You’ve seen the ‘No Plastic Mm Goi’ swag— the water bottles were the hottest thing in town when they launched last year and you know the cards. They’re witty, tongue-in-cheek odes to Hong Kong full of word play and local imagery, with captions like ‘You’re Won(Ton) in a Bouillon’ and ‘I like big buns and I cannot lie’ (referring to char siu bao of course). They’re like little inside jokes for the Hong Kong community, and they’re all the creations of local entrepreneur Claire Yates, founder of The Lion Rock Press.
Last year, Yates also helped co-found EcoDrive. It’s a sustainable-initiative created by 11 women from varying backgrounds, from lawyers to homemakers, who are passionate about making Hong Kong a better place for the next generation. With a focus on education, EcoDrive is raising awareness and driving action to reduce single-use plastics.
As part of this week's eco-initiative, we spoke with Yates about what inspired her to create her famous No Plastic Mm Goi line, and why she’s turned her focus on single-use plastics.
I felt a great instinct to create a range of eco products that were cool, young, modern and very Hong Kong in order to encourage people to cut down on their single-use plastic consumption. If people feel cool carrying them, they’re going to be more inclined to use them- plus they’re a great gifting idea. It’s exciting how people have really enjoyed my Chinglish tagline, it’s just a fun way of expressing a very serious issue.
I started to see people using reusable bottles at the beginning of last year and thought there was a niche here in Hong Kong for our own version. So I made a test batch of 500 which sold out so quickly that I knew I was onto something. I then got really into researching the single-use plastic issue as I was expanding my product range. Soon enough, I was completely obsessed. I started to see the problem all around me, and I felt compelled to take action.
At the beginning, it was difficult to reconcile the two worlds of making good eco-choices for the business and keeping an eye on your margins. Now, it is so tightly woven into our corporate culture that it’s second nature. We are very open with our suppliers about our expectations about packaging, and our customers are very supportive of our commitments. None of our products are shipped out in virgin packaging- they are all reused, repurposed or recycled. You may receive your order in a shoe box, but we always tell our customers that it’s what’s on the inside the counts! Sustainability informs everything we do now as a business.
Being environmentally responsible has meant that we’ve had to chance a lot of our product lines. For example, we had to shelve our iPhone case designs in favour of a line of wooden children’s toys! We are happy to be flexible and to know we are staying true to our personal and professional priorities.
I’m really obsessive about my personal single-use plastic impact. I think you naturally become like that when you start to understand the facts. Did you know that every single piece of plastic you’ve ever used still exists somewhere? Think of every plastic fork you’ve ever used, every straw, every plastic bag: they’re all still sitting or floating somewhere polluting our planet. With this in mind, I resolved to ensure that I’m extremely disciplined about my usage. You do have to be quite organised to start with, but soon enough it becomes a habit like anything else. I take my No Plastic Mm Goi water bottle everywhere, and I use the app “Water for Free” to fill it up on the go. In this way, I haven’t bought a plastic water bottle in over a year. I never order takeout anymore (I used to be an addict) and I carry a Tupperware for leftovers when I go to a restaurant. At lunchtime I take my reusable container to the place I want to take out, and if I forget it, I eat in. I take my No Plastic Mm Goi eco-cup to lunch to make sure I get my soup or ice tea without plastic. Of course, I always refuse a straw. If I go shopping, I take my No Plastic Mm Goi canvas tote bag, and I use wet markets for fruits and veg. I always carry my produce bags from Plastic Free HK when I shop and I try to use a butcher for my meat. If I can’t make it, I’ll go the butchers counter in the supermarket with my containers. I choose groceries that come without plastic and I make time to go to my favourite shop, Live Zero in Sai Ying Pun. That’s where I stock up on all my dried goods and household cleaning products. It’s a commitment, but I feel great personal satisfaction from making these changes in my life.
I founded EcoDrive at the end of last year with a group of friends who shared my passion for raising awareness of the plastic crisis affecting our city. Our goal is to educate customers and connect businesses with solutions to make progress towards the reduction of single-use plastic. We partnered with the creative team at Photo Escapes to shoot a documentary called “Start Small, Start Now: Hong Kong’s Plastic Story” which is launching this month.
Single-use plastic’s most useful qualities have resulted in its chronic overuse. I feel highly motivated because as individuals we have the power to reduce our consumption and put pressure on business owners to be accountable for their impact. It’s a very visible problem, so people can really see how the changes they make can make a difference. It’s a very hot topic at the moment, and we feel very hopeful that we are going to see great steps forward in our city thanks to the commitment of individuals and the private sector. Everyone we speak to are extremely supportive of our goals.
I like to shop online at Plastic Free HK and NO!W No Waste and at Live Zero and the local wet markets. I follow Hong Kong-based Instagram accounts such as The Green 52 (great blog), Circular Community HK and All In Asia.
You can just shop consciously wherever you go. For example, if you’re buying cotton buds, just check that they have paper shafts not plastic ones- it just takes a few extra moments to make choices that can really make a difference. Also, shop in local wet markets, buy beeswax wrap so you no longer need clingfilm and shop at zero waste stores such as Live Zero and Edgar, they are surprisingly affordable and it’s great to support local enterprise.
I’m the mother of two young children, and I have to consider the legacy I’m leaving for them and their children. I want to be part of the solution, and I want to be part of the generation that turns the tide on this plastic epidemic. I want to lead by example for my children, my friends and my colleagues. It is up to all of us to take responsibility for our own personal impact, and I’m really enjoying the changes I’ve made, which, just a year ago where unthinkable to me.
To find out more and check out all the adorable The Lion Rock Press products, check out www.thelionrockpress.com