Eco Warriors: Julie Lee 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 our very own Julie Lee, Chief Innovation Officer of Edipresse Media and avid environmentalist:
Why and how did you decide to become one of the founders of EcoDrive?
Sustainable development issues didn’t hit me personally until I moved to Hong Kong last year. The moment was cemented when my son was scuba diving in Borneo and asked us to remove a PET bottle that’d gotten stuck in the coral. He said that if everyone saw the beauty of nature then they would take care of it better.
Coming back, I contacted Yolanda Choy-Tang to see how I could get involved in Hong Kong. She asked me to join a lunch at Green Common that she was having with people with shared concerns—that’s when I met Claire Yates and Laura Derry, and the rest is history.
Tell us about your personal background when it comes to environmental issues.
I’ve served on the board of Journeys in Film, a non-profit organisation educating global citizens through film. It’s incredible what a film like Landfill Philharmonic combined with great educational materials can do to create awareness and drive action.
I’ve also worked with UNESCO on broader youth education initiatives including with my last EdTech start up where we curated consumer-lead solutions for water conservation in reaction to the devasting drought that’s impacting most of the world today—simple solutions like turning off the shower when you’re soaping up.
Why are you passionate about reducing single-use plastics?
I think plastic gets a bad rap because it’s so prevalent and light. It is, unfortunately, the primary product that we, as consumers, choose to use & dispose of after single-use. Think about how long you use a plastic straw, takeaway cutleries and containers—used for a few minutes and they’re in the waste system for centuries. Therefore, I feel we have the biggest opportunity to impact by educating for reduction and reuse.
Watch: Start Small, Start Now
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to plastics usage in HK?
That it’s everywhere, especially where it doesn’t belong—on the ground, in the ocean and even alongside plastic receptacles. Plastic provides great convenience for the modern world but we must learn to harness its powers without destroying the world in which we live. There’s no shame in using a plastic bag—just reuse it.
See also: Private Screening Of 'A Plastic Ocean'
What actions have you taken in your own life and/or business to help reduce plastic waste?
You’ll laugh but I carried my favourite water bottle with me when I left the US to make my new home in Hong Kong. The purpose of reusing and recycling is not to get more new things. I try to incorporate this into my lifestyle through the choice to reuse the mugs, bottles, bags, straws and utensils I use every day as much as I can, hence: #startsmallstartnow.
At Hong Kong Tatler, we have zero plastic in our kitchen now thanks to an initiative that one of our editors took to convert to reusables. During our last company party, the team even sent out reminders for the staff to bring reusable containers to take the leftovers.
As a company, we’re integrating sustainability to our core values, starting with the launch of a Sustainability Summit across the region in partnership with EcoDrive.
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?
Plastic is one of the most lightweight and versatile products in the world, and BPA plastic products, in particular, are highly durable and reusable. Once it’s not usable anymore, it can be recycled so I don’t envision a future without it. I believe, however, in a future without single-use plastic. The world is overcrowded and we can do without adding more to our landfill after single-use.
See also: 11 Eco-Essentials For A Plastic-Free Life
What are some tips you have for everyone to reduce single-use plastics?
First, carry a reusable bag or reuse the plastic bag you get from stores. Second, keep a reusable container and utensils in your office (or car) so you can use it for takeaway—I especially like the thermal containers that keep my food hot or cold. Third, ask the restaurant or bar staff to skip the straws. And fourth, get a mesh bag to store produce at the grocery stores instead of using plastic bags.
Are there any other ways that we can protect the environment?
Reduce: I’ve become more conscious about buying less and opting for higher quality products that will last.
Practice moderation: Moderate our consumption in general, including opting to not buy things we don’t need (and end up throwing away).
Find a balance: Fly a lot? Consider using public transit. Always ordering delivery? Skip the single-use utensils. We’re not perfect. It’s about finding a balance that works for you, feeling good about it and doing a little more over time.
See also: 5 Eco Apps For Greener Living
What other causes are you passionate about?
My passions are in education and the environment. Education empowers people to gain knowledge, capacity to ask the tough questions and ability to find solutions enables society to progress. When you combine these with a passion for the environment, it allows society to make sustainable progress.
Could you recommend some of your favourite anti-plastic products?
FEED canvas bags are wonderful. I love the quality and beauty of the product and the simplicity of its message where your purchase translates dollar for dollar to meals for hungry children (mine feed 250 meals to children).
Starbucks has great coffee tumblers, and Swell bottles are well, swell for water. Lock N Lock has great BPA plastic containers that are leak proof. And of course, our co-founder, Claire’s "No Plastic Mm Goi" products are great too.
Styling: Grace Lam | Hair: Alex Chan | Makeup: Megumi Sekine | Clothing: EcoDrive T-shirt, black PVC leather shirt by Maje
See also: Start Small, Start Now: Introducing EcoDrive Hong Kong