Lisa Odell of Plastic-Free HK: "The belief that living sustainably is more expensive is a myth"

by: Abegaile Legaspi
08 Aug 2019

Lisa Odell is a woman on a mission. The founder of Plastic-Free HK, Odell has spent the past four years trying to get Hong Kongers to change their ways when it comes to single-use plastics. Her online portal is not just a wealth of information about how to cut down on the use of disposable plastics, but stocks a multitude of reusable items for the home and office that facilitate a more sustainable lifestyle.

We sat down with Lisa to talk waste-free living in Hong Kong, sustainable alternatives and how not to take yourself on a guilt trip.

Read more: Six Zero-Waste Stores For Your Next Grocery Run

Tell us about yourself and the inspiration behind Plastic-Free HK.

I’ve been in Hong Kong for just over 10 years and met my husband here on my third day here. We love all of the opportunities the city offers us and are so grateful for this time living abroad. Both of our kids were born here, so our hearts will be tied to this city forever! I became interested in sustainability about four years ago when I became aware of all of the plastic waste we were consuming, and desperately wanted to find a way to live in a more sustainable manner. I realised I couldn’t find the items I needed to make this happen, so I decided to try and fill this hole in the market and provide sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics and more. It’s been such an exciting journey!

How can Hong Kongers go about living a plastic-free life? 

Honestly, I don’t think a plastic-free lifestyle exists here in Hong Kong (especially when you have young kids who live on berry smoothies everyday!). From my experience, it’s extremely difficult purchasing 100 percent plastic-free packaged food where we live, and it becomes doubly difficult when you throw little humans into the mix. My goal, and the message I also send to my customers and social media followers, is to do whatever you can. Every single sustainable change makes a difference, and if everyone made one small change it would bring with it massive impact.

Are you completely plastic-free?

No, our household is not 100 percent plastic-free, but we do what we can and continue to look for more ways to make a positive impact. We’ll start composting all of our foods scraps in the autumn once our village composting scheme is set up. My baby uses reusable diapers. We never buy bottled water or use any sort of single-use plastic like bags or straws or takeaway containers - my husband is a pilot and has found a way to not need any bottled water when he flies. We teach our children to refuse plastic straws, and we clean up any plastic waste around us when we can. Basically, we’re living intentionally and doing our best, and not overwhelming ourselves with guilt when an alternative just isn’t possible.  

Has there been a shift in Hong Kongers’ lifestyles when it comes to sustainable living?

It’s hard for me to gauge if a collective shift is happening in Hong Kong, but I can tell you our business is doing well and I get enquiries all the time from local businesses and schools who want to make positive changes and are looking for ways to do this. This tells me that something is definitely happening! It brings me so much hope knowing the next generation is learning about the environmental issues at hand, mainly climate change, and the things we need to do to make it better. Lasting change will only come through education, so our best bet is to educate the young now so when they grow up they’ll be ready to lead us into solutions for a more balanced world.

Are sustainable alternatives like wooden cutlery and paper plates really better?

Good question. Some people say that producing paper products are more harmful because they produce more harmful chemicals and weigh more, so will use more fuel to ship. And others say plastic is more harmful because it’s not a renewable resource, it does not biodegrade, cannot be truly recycled and is toxic to our habitats and environments, including being toxic to us when ingested. At this point, I think it really is a personal opinion and cannot be scientifically proven one way or the other. 

Personally, I see a major problem with disposable plastics ruining our world and this is the problem I want to eradicate. This is my personal mission.

Living a zero-waste lifestyle can be really costly, especially in Hong Kong. Any tips that can help save the environment and our wallets at the same time?

I think the belief that living sustainably is more expensive is a myth that needs to be done away with. There is so much we can do that isn’t expensive. Refusing all single-use plastics (straws, coffee cups, takeaway styrofoam boxes, water bottles, etc.) doesn’t cost a thing and is 50 percent of the plastic problem were dealing with. So if everyone did this, we would immediately fix half the problem! (It’s amazing, the power of our choices!) And many of the products that people see as expensive may cost more up front, but will actually save you money in the long run.

We need to stop seeing the roadblocks, and instead start opening up our minds to all of the possibilities. The solutions to eradicate plastic pollution and climate change are out there, and we need to keep pushing forward until we find them. Follow Plastic-Free HK on Instagram @plasticfreehk.

All images are courtesy of Lisa Odell and Plastic-Free HK