Mav Li Yip-tung
Despite the government’s effort to promote waste reduction and recycling, 35 per cent of primary schools are still using disposable lunch boxes made of non-degradable materials, a recent research done by environment concern group showed.
Greeners Action, which distributed questionnaires to all primary schools and received 212 responses in March, said that the problem has not been greatly improved over the years due to the lack of full support from the government.
Its website stated that the government should provide primary schools with more resources in building facilities for central or on-site lunch portioning, reducing food waste and the use of disposable lunch boxes and cutlery.
Wong Tai Sin Catholic Primary School, which has about 800 students, uses recyclable lunch boxes provided by its lunch supplier instead of centralised lunch serving.
Ms Rebecca Ip, who teaches at the school and also the lunch coordinator, said they choose two students to serve classmates lunch on every school day.
“But when the students finish their lunch, they put the lunchboxes back with food residues into the lunchbox container, creating food wastage.” she said.
Mrs Tung, a caterer who works for Maxim Group and serves the school, adding that it is a rare situation. “If some lunchboxes are too dirty [oily or stuck with chewing gum], we will throw it away”, she said.
She explained that oil and chewing gum “pollute” the recyclable lunchboxes as they are non-biodegradable.
While Tung Chung Catholic School orders food from a lunch supplier and asks their students to bring their own reusable lunch boxes, Mr Lau Chung-yuen, the principal of the school, said it does not only helps reducing wastage, but also saving parents’ money.
“Most parents in the district are low-income group. The cost cut in not using recyclable lunchboxes can directly go back into parents’ pockets.”
Lee Chun-yin, a primary three student, who uses disposable food container, wooden chopsticks and plastic fork every day said, “My parents work long hours and do not want to waste time to wash my lunch box.”
Ms Chan Oi-mei, mother of Lee, said she is not aware of the adverse environmental impacts, when asked about her son using non-disposable food container and cutlery.
“I would buy him a reusable lunchbox afterwards,” she said.
Ms Ip also commented that environmental protection is not thoroughly and effectively done due to the lack of common sense in the public.
“Many students cannot distinguish the differences between reusable and recyclable energy sources as well as materials,” she said.
Mr Lau said that their school “enthusiastically encourage and educate students the importance of environmental protection.”
“They [students] should start being conscious to the environment and making it as a habit when they are still young,” he said.
When recycling companies collect recyclable materials, they first have to clean them, throwing all the materials of same kind into big shower tank and rinse water on them. After grinding and compressing them into packed pieces so as to fit into a big burner, they apply heat, melt the material sown and remold them as new product.
Checking recycling points in Mongkok, many recycling boxes are filled with different sorts of “pollutants”, including banana peelings in the box for aluminium cans, plastic files in the box for paper and straws in the one for plastic bottles, which may take recycling companies more time and effort in the whole recycling process.
Mr Chan, spokesperson for Hong Kong Recycling Co. Limited, said they would need to take another whole day to separate those “pollutants “from the recyclable materials that they need when collecting them.
“We have been thinking about a more effective way of recycling, but it is so difficult without government’s support and advertisement promotion is unaffordable for us,” he said.
Edited by Chloe So Kit-ying