Like in most parts of the world, plastics in Hong Kong are becoming the stuff of environmental nightmares. Since the world began producing plastics at scale about 70 years ago, they have come to epitomise the dire, unsustainable heart of the Anthropocene, the era in which humans have assumed the power to change the world before recognising the implications. With the fossil fuels that are dangerously lifting global temperatures, we have celebrated the benefits they bring without giving adequate thought to the embedded harm that must be managed.

Plastic production has soared from 2 million tonnes a year in 1950 to more than 400 million tonnes a year today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a September 2018 report estimated that just 9 per cent of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste generated since 1950 has been recycled, with 12 per cent incinerated and about 80 per cent left to accumulate in landfills, or to drift remorselessly into our oceans.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, we are adding about 8 million tonnes of plastic to our oceans every year. Some predict that plastics will by 2050 make up more of the biomass of the oceans than fish. And for anyone who has seen the alarming Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, you may be wondering just how much plastic we already consume whenever we eat fish.

Even as we now realise the scale of the problems we have created, we are only on the nursery slopes of finding solutions. While there is modest hope of progress being made with plastic bottles, or the elimination of plastic straws, as public awareness and concern rises, there is a grim and growing realisation that many forms of plastic simply cannot be recycled.

As Hong Kong is a regional laggard in recycling (Taiwan and South Korea perform far better in terms of how little they waste, and how effectively they recycle), the initiative offers potential to improve Hong Kong’s performance.