A Q&A with Delta Global founder Robert Lockyer on Hong Kong's single-use plastics ban

"As socially responsible business leaders, we must embrace solutions that do not 'Cost the Earth.'”

A Q&A with Delta Global founder Robert Lockyer on Hong Kong's single-use plastics ban
Source: Pexels/mali maeder

Hong Kong's newest measures to crack down on single-use plastics are coming into effect soon. The first phase will kick off on Earth Day, April 22. With that, businesses and consumers across the city will have to adjust, with the F&B and hospitality sectors likely to see the most impact at first. TMS chatted with the founder and Chief Client Officer of Delta Global, Robert Lockyer, to get his take on how ready Hong Kong is for this change and how it will affect businesses in the city.

Delta Global Hong Kong
Source: Robert Lockyer/Delta Global

Q: What support mechanisms are in place to assist businesses in transitioning away from single-use plastics?

When it comes to transitioning away from plastics, education is key to encourage businesses to begin piloting and implementing the necessary initiatives to eliminate the use of single-use plastics.

It is encouraging to note that the government has outlined several key areas of focus, such as waste reduction, waste separation and resource circulation, in the Waste Blueprint for Hong Kong 2035. This serves as a positive starting point to promote and encourage recycling practices not just among consumers but also businesses.

While the current plastic ban mainly affects the F&B and hospitality industries, businesses, especially in the retail sector, could benefit from acting early amidst increasing consumer awareness on sustainable lifestyles. In fact, it serves as a great opportunity for them to take reference from the F&B and hospitality industries’ outcomes, learnings and recommendations to replicate these changes.

Retailers and brands should also be aware that they have a crucial role to play in empowering consumers in embracing a more sustainable lifestyle, e.g. through encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags, giving packaging boxes a second life, as well as purchasing products made from environmentally friendly materials.

It’s always challenging to go from zero to hero and do everything at once. Instead, it is imperative that we commit to an authentic strategy and take small but meaningful steps towards progress. By starting with changing mindsets and habits, then gradually driving a systematic change across different industry verticals, we can steadily work towards achieving larger goals.

Q: How prepared is the retail industry in Hong Kong to comply with the single-use plastic ban?

Taking reference from the UK, which has just implemented its single-plastic ban last year, it does take time for businesses to adapt to the new changes. A study by the British Independent Retail Association with more than 6,000 independent businesses found that some firms were unaware of and unprepared for the new rules just months ahead of the implementation.

While the current plastic ban primarily targets disposable plastic tableware and non-plastic alternatives [for items] such as cotton buds and umbrella covers, which mainly impact the F&B and hospitality industries, this ban serves as a wake-up call for the entire retail industry.

This, along with the impending Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Charging, will also have a significant impact on consumer awareness about sustainability.

With heightened sustainability awareness for many consumers, it will likely influence their purchasing decisions and overall perceptions of brands. This presents a crucial opportunity for brands and retailers to assess their sustainability practices, not only to comply with new policies but also to foster loyalty and attract new customers who value sustainability.

According to our previous research, titled "Navigating a Greener Future," 92% of surveyed consumers across APAC said they would stop buying, buy less or reconsider buying from brands that do not care about sustainability, and 27% said they would stop buying from these brands altogether. Therefore, brands must take greater responsibility and leadership in finding innovative ways to minimise their environmental impact. This is essential to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world and meet the sustainability expectations of consumers.

In order to provide insights for brands and retailers on effectively implementing sustainability practices ahead of the launch of the MSW Charging Scheme, we are forming a collaborative with our partners at Mil Mill, OnTheList, Redress and the Masters Programme in Sustainable Fashion and Innovation at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Fashion and Textiles. Together, we have developed an informative guidebook titled “No Time To Waste” that evaluates sustainability efforts across all aspects of our businesses. This guidebook will be made available to our clients and brands free of charge, with the hope of making a real difference through collective action.

Within this guidebook, we touched on the recyclability of products and packaging, as well as the importance of proper recycling practices. We observed that there are some common myths surrounding recycling, such as products or packaging made of non-recyclable materials or the failure to clean items before depositing them in recycling bins or facilities. By debunking these misconceptions, we hope that brands can take appropriate actions to ensure that their sustainability efforts do not go to waste.

Q: What alternatives to single-use plastics are being adopted by retail businesses?

Taking packaging as an example, it is important to prioritise the use of responsibly sourced materials, such as FSC-accredited materials and environmentally friendly alternatives like Tencel for ribbons instead of plastics. Our packaging solutions are also moving towards "magnet-free" and "zero plastic" to facilitate easy recycling and repurposing. A shift in design should be made towards utilising "Mono Materials" for packaging. For instance, in the case of a retail bag, all components, including the bag body, handles and base, should be constructed from paper.

It is also crucial that we consider the second life, third life and ultimate end of life of products and packaging right from the design phase. By doing so, we can promote reusability and recyclability, thereby minimising our environmental impact. It is worth noting that plastic represents less than 2% of all products imported by Delta Global in 2023, and we aspire to assist Hong Kong retailers in achieving the same goal.

Q: Who will bear the cost of the increased cost of production/packaging?

Shifting to more environmentally friendly materials may initially come with cost implications, but as more brands adopt these materials, economies of scale will drive down costs over time.

Additionally, implementing improvements in the production process or packaging does not necessarily mean higher expenses. For example, leveraging advanced technology like AI-powered planning and forecast tools to minimise unnecessary shipping and excessive stock or SKUs can lead to significant cost savings. Taking a comprehensive approach to reviewing the entire production cycle to minimise waste and optimising packaging range and composition can also result in long-term cost reductions.

The introduction of the new waste charge means that retailers and brands will be responsible for shouldering the additional costs associated with waste management at warehouses, visual merchandising (VM), store set-up and other areas if they do not utilise recyclable materials or sustainable production processes. Furthermore, brands will have to face the consequences of alienating sustainability-conscious customers.

In essence, as socially responsible business leaders, we must embrace solutions that do not “Cost the Earth.”