With a subtropical climate, Hong Kong is often exposed to a variety of wet weather conditions, from isolated rain showers to thunderstorms, and from amber rainstorm warning to typhoons. Under such conditions, locals are prepared to arm themselves with umbrellas.
But more than just the physical hazards of poking each other’s eyes on crowded places, rainy days also expose a lazy habit of dealing with dripping umbrellas: plastic umbrella covers.
Also known as “umbrella condoms” such accessories help prevent slippery indoor passageways that link buildings in the city, as well as office buildings and shopping malls. The single-use plastic umbrella covers are often found scattered around trash bins, waiting for their ultimate destination at landfills.
As much as we all clamor against the rapidly depleting spaces to throw garbage, current lifestyles don’t quite fit the rhetoric. While we’re charged for plastic bag use at the grocery, widespread use of plastic bags during rainy season simply defeats the purpose of reducing waste.
On an average wet season from June to September, Hong Kong people may end up using as many as 14 million disposable plastic umbrella covers, according to Greeners Action. In addition, almost all of the 53 shopping malls it monitored have been handing out such plastic umbrella covers. Although most of them are thrown away in the landfills, others may end up choking marine life.
Sure, distribution of plastic cases — whether done by dispensers located at doorsteps or paying people to distribute them — helps avoid accidents such as people slipping on floors (because they paid more attention on their mobile phones than on their paths), but it’s sad no idea spectacular enough to warrant attention and adoption has come up.
In the meantime, locals and visitors can at least contribute their share in reducing waste and protecting nature.
1. Reuse the plastic cases.
Plastic cases, both for long and short umbrellas have longer useful life than their actual usage. Unless punctured and rendered useless, plastic cases don’t have to be thrown away immediately after use. Hang to dry and they’ll serve their next tour of duty.
2. More eco-friendly ideas from building managers.
Eco-friendly in this context means less waste and better use of resources. Instead of putting on that disposable umbrella cover dispenser during rainy days, why not bring out used cases surviving from the last rainy day for people to use.
In a similar manner, provide people facility to recycle these items such as collection points to hang them to dry for future use. We believe the amount of waste Hong Kong provides is proportional to the number of waste bins. They are the very same bins that receive discarded plastic umbrella cases — just wet, not soiled and perfectly suited to be used by the next person with dripping umbrella — right after people leave a building.
Providing umbrella stands to dry them can also be placed at shop entrances. That’s better idea than encouraging people to pluck wet umbrella wrappers every time they come in.
Roll out doormats onto the floor during rainy days might greatly reduce risk of slipping or tripping.
3. Develop that eco-friendly consciousness.
As people are fed with such disposable plastic cases every time they enter a retail shop or a building facility, they get used to the idea to expect them to show up during inclement weather conditions. Without them, pedestrians might become more conscious about safety and shake water off umbrellas as they enter buildings whose floors get slippery when wet. Too much spoiling people can do them no good.
A lot of plastic bags we see now are labeled as biodegradable and that might make some of us feel less guilty when using them. But given the amount of time required for them to decompose (if the printed claims are true), and the rate at which we are generating them, they offer very little consolation at all.
Or shall we reinvent the umbrella instead?