Zero-COVID policy adds to Hong Kong's waste problem

STORY: From remote controls wrapped in cellophane, to pillows encased in plastic bags.

Right now, new arrivals into Hong kong are met by single-use plastic everywhere they turn.

The city is one of the few places that holds to a zero-COVID policy, which means travellers are required to quarantine in a hotel on arrival.

The policy's been criticised not only for the impact on mental health and the economy, but environmentalists say it also leads to excess waste.

Skincare entrepreneur Clementine Vaughan flew into Hong Kong this month.

"All the kind of surfaces that typically you would touch with your hands, like the phones, you know, the remote controllers, everything's been cellophane wrapped."

"The meals arrive three times a day, so morning, lunch, dinner. And they are all provided in a plastic bag."

According to government figures, Hong Kong disposes of more than 2,300 tonnes of plastic waste a day, and with a recycling rate of just 11%, most of it ends up in landfill sites.

"This disposable face mask is made of plastic. And over time, it will eventually become micro-plastics, and will get into the ocean."

Edwin Lau is an environmentalist from charity The Green Earth.

He says Hong Kong’s approach to COVID reflects its lack of environmental awareness, arguing that plastics from quarantine hotels should be reused or recycled.

"People living in the quarantine hotels, they are not confirmed cases. They are coming from overseas, so they need to quarantine before they can go back to the community, so what they have used, just like any normal persons, are clean."

Hong Kong’s strict quarantine policies are intended to halt COVID-19 at the border.

A government spokesperson said officials were aware of a surge in disposable waste since COVID began, and urged people to adapt a green lifestyle as far as possible.

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