Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policies create mountains of plastic waste

HONG KONG, April 19 (Reuters) – Arrivals in Hong Kong encounter plastic everywhere in quarantine hotels: Remote controls are wrapped in cellophane, pillows are locked in plastic bags, food comes with plastic cutlery. plastic.

Hong Kong’s strict quarantine policies – intended to stop COVID-19 at the border and in the community – have been criticized for hurting the economy and mental health. Environmentalists say the policies also harm the environment by generating excess waste.

“Everyone of the staff here is wearing full PPE… the gowns, the gloves, the booties, the hats, and that’s every staff member and on every floor,” said Clementine Vaughan, skincare entrepreneur based in Hong Kong, which flew into the city on April 4.

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“The phones, you know, the remotes, everything was wrapped in cellophane,” she said, speaking to Reuters from her quarantine hotel.

Hong Kong eliminates more than 2,300 tonnes of plastic waste a day, and with a recycling rate of just 11%, according to government figures, most goes to landfill.

A government spokesperson said officials were aware of an increase in disposable waste since the start of COVID, urging people to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle where possible.

Edwin Lau of local environmental group The Green Earth said Hong Kong’s approach to COVID reflected its lack of environmental awareness.

“People living in quarantine hotels, those are not confirmed cases,” Lau said, urging the government to allow recycling or reuse of plastics from quarantine facilities.

Hong Kong, one of the few places to abide by a zero-COVID policy, has quarantined tens of thousands of people this year in facilities for COVID-positive and close contacts.

The facilities compound the waste problem, with residents confirming to Reuters that all meals arrived in plastic bags.

Paul Zimmerman, an elected district councillor, said the facilities are also a waste because they cannot be used long-term, like public housing.

“They were built very quickly… (and are not) to the particular building standards we have in Hong Kong.”

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Reporting by Aleksander Solum; Editing by Tom Hogue

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Bryce K. Locke