Hong Kong is host to many typhoons, black rain storms, and torrential downpours of every variety. All this rain means masses of people wielding umbrellas across our city, and in turn, the deluge of single-use plastic umbrella covers made available in every conceivable building lobby.
These disposable covers are wasteful; promoting them or making them easily available is irresponsible. Hong Kong has a well-documented waste disposal problem. The use of these completely dispensable packaging materials is adding to our grotesque amounts of landfill items and marine debris. In the context of a landscape where recycling facilities are minimal in proportion to the volume of waste created, this is particularly disconcerting.
Surely we can come up with less wasteful ways to prevent drippy umbrellas? It is understandable that malls and office buildings don’t want potentially dangerous puddles indoors, and equally understandable if umbrella users don’t want sopping wet umbrellas with them all day post-use. There are several solutions that don’t involve creating unnecessary waste when entering a building during rainy weather.
Firstly, individuals could act on principle, and simply avoid using the disposable covers. Most umbrellas come with reusable covers at the time of purchase, which could easily be brought from home. If those covers are lost, as is often the case, or if the umbrella didn’t come with one, why not keep an existing plastic bag from home tucked into a pocket or handbag instead of plucking out a new bag from the cover dispensers each time one enters a building? Go home, dry the bag, and reuse it.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, property managers, retailers, and institutions that purchase and put out the automated or manual disposable umbrella cover dispensers in their entrances should stop. Let’s stop waste as close to production as possible instead of shoving that responsibility wholly on users. Umbrella stands can easily be placed in shop entrances. Umbrella-check services with tags available at the concierge (like coat checks) are easy to implement. Barring that, simple signs that ask people to shake the water off their umbrellas outside and a mat inside the building or store entrance would probably take care of most drips.
Systemic changes and individual actions can have a big impact on our waste situation in Hong Kong. Our weather isn’t going to be any less wet and humid anytime soon; let’s not let that add extra plastic to our seas and our overflowing landfills.