of respondents say they will reduce traveling by plane as much as they can for the sake of the environment.

The survey also studied corporate behavior toward environmental protection.

Out of 100 companies sampled, just 40 percent mentioned environmental protection policies in their annual reports, and in most cases, it was nothing more than a brief description.

Unless consumers are more discerning and show their preference for “green” products, or the government is willing to offer incentives, company managers are unlikely to take the initiative to look after our environment.

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EJ Insight writer

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