Photo: Pixabay

Following a 40-year attitude of “growth at all costs,” China is upping its fight for environmental change, but a nasty hiccup has occurred along the way. Over the past several weeks, mounds of trash have washed up on Hong Kong’s shoreline, and beachgoers are not happy about it.

“The trash we have on the beaches here is just horrendous,” says Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “At the moment, a large amount of it is mainland debris.”

Downtown Hong Kong, China. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Downtown Hong Kong, China. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

This is occurring just one year after Hong Kong’s government issued a report saying that water refuse “does not constitute a serious problem.” The present sentiment is that storms and floods occurring on the mainland are causing the ongoing “beach buildup,” and the Environmental Protection Department offers a detailed explanation:

“The EPD notices that in mid-June, there had been severe rain storms and floods in many provinces along Pearl River (e.g. Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi), and there were reports that Guangdong, as well as Liuzhou of Guangxi might encounter a serious one-in-20 years flood. We suspect that the floods in mid-June in the Mainland might have brought the refuse to the sea, and then the refuse is brought to Hong Kong by the southwest monsoon wind and the sea currents. Similar phenomenon happened in 2005, when massive amounts of debris and refuse were found at various beaches and coastal areas of Hong Kong after a serious one in 100 year flood in the Mainland.”

District Councilor Paul Zimmerman seems to agree. “That stuff gets washed out, and goes into the gullies,” he said. “From the gullies, it goes into the sea.”

But Stokes isn’t laying all the blame on the weather. Trash witnessed on the beaches exceeds normal amounts by about six to ten times, and he thinks the problem may go even deeper.

“It’s pretty much like a glacier of trash that keeps sliding down the hill,” he claims. “The make-up of the trash is so alarming – there are so many clear plastic cups and bowls of exactly the same type, which would indicate it’s coming from one location… These aren’t from accidental run-off into the sea from random sources – this looks like illegal dumping.”

Members of the beach-combing public are now taking it upon themselves to relieve Hong Kong’s shores of any “trashy” occupants. Over the last nine days, cleanup crews have managed to collect an impressive 85 tons of debris. While it’s a positive step forward, Zimmerman says that dumps and landfills on the mainland are poorly maintained, and storm water flows through China’s sewer systems, which empty into the sea. Dump sites are typically too close to the shoreline, making it easy for storm flows to carry heavy amounts of trash into the nearby seawater. Unless the mainland opens more refuse collection points, Zimmerman says the problem is likely to occur again.

“Most of the formal refuse collection points we use were designed thirty or forty years ago,” he explains. “And the land allocation is based on a very small population and our population has increased. These things need to be rethought, redesigned, increased in size, and well-contained so the trash doesn’t overflow… Unless something is done, this is only going to increase. We’re going to see more occurrences, especially during the rainy season.”

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