Health & Environment

Hong Kong Sevens rolls out reusable pint cup initiative to combat plastic waste

With "Tackling Waste" as the slogan for this year’s green initiatives, Hong Kong Rugby Union has partnered with the The Environmental Protection Department's mascot Big Waster, a character representing food wastage in previous government campaigns.

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) is set to introduce 250,000 reusable pint cups as part of its sixth annual "Green Rugby" campaign, with an aim to cut down on single-plastic use at this year’s Rugby Sevens tournament.

According to the HKRU, around 200 tonnes of waste was produced at the three-day mega-event amongst the 120,000 spectator in attendance in 2013, but the number was down by 100 tonnes as of 2016.

250,000 reusable pint cups has been introduced as part of the sixth annual ‘Green Rugby’ campaign, aiming to reduce single-plastic use at this year’s Rugby Sevens tournament.

This year, patrons would be asked for a HK$10 deposit paid either through cash or Octopus card for a reusable stack cup produced from fully-recycled plastic, which would be subsequently assembled, cleaned, and sanitized for reuse by local social enterprise BottLess over the course of the game and other non-rugby events, according to the HKRU.

Speculators would be asked for a HK$10 deposit paid either through cash or Octopus card for a reusable stack cup, produced from fully-recycled plastic with a lifespan of five years.

The Green Rugby is focused on providing not just a green campaign, but to also aim to work with local companies like Diwash to handle all of their dishware cleaning.

Aside from working with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the Leisure and Cultural Department (LCSD), as well as large mainstream beverage suppliers like Carlsberg and Swire Coco-Cola Hong Kong, the HKRU has also partnered with local sustainability consultancy The Purpose Business to streamline and monitor the operation of the campaign.

Rugby Sevens has partnered with large mainstream beverage suppliers like Swire Coco-Cola Hong Kong and Carlsberg in the implementation of its Green Rugby campaign this year.

Dr. Merrin Pearse represents The Purpose Business based in Hong Kong and the Philippines. One of their main aims is to  reduce waste at the Sevens in 2019.

"This Green campaign is the 6th year running, every year we aim to do something more," said Dr. Pearse.

Dr. Merrin Pearse, head of the The Purpose Team Project Team, said that the success of the reusable pint cup scheme of Green Rugby is evident with speculators using the reusable stack cups to fill water.

In previous years, the Green Rugby campaign has tackled food waste and eliminated plastic straws. This year was the first year it aimed to eliminate single-use plastic.

In 2018, 61 tonnes of general refuse was collected from the event, marking a 48% of reduction from 2017. About 2.1 tonnes of plastic waste was also separated and assembled for recycling at the Stadium.

There are 200 or more volunteers that are aiding the campaign this year, where their sole focus is to oversee the reusable cups, from cash flow management to making sure the cups are recycled properly.

The success so far on the Green Rugby campaign inside Hong Kong stadium is evident with people using the reusable cups to fill water. "The water queues are longer than the beer queue," Dr. Pearse added.

Rugby players Tsoi Kin San, Sam and Pun Wai Yan serve as this year’s green ambassadors for the Green Rugby campaign.

Although day one of the Rugby Sevens is successful Dr. Pearse mentioned that it took many years of continuous effort aiming to tackle waste issues in major sporting events.

"We really need everyone to be on board, like sponsors, the public and the government. It is a lot easier to use single use plastic because it does not require a lot of energy and money," said Dr. Pearse.

Bonnie Tang Man-lam, environmental campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia questioned the effectiveness of the campaign.

"If speculators are allowed to bring their own cups and use the $10 reuse incentive, or they can bring their own cups to the venue, I think this is a more eco-friendly way to tackle waste," said Ms. Tang.

While she also contended that organisers should take the lead in implementing these green policies, the government and sponsors of the game should also join force to make the tournament a more eco-friendly event.

"I think Rugby Sevens has improved a lot [with their waste-tackling campaigns], as compared to the green measures they have implemented during the past few years," Said Ms Tang

Although tackling waste will not be resolved in a single day or year, the Green Rugby campaign has come a long away from previous years especially for eliminating single-use plastic.

Bins are placed inside the venue to recycle used plastic jugs, while the reusable stack cups will be collected by social enterprise BottLess for future usage.

Rendering the measure eco-friendliness only on the surface, Wong Kong-Chu, a professor and director of the Croucher Institute for Environmental Sciences at the Hong Kong Baptist University, also doubt the effectiveness of the pint cup scheme.

"I think psychologically, it looks like effort has been made [to tackle waste]. But realistically, the cups are still made from recycled plastic, so fundamentally a large amount of new plastic cups had been manufactured," said Professor Wong.

District Council member Yip Hing-kwok also questioned the problems that arises due to the many processes that the cups have to go through before being reused.

"The problem is, even if there is a third party to collect these cups, they have to go through many procedures to clean, sanitize and store the cups for the next function," said Mr. Yip.

Mr. Yip also commented on how the government should lead the way by offering discount incentives for people who purchase cups so they can reuse the cups in the future.

"The audience can use the same cup at different restaurants branches owned by one organisation or company, and these branches can give them discounts or other incentives accordingly if they use the cup."

Comparing the Sevens green initiatives to other mega events such as Taste of Hong Kong and Clockenflap that happened earlier this year. The Sevens is the only event that exclusively promoted a deposit scheme. The other mega events only often promoted an effective way to recycle and water fountains for participants to refill.

The reusable stack cups would be subsequently assembled, cleaned and sanitized for reuse by local social enterprise BottLess during the course of the three-day mega-tournament and other non-rugby events.

Dr. Pearse also explained that the government also needs to help Hong Kong in order to promote more Green initiatives. "The government can support by installing more water fountains."

Hong Kong Rugby Player who is this year’s green ambassador Tsoi Kin-san Sam said that the HKRU really aims to reduce waste not just inside the Hong Kong stadium. "Kings Park and Tin Shui Wai rugby pitches have water fountains that aim to reduce single-use plastic," he added.

The cups are hoping to see daylight soon, at the next 5 years of the Rugby Sevens and in fixtures for the 2019 season in Global Rapid Rugby tournaments. "We aim to eliminate 7 million single use plastic cups in the near future," said Robbie McRobbie, the CEO of the HKRU.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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