Soft-spoken and steely-eyed, Hannah Chung is an activist on a mission. In just three years, the transplanted Londoner has become a leading figure in Hong Kong’s sustainability scene – all stemming from a single, albeit impressive, personal challenge: to live a year with zero waste.
After spending three years in Hong Kong, Chung could no longer ignore the huge amount of single-use plastics in the city, from straws and take-away containers to the excessive use of plastic bags at local grocery stores, and began to research how the plastic waste was being dealt with.
She discovered that there was little incentive for recycling in Hong Kong and that, globally, single-use items accounted for 40 percent of all the plastic ever produced. When taking stock of the items in her own home, Chung was shocked to realise that she herself was also contributing to the never-ending plastic ecosystem.
Having come across zero-waste influencers in the United States such as Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer of Trash Is for Tossers, she decided to attempt the zero-waste lifestyle in Hong Kong. In August 2016, Chung announced her personal challenge to the world on a newly created Instagram account, @thezerowastechallenge.
“I’m torn to see a city that I love littered with plastic waste,” she wrote at the time. “This fast-paced, disconnected and disposable life is visible on every corner and I personally need to see a change.”
Chung documented on Instagram her one-year journey by sharing simple and practical tips for going “zero waste”, which means generating no waste that can’t be reused or recycled. They include bringing your own water bottle and reusable shopping bags, buying food in bulk and making your own dishwashing detergent and soaps.
“My goal of reaching ‘zero’ quickly shifted to the larger goal of learning more about the global plastics crisis and wanting to share that knowledge, so that we can collectively reduce our waste, one step at a time,” says the 33-year-old, who’s gone from grassroots activist to working for an ambitious new green start-up called Muuse.
“It’s short for ‘multiple-use’ – we work with businesses to create smart deposit- based systems to make it easier for the consumer to borrow and return reusable food and beverage packaging, such as coffee cups and takeaway boxes,” she explains. In Asia’s current disposable culture, “consumers need to demand better policies for corporations, and businesses need to create smarter alternatives for a sustainable ecosystem.”
Worried about not being able to follow the zero-waste lifestyle to a T? Chung insists that “it’s not about leading a perfectly sustainable lifestyle. It’s about spreading awareness so that more consumers can make informed decisions about what they buy.
“To quote food justice and sustainability advocate Anna Lappé, ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ Don’t underestimate the power of the individual to demand something better.”
Coat, worn as a dress: The R Collective | Boots: Ralph Lauren