On May 8th, 2016, JCI Lion Rock conducted an ‘Urban Paper Towel Usage Habit’ Survey and hosted a press conference in East Point City, Tseung Kwan O to showcase its results as part of the ‘Get in Gear Volunteers 2016’ campaign. The survey was conducted in March and April with over 465 randomly selected interviewees over the age of 18. The purpose of the survey was to raise public awareness for the excessive use of paper towels while also seeking environmental conservation solutions. As a supporting organisation, WGO was responsible for the analysis and announcement of survey data and findings.
According to an official report on Municipal Solid Waste by the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department that was published on 30th October 2014, the daily disposal of waste amounted to 9,547 tonnes in 2013. Paper wastage comprised of 19%, the third highest, of the daily waste disposal. Paper towels and plastic bags each comprised of 7% of total waste disposed. Paper towel disposal increased 5% in 2014 to 680 tonnes. Moreover, research found that for every tonne of paper towel created, 17 trees needed to be chopped down and 20,000 gallons of water is polluted. The production of hundreds of tonnes of paper towels indirectly causes countless forests to disappear and creates massive volumes of polluted water. Yet, there is currently a lack of effective measures in Hong Kong that directly addresses the issue of excessive paper towel usage.
Paper Towel Heaps
Used paper towels are often found piled up in ghastly heaps in washrooms. Such behaviours do not only create tremendous waste, but also damage the surrounding environment. The three strategic landfills in Hong Kong will reach their maximum capacity in the near future. However, paper towels cannot be recycled due to hygienic reasons. What is more, substances are added in the production process to increase the toughness of towels, making them more difficult to degrade. Even in the degrading process, methane, which is a greenhouse gas, is produced, therefore accelerating temperature rise in Hong Kong. The consequences of heavy pollution and damage to the environment are so great that they simply cannot be ignored.
Choosing Convenience over Environment
Regarding reasons for using paper towels, 33% of interviewees believe they are more hygienic, 23% do so for convenience, and the remaining 50% use them for cleaning purposes. The survey showed a similar rate among men and women in their usage habits after toilet and after getting wet hands in daily scenarios. 80% of men and women would use paper towels after going to the toilet, whereas 20% would use other methods of drying such as hand dryer. In daily scenarios of having wet hands, 63% of males and 64% of females would prefer paper towels.
Respectively 6% and 4% of women and men would bring their own handkerchiefs. What it all comes down to is the general tendency to prefer convenience of disposal after use. After hand-washing and using the toilet in public washrooms, 74% of women would choose paper towels, whilst 64% of men said the same, showing a higher rate of 10% for women compared to men. In regards to hand dryers, 23% of men would prefer this method compared to only 15% of women. This might be related to women possibly being more nervous about getting dry skin from the hand dryer.
Interviewees with a daily paper towel usage of over 26 sheets were found in the survey. By calculating from the average from six usage categories (e.g. 1-5 sheets, median at 3, see Survey Findings Presentation p.6 for details) the daily amount per day amounts to 3,610 sheets. If we take 1.3 million sheets per year and the Hong Kong population at 7.18 million, this means 55 million sheets of paper towels are used every day and over 20.3 billion for a whole year. The said amount is equivalent to 580,000 trees or 2,145 double-decker buses. (Above calculations adopted the weight of clean, unused paper towels, weighing 1.53g per sheet)
The Paper Towel Riddle
The question of whether paper towels can be recycled has confounded a great deal of people. Two interesting remarks from the survey stood out in particular:
– 50% of interviewees believed paper towels are recyclable; out of them, 56% have a Master’s or PhD degree, compared to 67% of interviewees with qualifications at primary school level or below aware of the fact that paper towels are unrecyclable.
– 68% of interviewees believed paper towels are degradable. Out of them, 74% have a Master’s or PhD degree, whilst 22% of interviewees with primary level or below qualifications are of the opposite opinion. This reflects the lack of public understanding about paper towels. Among the survey objects, over half expressed that they are willing to use handkerchiefs or hand dryers over paper towels.
In conclusion, 40% of interviewees supported cutting off supply of paper towels in restaurants; 54% said they are willing to substitute paper towels with handkerchiefs or hand dryers. In short, over 50% of participants expressed the will to go the extra mile for the environment!
Ms. Fish Leung, President of JCI Lion Rock said,
The Community Development Project, “Get in Gear Volunteers 2016- Save the Earth Action”, aims to engage the public through Wipe Out Paper Towels Campaigns. The project will host a series of events from May to August to gather the public’s support and to advocate the reduction of paper towel usage, including the survey results presentation on Urban Paper Towel Usage Habits, interactive environmental protection activities, corporate promotion with ‘Wipe Out Paper Towels’ labelling, ‘Save the Earth, Wipe Out Paper Towels’ Petition, community talks, Green living experience, Save the Earth Day and Volunteer Award Ceremony, etc.
Ms. Mandy Law, Chairwoman of the Organising Committee of “Get in Gear Volunteers 2016” at JCI Lion Rock said,
This project hopes to educate the public to stop the overuse of hand paper towels via day-to-day activities. We have initiated the slogan and labelling campaign ‘Save the Earth, Wipe Out Paper Towels’ and would like to invite industries and the public to join us in this effort as well as to sign the petition to cut the excessive use of paper towels.
“Save the Earth, Wipe Out Paper towels” Slogan and Labelling Campaign
The slogan and labelling campaign encourages catering, property management companies, cleaning services providers, corporations and shopping malls to stick the campaign labels onto paper towel dispensers, to act as a reminder to citizens to treasure resources, thus to substitute paper towels with hand dryers or handkerchiefs. At the moment, the campaign has received the support and engagement of 28 corporate buildings under the management of Savills Property Services and 20 restaurants under LHGroup.
Dr. William Yu, Chief Executive Officer of the World Green Organisation called on the government to
enhance the education and promotion on paper usage in the fight against climate change to make every effort to reduce the excessive use of paper, namely the unrecyclable paper towels. WGO suggests putting up notices outside shopping mall and office toilets can remind users that paper towels cannot be recycled and to avoid waste by using less. Apart from this, citizens can think about using handkerchiefs and towels as a substitute for paper towels that can only be used once.
350HK co-founder Mr Mak mentioned,
175 countries signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement during the UNFCCC in New York on 22nd April this year. However, the challenges humans face against global warming are only just beginning. We cannot naively believe tomorrow will be a better day, if the government is not capable of reducing carbon as soon as possible through its policies and citizens continuing their wasteful habits, our civil society will almost certainly crumble under unsustainability in the near future. Although paper towels seem insignificant, they are also just as much a culprit of global warming, if we do not pay close attention!
Petition “Save the Earth, Wipe Out Paper Towels”:
For enquiries about Urban Paper Towel Usage Habit Survey Results 08/05/2016:
Remarks: The survey sample has not been adjusted according to the age and education qualification distributions in Hong Kong.
Established in 1971 as a member of the Junior Chamber International Hong Kong, JCI Lion Rock aims to nurture young people to develop leadership skills and social responsibility through a variety of trainings and work plans. In this process, participants help contribute to the community while improving the quality of their lives that are built with the right values. Website: http://www.jcilionrock.org.hk/
The World Green Organisation (WGO) is an independent non-governmental organisation concerned with environmental conservation and environmentally related livelihood and economic affairs. Through science-based policy research and community projects, the WGO aims to enhance the quality of the environment, promote a greener economy, and improve people’s livelihoods. In particular, it will focus on the social concerns of underprivileged groups and on the creation of a green economy to help realise its vision of sustainable development. For more information, please visit https://thewgo.org/website/eng/
Phone : 2991-9119
Email : email@example.com
Phone : 2391-1693