The appearance of an “unprecedented” deluge of trash floating up on the southern beaches of Hong Kong in the first days of July came with name tags—countless indications of where they had come from.
Local environmentalists have encouraged people to document the trash so as to “build a picture” of the situation across Hong Kong. Photos and video taken by locals shows vast quantities of garbage littering multiple beaches in what has been called a “solidified oil spill” of plastic.
According to local authorities, the “glacier of trash” came from illegal and legal landfills in both mainland China and Hong Kong. But the sheer volume of the refuse—which on one island resembled a landslide and could be seen from outer space, has focused attention on its mainland origins.
While the beaches of Hong Kong are far from pristine in normal circumstances, Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a marine environmental group, notes that most of the trash from the last few days has packaging with the simplified Chinese script—used in mainland China—and code marks from the Chinese government.
“The fact that much of the trash has Mainland packaging is also not so common in such high density,” Stokes, who is the Southeast Asian director of Sea Shepherd, said. “We get mainland trash often but the scale is huge this time.”
The recent flood of trash came from dumps, which Sea Shepherd has been actively campaigning against. On the group’s Facebook page, a graphic condemns a recent government-commissioned report claiming that “overall, marine refuse does not constitute a serious problem in Hong Kong.”
“The dump we exposed in Wei Ling Ding island just south of HK in Chinese waters is absolutely insane. Here they literally pour the trash over the cliff. [The] tide comes in and takes out the bottom layers. Then it all slides down ready for the next high tide.”
In China, where regulations are lax or poorly-enforced, trash is often disposed of in environmentally destructive ways. The mainland’s National Business Daily reported that on July 1, police in Shanghai discovered eight cargo ships that were part of a 20,000-ton illegal dumping operation in eastern China’s Lake Tai.
Despite being badly-polluted, the lake supplies water for the city of Suzhou, which borders Shanghai.
“Trash talks, if you’ve got a load of mainland trash on the beach, how did it get there?” Hong Kong resident Doug Woodring wrote on Facebook about the trash. “[The authorities] can go to China and say this is a solid fact, we have a problem, we need your help to address it.”