Last year, 11 Hong Kong women from the Tatler community joined forces to fight one of our world’s most pressing issues: single-use plastics. Known collectively as EcoDrive Hong Kong, they've been running outreach and education programmes at Hong Kong schools, private members clubs and local sports teams to reduce their plastic footprint (and that's just the start). In our latest series, get to know these 11 inspirational women who are making Hong Kong a greener place. Up next is Angela Cheng-Matsuzawa, co-founder of PunchDetox and now, eco-warrior:

Why and how did you decide to become one of the founders of EcoDrive?

It was really Yolanda Choy-Tang who brought us all together. After chatting with her about my dream of Hong Kong sorting garbage like Japan, I thought, maybe it doesn’t have to be a dream. Maybe with the support of this passionate group, we can highlight something that’s usually forgotten, pushed aside, and regarded as a dirty business. 

Tell us about your personal background when it comes to environmental issues.

To be honest, I haven’t done anything when it comes to environmental issues recently. When I worked at Stella McCartney, I was educated on the animal abuse that occurs in fur or exotic skin farms and the importance of her vegan line of fashion.

When I was at L’Oreal, I was informed about the difference between chemical and natural ingredients and why some is necessary and some is not. I was also told about which countries require animal testing and which countries don’t.

And over 30 years ago, I was inspired after spending a year in Australia to start an Environmental Club at German Swiss International School in the 90’s. I can still remember Mrs. Peart, the then geography teacher, screaming at a school assembly, at the students, about the mystery of a diaper placed in the paper recycling collection cage, thus contaminating the collection.  

But that’s just it, isn’t it? The issues never go away and new ones arise. After seeing the film A Plastic Ocean with Yolanda again and viewing our own film Start Small Start Now, it’s even more clear than before that we must not give up. We have to continue to raise awareness and educate as much as we can.

Watch: "Start Small, Start Now" here

Why are you passionate about reducing single-use plastics?

At first, I had faith in recycling. When told of the extreme low recycling rates, the lack of compatibility with garbage collection logistics planning and routing, and the dire view of the economics of recycling businesses in Hong Kong, I became less hopeful with recycling being the solution. And given that virgin plastic material is needed for each round of recycled plastic production, it’s easy to conclude that for plastic waste management, recycling is NOT the answer. Reduction is. 

But plastics are not all bad, often times much needed, like as medical and emergency supplies.  

So we focus on single-use plastics because currently over five million PET bottles are thrown out in HK daily. Surely that’s not necessary. We focus on single-use plastics because we believe people can change their habits on how they use plastics, once they realize the true cost of convenience.

What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to plastics usage in HK?

Unique to Hong Kong? Umbrella bags, bread bags, fruit socks and the triple plastic wrapped fruits. I know we live in a humid climate, but apples don’t need plastic wrapping.  

Also, all the extravagant packaging for gifts. I like gifts as much as the next person, but I do not need the outer box to be five times the size of the actual gift so extra plastic padding is almost certainly needed.

What actions have you taken in your own life and/or business to help reduce plastic waste?

For my own daily life, it’s really about creating a new habit and my new one is if I don’t need it, I should only be allowed to consumer it in a single-use plastic free manner.

So, if I want a coffee, I either give the baristas my own reusable coffee cup or I chose a café that actually serves coffee in proper ceramics that’s of course reusable. And if neither is available, I don’t have the coffee. There is need and there is want. If it’s just want, then let’s skip the single-use plastics!

Business-wise, I was so guilty, but I learned. In the past, Punch Detox has produced a lot of plastic bottles. And now I know, that even though our bottles were 100% biodegradable, Hong Kong’s landfill conditions are not favorable to that and therefore not allow for any biodegradable products to properly degrade in an oxygen- and sunlight-lacking environment. Now, Punch Detox only take made-to-order business for large groups where they provide us with their own bottles.   

Next time you are in front of a selection of drinks and you need to drink something other than water, pick something in a can or glass bottle. The recycling rates for those materials are slightly higher and they won’t get into the food chain as much as plastics would because little fishies can’t take a bite off of them!

Plastic seems to be a necessary evil in our modern world. Given that, what do you think is the future of plastic? Can we really live without it?

I wouldn’t call it evil. I think it’s magical. Plastic is an extremely useful substance that has saved hundreds and thousands of lives in the medical world, allowed us to be creative in product development with its mouldability and given cheaper options to populations that need them.  

But with great magic powers come great responsibilities. When used unnecessarily, serving us only briefly, plastic waste can become evil. Did you really need that plastic stirrer for two seconds for the cream in your coffee this morning? Or 20 years ago? Guess what, both stirrers are still here somewhere on earth right now… So I hope for a world in the future where plastics are used responsibly.

What are some tips you have for everyone to reduce single-use plastics?

We are really talking about a change in habit, so I recommend #startsmallstartnow.

Plastic straws are easy to quit; you always have your lips! And think: two straws a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks—that’s 728 straws a year! Be firm about it. Tell your waiter.  If s/he forgets, don’t be mean about it, but let him/her know. Do it often so it’s normalised. Once that becomes a habit, then move on to something else.

  1. Bring your own water bottle
  2. Make sure your Q-tips are plastic free
  3. Choose a banana over packaged snacks
  4. Try a bamboo toothbrush
  5. Only shop when you have shopping bags
  6. Say no thanks to useless free plastic promotional items
  7. Try out shampoo and body bar soaps
  8. Don’t print on mixed material like laminated paper
  9. Use loose tealeaves instead of tea bags
  10. Use drawings as decorations instead of balloons for birthday parties
  11. Contact us for more ideas.

See also: 11 Eco-Essentials For A Plastic-Free Life

Are there any other ways that we can protect the environment?

Keep learning is the best way. Ask questions when you can. Be curious. I find that you can’t ask people to change unless they want to. And people want to change when they become knowledgeable about the problem and passionate about affecting change.  So if you are already passionate, then continue to be and raise the awareness around you. If you are just hearing about a specific issue, feel free to be a skeptic about it and keep researching and asking questions to find out more. Encourage the discussion. Make it a headline as much as possible.  

What other causes are you passionate about?

It’s probably not a secret that I am a fan of clean eating (which also happens to usually be less packaged) and I do love my dogs, cats and other animal friends. I support #adoptdontshop for pet ownership and certainly cruelty-free food, cosmetics and other products.  

It’s hard to be 100% pure, but I encourage people to try. It's about progress, not perfection!

Could you recommend some of your favourite anti-plastic products? 

I am a fan of our fellow friend Sherry’s way of using things that you already have! So a lot of the tote bags, bread bags are just bags that I have received in the past as gifts or shopping packages. It's really quite fancy to get bread with Christian Louboutin shoe bags...

For other products, I currently use the shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush, but am excited to try other once finished. My face cleanser is now the Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar…My water bottles and reusable coffee cups are from S’Well (proud business school classmate of founder Sarah Kauss I am), Lion Rock Press from Claire Yates and a glass bottle from bKR I got from Lane Crawford. 

Containers I have plastic, glass and silicone ones from LexnGo and Pyrex. I also use reusable Bamboo Cotton Makeup Remover Pads (from Fishpond) and sometimes a Diva Cup (@Livelylifehk) and lastly I get my Q tips from Muji—they're simple and plastic free and you can even choose stylish black ones.

See also: Where To Get Eco-Friendly Beauty Products In Hong Kong

Styling: Grace Lam | Hair: Alex Chan | Makeup: Megumi Sekine | Clothing: EcoDrive T-shirt, grey jacket by Theory 

See also: Start Small, Start Now: Introducing EcoDrive Hong Kong

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