One Hong Kong Mom and avid dragon-boater has had enough of the pollution and littered-strewn beaches in Hong Kong. So, she has decided to channel her passions into action with the Green Dragons HK initiative — with the goal to reduce plastic usage one boat race at a time. Here, Suzanne Younan tells her story and calls on us all to make a change.
Did you know that it takes up to 500 years for plastic to degrade? Or that 50% of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away and that the average life of a plastic bag is just 15 minutes? Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century!
These are just some of the facts.
I arrived in Hong Kong from London in April 2014 with my husband, eleven-year-old son and our dog, excited to embark upon a new adventure. I launched into settling us all in; my son into his new school, finding walks for our ‘four-legged son’, generally organizing our lives and finding a place for myself.
Within a few months of our arrival, we were enjoying the outdoors lifestyle and all that Hong Kong has to offer. However, it didn’t take us long to notice the plastic pollution that littered the sea and beaches around the island.
I have always recycled. Even as a young child in the UK when doorstep recycling had not been introduced, I would load up bags of cans and bottles, hang them off my handle bars and cycle into town where the bottle banks and recycling bins were housed. In my young mind this was the way forward and my generation were going to change the world!
After Typhoon Hato the beaches were a mess. My tolerance for the plastic pollution on the beaches and in the sea, reached an all-time low. I had to do something, anything, to help with the problem Hong Kong was facing. So, I joined several beach clean ups but felt this just wasn’t enough. The bandage on a gaping wound. And this was when two ideas melded into one and I came up with an action plan.
Last year, I joined the AWA Globe Paddlers dragon boat team. I met a lot of amazing, fit, talented ladies and had a year of intense training, racing and above all a lot of fun. Dragon boat racing is the fastest growing sport in the world. And as training and races are held on the local beaches, I saw an opportunity to influence the dragon boat community to become an active partner in encouraging reduction of single use plastics and cleaning up plastic waste on the beaches.
So, I started doing my research. I had a meeting with Plastic Free Seas, an amazing environmental organization in HK. They work with primary and secondary schools and collaborate with other environmental groups. And I put my ideas to the American Women’s Association and my team The AWA Globe Paddlers.
My goal is to eliminate single use plastic bottles from the dragon boat races/regattas and the beaches with the help of the dragon boat community.
I’ve put together an action plan:
Action 1. I’ve asked my team to ‘make a pledge’ to turn green and be ambassadors for our green movement.
- A simple pledge where we all agree to bring reusable water bottles to training and races. Refusing wherever possible to use single use plastic.
- To take our own food to races in reusable containers or purchase take away food from the outlets that are environmentally aware and do not use plastic or Styrofoam containers/cutlery.
- And pledge to participate in a 10/20 min beach clean up after each practice to keep our home beach clean.
Action 2. To extend this pledge to other dragon boat teams. I am reaching out to all teams to join us. So far, the response has been very positive and we are hoping to co-ordinate events with other teams to raise awareness.
Action 3. Create awareness in the wider community. We now have a ‘Green Dragons HK’ Facebook page so that people can join our initiative and learn more about what we are doing. There is a lot of information about what is going on in the world and here in Hong Kong. It’s early days, but we hope this avenue will help raise awareness.
We already have a few collaborations with many other organizations that have fantastic initiatives underway; HKU Plastic Free Seas, WWF HK, Tsunami, The Jane Goodall Institute. We are looking to collaborate with many more.
Action 4. My ultimate goal is to support and encourage the dragon boat race organizers to make all races as “green” as possible, meaning:
- No more single use bottles first and foremost.
- Provide large water barrels or alternative clean water solutions for the participants of the race.
- Request the sponsors limit plastic freebies; and assist the sponsors with the green message.
- Find innovative ways of reducing waste and rubbish that ultimately ends up on the beach and in the sea at the end of a race day.
We, as a community, wish to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem. And I will continue to raise awareness and try to expand this initiative to people who truly care about their environment and love Hong Kong — it’s no longer about RECYCLING but about REDUCTION. We have to start somewhere.
Even if you aren’t affiliated with a team, there are still things you can do to make a difference and every little bit helps!
- Use reusable shopping bags and fruit and vegetable bags
- Install a water filter at home
- Stay NO to straws and plastic cutlery
- Speak to restaurant and hotel managers about their use of plastic and changing their policies
Join our commitment to cleaning up Hong Kong. Visit our Facebook Page Green Dragons HK. We would be delighted to have you join us, spread the word, clean up our beaches and waters — and generally make a difference in your daily choices.
‘If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito’ – Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop.