A pilot government campaign to cut plastic waste at fast-food stalls at Lunar New Year fairs has failed to capture the public’s imagination, an environmental group has found.
According to Greenpeace, customers and some stalls have been reluctant to use reusable bowls and spoons even when they are given out free of charge. As a result, more disposable cutlery and crockery has been dumped at fairs this year than last year.
“The cooked food stalls at the new year fairs are the main source of plastic waste,” said senior campaigner Kate Lin Pui-yi.
“Plastic or paper bowls and plates, stained with grease, cannot be recycled and can only go to landfill.”
Using visitor numbers from last year, on-site counts and interviews, the green group estimated that three major fairs – Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Yuen Long – produced a total of 310,000 items of disposable cutlery and crockery on average a day for the past two days – up 5 per cent from last year’s record of 295,000 items a day.
Under the pilot scheme, different green groups with government funding arranged for visitors and booth operators to get reusable bowls, plates, spoons and forks for free at most of the city’s 15 Lunar New Year fairs. The groups were also responsible for arranging for a cleaning service to wash the utensils.
Greenpeace also found 70 per cent of visitors were unaware of the campaign, and half of those interviewed said they would not use the rental service, for a variety of reasons. Only about 3 per cent of visitors had brought their own utensils, up from less than 1 per cent last year.
But at Victoria Park, the response was lukewarm over the past two days.
Mok Ho-kwong, director of Natural Network, which distributed the reusable items to visitors near fast-food stalls, said operators refused to use the items.
“They only said, ‘no need’, and I did not have a chance to talk to them in detail,” Mok said. “So we can only approach visitors proactively and hand them the items directly.”
On the first day, 74 sets of utensils were handed out for a HK$20 deposit, and 191 sets on the second day, falling short of the group’s daily target of 500 sets.
One operator said she was not able to help.
“If a customer doesn’t give me back the bowl, will I be charged HK$20?” she said. “And our stall is too busy with a lot of staff. We don’t have hands to handle the extra sets of utensils.”
Jimmy Lei Chun-kit said he would not choose the recyclables because he was not sure if they were clean.
“I don’t want to walk a distance to return the bowls and so on,” the 16-year-old said. “It’s so crowded here.”
In Mong Kok, fast-food stall operator Thomas Fung said he was willing to take up the bowls and spoons to sell tofu dessert.
About 500 sets of bowls and spoons were used by his stall in the past two days, he said.
“But the plates [the green group] gave us is too big for snacks like fishballs and our staff could end up serving more than what is charged,” he said.