Eco Warriors: Jennifer Wang-Fang of EcoDrive Hong Kong
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 Jennifer Wang-Fang, committee member for Adventist Hospital’s Women of Hope and budding eco-warrior:
Why and how did you decide to become one of the founders of EcoDrive?
My friend Yolanda Choy-Tang was posting a lot of photos on social media and I was commenting so much that she invited me to join her crusade to fight plastic pollution in Hong Kong. We agreed that our efforts must make a significant impact to improve the plastic crisis in Hong Kong. I'm learning more and more about the issues each day, and feel that I can be a contributor as well as an influencer to improve Hong Kong for future generations.
Tell us about your personal background when it comes to environmental issues.
I come from a traditional family where we were taught not to be wasteful with resources. My dad uses a pencil until the length is just shorter than his pinky and when we were kids, mum gave us a three-sheet maximum for toilet paper.
Just over five years ago, I did a huge detox for my own health and made my home and family chemical free. Any type of chemical is harmful to one's health as well as the environment. If you abuse your body when you are young, no money or power can get it back after you have damaged it severely. Similarly, we all need to do our part in saving resources and reducing pollution, because there is no Planet B.
Why are you passionate about reducing single-use plastics?
It's so easy to replace—people are not aware and don't realise the harm it's doing to our planet and ourselves. With education and a willingness to make small behavioural changes, we can collectively make a huge impact.
In Hong Kong, five million plastic water bottles are sent to landfill daily, with only 6% being recycled. If each of the 7 million residents in Hong Kong used their own reusable water bottle or installed a water filter instead of buying one plastic bottle a day, we wouldn't have this huge problem.
Hong Kong has two endangered species—the White Chinese Dolphin and the Green Turtle—that are swimming in plastic-infested waters, and dangerously close to becoming extinct. Researchers found that 60% of Hong Kong mullet fish contain microplastic, which has been linked to many metabolic diseases as well as early childhood neurological development disorders when ingested.
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to plastics usage in HK?
I wish both providers and customers would stop using takeout cups, plates, and utensils for dining in. Also, not to give or take a plastic bag for only one item purchased at supermarkets and fast food chains. Why do you need a plastic bag for one cup of soda?
What actions have you taken in your own life and/or business to help reduce plastic waste?
Until I joined EcoDrive, I didn't really pay attention to my plastic usage, but afterwards, I realised that there were so many things I could replace and so many ways I could change my habits slightly to make a difference. After a week, it became routine, just like making sure my wallet and keys are in my handbag.
I keep a set of collapsible boxes, utensils, and stainless steel straws in my car. I don't carry it in my bag, but it's there if I need it. If we go out to eat at Chinese restaurants, we always bring our stackable stainless container set as we know it's highly likely to have leftovers.
The part that makes me the happiest is when my husband, kids, and helpers make these choices, too--though I did have to nag and remind them the first month. Behavioural psychologists say that habits are formed if repeated for 21 consecutive days.
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?
We can't completely live without plastic, as it saves lives as well. Cars, computers, safety helmets, hospital equipment... are all made of plastic. It's single-use plastics that need to be eliminated or replaced. Something that is only used for a few minutes—you can live without. If it really must be used, I hope that these cheap yet indestructible plastics can be replaced with more innovative biodegradable products that also don’t waste existing natural resources.
What are some tips you have for everyone to reduce single-use plastics?
Reuse: Keep one reusable bag in your handbag and a few in each car. Use the leftover takeaway containers for meat and seafood at the wet market or supermarket. Use newspaper to line garbage bins.
Rethink: Buy ice cream in a cone rather than cup with a plastic spoon. Sherry Fung, my good friend and EcoDrive co-founder, shared an awesome tip. Instead of buying a fancy branded "bread bag", just wash some cloth shoe bags that come with new shoes, and use those as bread bags.
Refuse: Buy in bulk or refillable containers rather than individually-packaged goods. Don't take the airline toiletry kits and free cosmetic samples.
As I become increasingly aware of the issues, I try to be more mindful about my decisions. Nobody is perfect and nobody can do it all at once, and we can't save the world overnight. So, just go at pace and way you feel most comfortable. There is no right or wrong, as long as you choose to do something.
Are there any other ways that we can protect the environment?
Getting involved with EcoDrive has opened up my eyes to even more pressing global issues. I was surprised to learn that food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. However, wasted food that is composted can be used as fertiliser to enrich the soil.
I'm delighted that schools and corporations we work with are also looking into implementing food composters. It's exciting and hopeful that there really are so many responsible and caring organisations in Hong Kong.
What other causes are you passionate about?
I am passionate about helping any underprivileged groups. In Hong Kong, I volunteer for a few NGOs ranging from preparing and serving food to the underprivileged elderly, visiting and spending time with cage home residents, fundraising to provide health care to those who can't readily access it, reading books to children to those who would otherwise not have the experience of storytelling at home or school, among others.
In Taiwan, I am actively involved with two charities founded by my family. Hong Dao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation, promoting community care for seniors; and Hong Yu Social Welfare Foundation, serving children with developmental challenges.
Could you recommend some of your favourite anti-plastic products?
We encourage people to reuse what resources they have, and not to buy and create more waste. But if you need:
Think Sport bottles (insulated, light, shape makes an easier grip) and Fixx electrolyte tablets (to replace bottled Gatorade, Pocari, Aquarius, etc) from Escapade Sports. We are collaborating with them for our Green Sports Team Pledge (available at Escapade).
Soaper Delights—laundry bar soap, hair/face/body bar soap, shampoo bars, dishwashing soap bars, and upcycled reusable umbrella bag made locally by St James Settlement Upcycling Center.
Styling: Grace Lam | Hair: Alex Chan | Makeup: Megumi Sekine | Clothing: EcoDrive T-shirt, grey jacket by Loro Piana
See also: Start Small, Start Now: Introducing EcoDrive Hong Kong