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A team of Chatteris tutors with filled rubbish bags after a successful beach clean

Chatteris Beach Cleans: Shifting Eco-Anxiety to Eco-Action

Chatteris’ own Lucie Goddard talks us through how our tutors have been looking out for Hong Kong’s coastal eco-systems with a series of beach cleans.

Chatteris Tutor Lucie leads monthly beach cleans with her fellow tutors | Image by Jake Morton
Chatteris Tutor Lucie leads monthly beach cleans with her fellow tutors | Image by Jake Morton

The phrase ‘eco-anxiety’ has exploded in the Western world, defining the sense of anxiety based on the current and future state of the world’s natural environment. From what I have experienced from living in Hong Kong, it seems less prevalent in this region. 

On reflection, I have been experiencing eco-anxiety for the past few years, peaking in defining moments of global environmental disaster: a vision for the future. Internally, however, I always feel disconnected from the problem. Everything seems so far away, too massive for my single brain to process. This may be because of where I’m from – I think the greatest environmental crisis we have faced in South London is the odd wheelie bin being blown over. I have never, thankfully, faced real disaster. Maybe this is why my environmental action was limited, until recently. 

The problem

I found my move to Hong Kong a cultural shock: the weather, the food, the busy streets filled with slow walkers. To my surprise,  however, the biggest shock was the throw-away culture, resulting in small environmental chaos. We’re by far from perfect in the UK, but the (very) slow transition to reusable items such as food containers I began to see before moving to Hong Kong was something that helped my eco-anxiety. The notion of throwing a plastic bottle into a bin never crossed my mind. Here, it’s the norm. 

With barely-existent recycling and the necessity to wrap every item in layers of cellophane, Hong Kong is an entirely different kettle of fish. Over 46 million single-use plastics are disposed of in Hong Kong weekly. 1 Where do they end up? Well, as I sat on a beach in Sai Kung a few months back faced with a tideline of plastic bottles, it felt obvious. This was an epiphany, the first time I had really seen the impact of throw-away culture first-hand, and boy, did it set me off. 

Many of Hong Kong's beaches are littered with single use packaging | Image by Jake Morton
Many of Hong Kong’s beaches are littered with single use packaging | Image by Jake Morton

I sat airing my worries about this environmental crisis happening beneath our noses to a friend. She advised more positive, solution-based thinking: to think of what I can do, as opposed to what I’m doing wrong. I started by contemplating where waste was going: to landfill, or entering natural environments. Hong Kong has problems in both pipelines. The remaining landfill sites in Hong Kong are almost at capacity, and Hong Kong waters are swamped in plastics. 

The solutions-based approach: mitigating the damage

I’m no city planner, I can’t help landfill, but I can, in small doses, help the build-up of plastic in nature: most notably, on beaches. My mind couldn’t shake a picture of that choked shoreline in Sai Kung. I decided this was my target. 

Opportunely, Chatteris has a pool of passionate tutors who are keen to give back to the community. We spend our free time at the beach so it appeared befitting to help. I called on a team of Chatteris Tutors and formulated a beach clean: a few Sunday hours spent removing plastic from natural shorelines, protecting an area in danger that we all love. I was overwhelmed by the sign ups. Twenty tutors volunteered, reassuring me that I was in the company of people who too care about the problem. We headed to Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach, armed with gloves and bins. Piece by piece, we picked small bits of trash from the shoreline. 

The first Chatteris beach clean took place on Lamma Island's Power Station Beach | Image by Jake Morton
The first Chatteris beach clean took place on Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach | Image by Jake Morton

The best thing to come out of the day? Apart from the eight full rubbish bags, it was the conversations. There was reassurance and solidarity in the concerns about environmental culture in Hong Kong; such a sense of action and urgency among the tutors. Discussions centred on action in daily life to reduce our waste: suggestions from a Brita filter to reusable chopsticks. The sense of the day was so solutions-based. The situation was dire, but considerations were forward thinking, something to appreciate and hope for plastic pollution in Hong Kong.

We are now initiating regular Chatteris Beach cleans, our most recent taking place on the island of Peng Chau.

The best way to face this eco-crisis is with hope, ideas and initiative: notions that Chatteris fosters perfectly. My experience beach cleaning with my fellow tutors has eased my eco-anxiety, giving me comfort about the future of this city and this planet.

Are you keen to give back to the Hong Kong community like Lucie? Apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.

  1. J. Lun. Over 46 Million single-use plastics are disposed in Hong Kong every week. Break free from plastic: https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org. Retrieved 4 January 2021. 

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