Breathing New Life into Old Flight Attendant Uniforms

Waste management and reduction can be challenging tasks, especially in a rapidly growing society such as Hong Kong’s. In 2015 alone, the region produced a staggering 3.7 million tonnes of waste while cycling through 13 different landfill sites according to a South China Morning Post article. At this rate, estimates provided by the city’s own Environmental Protection Department indicate that Hong Kong’s waste management will no longer be sustainable by as early as 2020.

With that in mind, what are some of the region’s top employing companies doing about this? Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, has upped its approach towards the impact that its business bestows upon the city – with the latest initiative tackling an issue very specific to Chinese communities: substantial amounts of paper waste from the tradition of distributing lai see packets.

One of the primary contributors to Hong Kong’s growing effluence problem is paper waste. In 2016 alone, the city discarded approximately 2,257 tonnes of paper waste daily which represents a 17.5 percent increase from the previous year according to the Environmental Protection Department. Additionally, in an interview published almost a year ago with the South China Morning Post, environmental activist group Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho stated that other places with Chinese people seem to have fewer lai sees distributed than Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has one of highest population densities in the world.

Last year, Cathay Pacific partnered with Redress, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing textile waste from the fashion industry, and St. James Settlement, an organization dedicated to overseeing the disadvantaged community in Hong Kong, to create reusable lai see packets with the goal of also simultaneously recycling thousands of retired staff uniforms.

Image provided by Ian Lai, member of Corporate Affairs at Cathay Pacific.

Originally destined for Hong Kong’s limited and already overflowing landfills, these packets feature Cathay Pacific’s iconic red and gold colour palette and can also serve as passport holders, phone pouches, or travel wallets. All proceeds generated from the sales of the lai see packets are donated to Feeding Hong Kong, which ensures that food surpluses are repurposed safely to those in need.

“The idea is simple – as Hong Kong is our home, we are constantly trying to ensure that we align ourselves with the needs of the Hong Kong people and the communities that we serve”, says Ian Lai, member of Cathay Pacific’s Corporate Affairs Department. “With waste management being such a key issue, it’s only logical we find responsible ways to handle the waste produced as part of our business.”

Image provided by Ian Lai, member of Corporate Affairs at Cathay Pacific.

Upon closer examination, it’s evident that this new sustainable development project by Cathay Pacific aims to combat a multitude of problems through one creative campaign.

Perhaps these initiatives stem from new regulations implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a unit of the United Nations that oversees matters regarding air transport and navigation. Last year, its governing body agreed to a global deal that would see carbon emissions decline by the end of the decade.

For instance, Cathay Pacific typically uses fuel that is made from landfill rubbish. By finding new ways to upcycle these retired uniforms into lai see packets, Cathay Pacific is able to prevent more significant amounts of waste material from winding up in Hong Kong’s already overflowing landfills.

Trash piled up by the street in Causeway Bay.

Additionally, fuels used in most commercial airlines typically are made from rubbish retrieved from landfills. To lessen the strain on landfills while also combating the harmful emissions, Cathay Pacific has also begun incorporating significant amounts of biofuel, or fuel produced from recycled plants and other organic matter.

A fringe benefit of this? It optimizes costs, as stated by Jeff Ovens, Cathay Pacific’s biofuel manager, in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Cathay Pacific, in its partnership with St. James Settlement, is also able to engage with the Hong Kong public in more meaningful ways. Each packet is carefully crafted by members of the Settlement, which focuses on providing support and meaningful work for the disadvantaged community.

Image provided by Ian Lai, member of Corporate Affairs at Cathay Pacific.

After examining the packet, it is clear that the material is sturdy enough to withstand long-term usage. Whether it be for distributing money or safekeeping one’s valuables, the packet becomes an item that is easily incorporated into daily usage, rather than being discarded and contributing more waste to Hong Kong’s landfills.

Each set comes with two lai see packets.

For Hong Kong, these initiatives could not come fast enough. According to Redress, roughly 217 tonnes of textiles are discarded into Hong Kong’s landfills daily, equating to nearly 9000 disposed garments every hour. When coupled with the fact that Hong Kong’s landfills are brimming, it becomes evident that drastic changes need to be made on the recycling and waste disposal fronts.

But it’s not just paper that is contributing to the significant waste problems in Hong Kong.

Bamboo scaffolding surrounding a building in Causeway Bay.

Angus Ko, founder of the Erth Company, is another entrepreneur that is well-versed in the sustainable development sector. Ko’s company creates fashionable slip-on shoes that are made entirely from recycled bamboo materials. He firmly believes that sustainable development will become an integral part of businesses that wish to thrive in the future.

Ko’s company manufactures vegan friendly, entirely-recycled shoes made from recycled bamboo in Hong Kong.

“Soon, companies without sustainable practices will be at a disadvantage. They can then either be proactive and adopt these practices, or keep losing out in the market,” says Ko.

“I think many people are aware of [the growth of sustainable development] and most of them do appreciate it. People need to be aware of the issue because consumer behaviour can greatly change how brands treat the environment.”

Evidently, sustainable development is a practice that businesses will need to adopt sooner rather than later. Not only does it provide useful material for companies and their corporate social responsibility departments, but being mindful of one’s environmental impact also creates value for societies and their long-term sustainability.

Cathay Pacific may not be the first, but it hopefully won’t be the last to create such a creative, environmentally-friendly initiative for the Hong Kong community.

Writer: Aegean

Copy editor: Wilson

Editor: Siya

Online: Cassadee

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