Serious plastic dreams

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) [HML] started a war against the use of plastics on July 1, pledging substantial reduction in the use of plastic products across its operations and at client events. Managing director Monica Lee-Müller tells us more about the initiative

Monica Lee-Müller, HML, managing director and primary driver of the Think Before Plastic initiative

Why the name Think Before Plastic?
We’ve thought about naming the campaign, Say No to Plastic, but we know that it is impossible to avoid plastic completely in reality. Think Before Plastic is more practical and achievable. It is catchy and easy to remember too.

It asks visitors to Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) and members of the general public to think carefully before using any disposable plastic items such as bottles and cutlery. We need to ask ourselves, “are the disposable plastic items really necessary? Is there any non-disposable plastic alternative?” before we buy, before we ask for, before we use them.

And why this major drive dedicated to eliminating plastic?
I am a nature lover. In the past, I have encouraged my team to study how we could save energy and water, and to come up with sustainability initiatives. I felt so bad when I read the news about our nature and ocean being damaged by human beings for the sake of convenience. There should be no more delays in cutting out disposable plastic.

Plastic is one of the most harmful materials to the environment and the ecosystem. It takes hundreds of years to decompose plastic into small pieces and those seep into the soil. Animals are also seriously affected. Our ecosystem is being damaged and the impact will come back to human beings at the end. It is time to strengthen our awareness and take action on plastic reduction.

Would the move result in greater use of paper then? Humans are creatures of habit, and may simply migrate to indiscriminate use of single-use paper products in the absence of plastic. How will HKCEC prevent or at least discourage this?
We do not encourage the use of paper as replacement. We have stopped providing plastic straws at all restaurant outlets and concession stands. We only offer paper straws upon request. All plastic disposable cutlery are replaced with non-plastic alternatives at all HKCEC restaurants and concession stands. We have sourced wooden cutlery and are looking for other sustainable materials.

HML is also reducing paper usage in the office. We monitor monthly paper consumption of each department and remind departments with high consumption to come up with ideas and strategy to reduce usage. HML has started using FSC-certified paper (eco-friendly paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council) for printing materials years ago to reduce impact on the environment. We are moving towards paperless communication internally with more e-forms developed or are being developed.

Part of the initiative involves encouraging event attendees at HKCEC to use personal water bottles. That’s commendable but I foresee this needing a lot of education and reminders. Will HKCEC be working with event organisers to enforce/encourage this, and how?
We are encouraging visitors and event attendees to bring their own bottles when attending events at the HKCEC, and to make use of the 18 water fountains in the venue for free refills. We have posted this message on the HKCEC Facebook fan page. To promote the water fountains, prominent signs have been added in exhibition halls and meeting room corridors.

Eliminating plastic bottles, straws and cutlery is only the beginning of our plastic reduction initiative. We have a strong desire to influence the event industry and achieve a greater impact. Education and stakeholder engagement are always keys to success of any sustainability initiative. HML continues to engage event organisers and contractors through our regular HML Organisers/Contractors Meetings to explain our new initiatives, measures and alternatives.

Our education and engagement efforts also cover different channels for various segments of the target audience, such as through the HKCEC Facebook fan page, website, quarterly e-newsletter Centrepoint, publications, signage, in-house advertising spaces in the HKCEC, etc.

We also share green insights at the operations sub-committee meetings of the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association.

Can you give an example of how Think Before Plastic is being pushed out through events hosted at HKCEC?
At the Hong Kong Book Fair 2018, we promoted waste separation and recycling plus our new campaign Think Before Plastic to the exhibitors, contractors and visitors during move-in, show days and move-out. We deployed 54 green ambassadors to assist exhibitors in separating and recycling waste properly at the end of the Book Fair.

To ensure that the message of waste separation and recycling was delivered by our ambassadors appropriately, we invited Edwin Lau, founder and executive director of The Green Earth, a local charitable green organisation, to conduct an environmental awareness seminar, explaining the mission and the recycle measures at the Book Fair, and to enhance the awareness of environmental protection among the ambassadors.

We also placed two additional temporary water stations in the food court of the Book Fair for visitors to get free refills (as part of Think Before Plastic’s effort to encourage visitors to use their own water bottles).

Prior to Think Before Plastic, what other sustainable event campaigns did the company and venue run?
HML has a huge F&B operation. We run seven restaurants in the HKCEC and several concession stands during exhibitions and conferences. We serve over 350 banqueting events every year. We seek to reduce the amount of food waste going to the landfill and at the same time help those in need by donating unconsumed food from our restaurants and events.

HML has been supporting Food Angel’s Food Rescue Programme since 2011. We regularly collect and donate unconsumed food from Congress Plus, the HKCEC restaurant which serves lunch and dinner buffet, to Food Angel. Our event managers also proactively engage banquet organisers to donate unconsumed food from their events to Food Angel. Donated food is carefully handled by HML chefs and prepared as nutritious hot meals before being redistributed to the underprivileged community in Hong Kong by Food Angel. In FY17/18, we donated 2,080kg of unconsumed food to Food Angel.

This June, HML started transporting food waste to the government’s newly-built Organic Resources Recovery Centre in Siu Ho Wan of Lantau Island. Prior to this implementation, we ran a pilot test with 123 small-scale banquets where we collected food waste.

At the same time, we promoted the message of food waste reduction in our community through the Waste Less. Save Food HKCEC Poster Design Competition 2018. Participating students were asked to design a poster, including a creative slogan, that would promote the Waste Less. Save Food message to event visitors and patrons of HKCEC restaurants. The competition received 314 entries from 23 schools in Wan Chai and successfully fostered students and public awareness of the best ideas on reducing food waste at source.

These are great achievements. How deeply is the sustainability commitment entrenched in the people at HML?
HML is the first organisation in Hong Kong to achieve the ISO 20121 Event Sustainability Management System recognition in 2015. As the professional management company responsible for the HKCEC’s day-to-day operation, HML has established a clear event sustainability policy. Our event sustainability management system, operation procedures and guidelines ensure the concept of sustainability is fully incorporated into the entire event management cycle, from bookings, event planning and F&B services to procurement, waste management, staff training, on-site delivery and billing, as well as customer feedback handling.

At HML, we take pride in committing continuous efforts and resources in attaining these significant recognition. We hope these benchmark achievements do not only motivate our staff members to continue to strive for improvement and to support the company’s sustainability initiatives, but also influence our customers, event organisers, contractors, suppliers and stakeholders and other event industry players to join hands for a greener future for the industry.

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