Health & Environment

Plastic free for marine creatures

The first thing Lin Guan Yi does in everyday morning is to open Facebook page and check orders for glass straws, yet she doesn't sell them for money. Instead, she sells glass straws for the turtles.

Founded in 2016, 4theturtles aims for promoting glass straws to replace plastic straws. Lin, a financial manager, works part-timely for 4theturtles. This Taiwan-based environmentally friendly organization is encouraged by a popular YouTube video in which a turtle’s respiratory tract is inserted by a plastic straw.

Plastic straws and stirrers, along with other plastic products, are listed as top ten categories of coastal floating litter, according to a report published by World Wide Fund (WWF) Hong Kong.

Marine litter has become a hit topic in recent years. In Hong Kong, there’re at least more than ten non-profit organizations which have delivered this issue. Among them WWF Hong Kong plays a leading role.

Started from 2014 by WWF Hong Kong, Costal Watch is a project providing a long-term resolution for marine litter. It focuses on analysing the importance of solving the marine litter problem and raising people’s awareness of being green in order to reduce litter at source.

In “Costal Watch – Turning Tide Against Marine Litter”, its annual research report, WWF Hong Kong pointed out that plastic debris is a huge threat to marine ecosystems.

The Coastal Watch team did surveys in cooperation with local fishing communities. They found that plastic debris makes up most of the marine litter found along Hong Kong shorelines.

“The plastic debris could cause two problems. One is that marine creatures will be entangled by it. Another is that fish consumed plastic, which directly affects the health of the fish and the whole food chain, meaning that human health will be affected,” said Yeung Chung-wing, Project Manager of Coastal Watch.

Although many coastal cleanup activities have been held before the project started, they hardly scratched the surface of the problem.

“In the past several years many volunteers had participated in picking land-based debris and we also collaborate with local farmers to salvage coastal floating litter. However, the result is unsatisfactory because once you picked all them up, tomorrow you’ll see new litter here,” said Dana Winograd.

Winograd is the Operation Director of Plastic Free Seas, a non-government organization also focusing on marine litter issue. Plastic Free Seas is dedicated to change the way people use plastic today, through education and action campaigns.

Since 2013, Plastic Free Seas have worked with more than 50 schools and spoken to over 13,000 students and teachers about the problems and solutions to plastic marine pollution.

Costal Watch is also conscious of the importance of solving the marine litter problem at source. Except for removing marine litter, Costal Watch constructed species checklists and filled in the gaps present in current ecological data.

On January 3, 2017, Costal Watch published its discussion points with Hong Kong government. Five detailed approaches are proposed and there are requirements for the whole society, from Council members to local fishing community.

Using reusable cutlery has been mentioned as an example of addressing priority items, which is the same as what 4theturtles does now.

“As you know that we started this owing to a YouTube video, after we saw that, we started to look for reusable straws, meanwhile, one of our members was also looking for the test tube, that gave us ‘the glass straw’ idea.” Lin Guan Yin said.

The glass straws, developed as substitutes for plastic straws by 4theturtles team, are reusable and easy to clean using the complements developed by the same team.

The glass straw is 21cm long so users must use complementary brush to clean it in order to reuse the glass straw.
The glass straw is 21cm long so users must use complementary brush to clean it in order to reuse the glass straw.

However, there’s still a long way to go. “Sarcastically, most of our family can’t change the habit of using plastic straws. Changing a habit and promoting eco-awareness is really hard,” said Lin.

Reported by Jade Li

Edited by Tracy Zhang

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