Some people clean the beach while others enjoy themselves
earlier today on Cheung Chau
A sample view of the kind of trash found on a Hong Kong beach
The fruits of a morning's worth of labor
of nine "sustainability heroes" ;b
While important in their own way to me, both of those events actually weren't the main event of the day as far as I was concerned. Instead, that "honor" goes to a morning beach cleanup session over on Cheung Chau organized through Green Sustainable Living HK, a local meetup.com group founded by a Madagascar-born Hong Kong resident. One reason for thinking this is that it was the event of the day where I felt most actively a participant. For another, I really appreciate that there was physical evidence that people's efforts actually counted and made a difference.
Whereas my first beach cleanup had seen the group head over to Coral Beach (AKA Tung Wan Tsai) over on the northeast of the island, this time around, we headed in the opposite direction -- over to Pak Tso Wan (AKA Italian Beach) over in southwest Cheung Chau. Partly because this smaller area of the island didn't seem half as full of garbage as Coral Beach and in part because there were more volunteers around this time out, I really could see that the beach was quite a bit cleaner after we had labored for a few hours in hot sun and also under clouds as well as were showered upon on a couple of occasions -- and boy, did this make me feel good!
Over on Coral Beach last month, I had been shocked to not only find lots of glass shards on the beach but also whole test tubes and bottles that looked like they were meant to contain medication. This time around, I found less glass about but, equally -- if not more -- alarmingly, lots more plastic materials and styrofoam, both of which easily break into little bits after baking for a time in the sun.
Sometime back, I read about how the tiny bits of plastic found in the ocean are liable to be swallowed by various sea creatures, including those that we consume -- leading to the pollutant ending up in our bodies. When seeing the garbage found on the beach, I also get to thinking of the early scenes in Ponyo, on the Cliff by the Sea showing the horrific mess that trawlers tend to dredge up from the seabeads -- and how it is that pretty much all of it is the creation of us humans.
To this end, I make it a point to get as much plastic and styrofoam off the beach as I can while carrying out beachcleaning exercises. Something else that I target are the broken pieces of glass that dot the ground, since there have been too many times when I've been barefoot on a beach in Hong Kong and found myself worrying that my feet'd get cut by the shards I can't help but spot every few meters that I walk on what on the surface can appear to be truly beautiful beach locales.
At the same time, there's no denying that one can get a disproportionate sense of achievement from getting larger, more clearly visible items off the beach and into the garbage bag. Some of these objects are on the mundane side and come in the form of such as whole plastic and glass bottles. More unexpected "finds" on Italian Beach this afternoon included footwear, ranging from an adult-sized sneaker to a child-sized plastic sandal! Then there's what strikes me as really disturbing to find on a beach in Hong Kong: items such as syringes, which get me thinking less of drug users and more of medical waste that should have been disposed of in a much more responsible way than it has been.
But when the pollution I see threatens to make me despair about humankind, I get to thinking of the people who volunteer to help clean up the beaches. As one beach cleanup participant remarked to me last month: "Isn't it amazing to think that people are willing to do this kind of labor for free?" Alternatively put: humans really aren't all bad, there's hope for this world -- and long may that be this way! ;b