Break-ups are never easy, especially on a rainy day. But fear not, it’s not your loved one that you should ditch, but the disposable umbrella bags that you use when you enter a building on a rainy day!
Whenever it rains, it is heart-breaking (but not surprising) to see the mountains of plastic umbrella bags overflowing from rubbish bins in shopping malls and along the streets of Hong Kong. According to a survey conducted by environmental organisation Greeners Action, more than 14 million disposable plastic umbrella bags are used and discarded in Hong Kong during a rainy season, involving 90% of all properties in Hong Kong. These statistics are clearly a cause for concern.
Like much of the world’s discarded plastic, the majority of these bags, which are non-biodegradable, will surely make their way into landfills, or worse yet, be discarded inappropriately and end up polluting the environment. Light in weight, these bags are easily blown around, ending up in our rivers and oceans, where they become potential “killers” of the environment. We use them for maybe 30 minutes, but it takes 450 years for them to decompose. Is it really worth it?
Many environmental groups have pointed out that plastic pollution is a serious problem in Hong Kong, with more than 2,300 tonnes of plastic disposed of in landfills every day, which is equivalent to the weight of about 155 double-decker buses. In an interview with Channel 823, Greeners Action Executive Director Angus Ho said, “The three landfills currently in use in Hong Kong (in Tseung Kwan O, Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun) have in fact been full for a long time, and the country parks nearby and valuable land resources are now being sacrificed to expand the landfills. It is urgent to stop using disposable umbrella bags.”
To reduce single-use plastics and lessen their impact on the environment, Link launched the “Bid Farewell to Plastic Umbrella Bags” campaign, which began on 1 February, across its portfolio including 75 shopping centres in Hong Kong, to reduce waste at its source.
Link is the first mall operator in Hong Kong to announce a complete ban on the use of plastic umbrella bags. Link General Manager of Property Management Jeff Mau said, "This green initiative was implemented in two phases. We took the lead in January this year to implement the first phase, selecting 24 of our shopping malls without air-conditioning or with relatively low footfall as a trial to help us understand the impact on shoppers. After this phase went smoothly, we proceeded to roll out the second phase in February across all 75 of our shopping centres.”
If there are no more plastic umbrella bags distributed in malls, how are we supposed to deal with our wet umbrellas? To ensure a risk-free shopping environment during the rainy season, Link has invested an additional $1.3 million to purchase eco-friendly equipment, including blower fans and umbrella dryers. It has also provided secured carpeting near entryways and arranged for additional on-duty staff to ensure that floors are kept dry and safe. Thanks to these measures, Link has made it possible to “break up” with these disposable bags relatively painlessly!
“Our umbrella dryer has powerful water absorption capabilities and can remove most of the water on one umbrella in the blink of an eye,” said Jeff. “How? Simply put your umbrella into an umbrella dryer and gently shake it back and forth a few times to dry it out. As a piece of equipment that requires no electric power, the umbrella dryer is also environmentally friendly and won’t increase carbon emissions.”
When asked about how hygienic these dryers are, Jeff said, “Don't worry, we regularly clean and disinfect the water-absorbing fibres inside the umbrella dryer every day to prevent bacterial growth.”
Link’s Yu Chui Shopping Centre located in Sha Tin was one of the pilot projects in the first phase of the campaign. The Cleaning Foreman of Yu Chui Shopping Centre, Pan Xi-yuan, noticed that since the campaign began in January, about 80%–90% of visitors use the umbrella dryer, with the remaining using their own umbrella bags to wrap up their umbrellas. This clearly reflects the success of the campaign and is a big win for the environment. In addition, it has reduced the workload of frontline employees.
“In the past, when it rained, the trash took less than an hour on average to fill up with umbrella bags,” noted Pan Xi-yuan. “We had to constantly empty the bins and wipe the floors around them to ensure the safety of shoppers. With this new initiative, our mall has undoubtedly become greener, and we also have more time for other cleaning tasks to ensure a dry and safe shopping environment.”
Greeners Action welcomed and supported Link in its efforts to take the lead in stopping the distribution of plastic umbrella bags. Executive Director Angus Ho said, “Since Link operates so many malls in Hong Kong, its efforts to stop the distribution of disposable plastic umbrella bags will surely reduce single-use plastics. Link has clearly implemented and put into action this concrete green measure, rather than a gimmicky activity, to tackle the environmental problem of plastic pollution. Its leadership in this area will no doubt demonstrate and promote the value of stopping the use of disposable umbrella bags.”
He urged other commercial organisations and property management companies to follow suit.
Using a plastic umbrella bag is not the only way to prevent water from dripping umbrellas. In fact, there are many more environmentally responsible ways to achieve the same goal. In addition to umbrella dryers, blower fans and umbrella stands, below are some excellent ideas.
Umbrellas are must-have items in summer, but they can get damaged easily in Hong Kong’s sometimes blustery conditions. Do you have a disused umbrella lying around the house somewhere? Here’s the chance to give it a second life! In this issue of Channel 823, we DIY an upcycled umbrella bag with you using a disused umbrella.
1 unwanted umbrella
1 old towel
1 container of fabric glue
Stationery (pen, marker pen, scissors, ruler)
1. Pick out an old umbrella that has a fabric you like and clean it. Separate it from the umbrella frame carefully using scissors (the separated metal umbrella frame can be recycled).
2. Depending on the size of the umbrella you want to make a holder for, measure and cut the umbrella fabric to shape with a pair of scissors (for a foldable umbrella you’ll need a piece of fabric measuring about 30 cm x 26 cm).
3. Measure and cut an old towel into a rectangle slightly smaller than the umbrella fabric rectangle you just cut (for a foldable umbrella that would be approximately 26 cm x 22 cm).
4. Place the towel in the centre of the umbrella fabric and stick the fabric and towel together using fabric glue.
5. Apply the glue along the four exposed sides of the umbrella cloth and fold them onto the towel. Hold the fabric together using clips until the glue dries.
6. Shape the material into an umbrella holder by creating a cylinder that is the right size for the umbrella you want to hold and using fabric adhesive to glue the sides and bottom in place.
7. Affix a ribbon around the open end of the bag using fabric glue.
8. After the glue dries, you can put in the umbrella and tie the ribbon.
With these eight simple steps that take less than 15 minutes, you can make your very own stylish, eco-friendly umbrella bag with a waterproof outer layer and an absorbent inner layer. It is very convenient to use and easy to dry when you get home so you can use it again and again!
With all these useful tips on how to survive your “break-up” with single-use disposable plastic umbrella bags, you can now confidently end your relationship with them in the coming rainy season.
(1) The finding was revealed on 31 August 2018 by Greeners Action, which conducted the survey in 2017.
(2) According to an article published in June 2018 in the Chinese edition of National Geographic titled “Plastic Hazard”.
(3) Data from “Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong 2018” conducted by the Environment Protection Department in 2019.
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