HONG KONG — Hong Kong arrivals meet plastic everywhere in quarantine hotels: Remote controls are wrapped in cellophane, pillows are encased in plastic bags, food comes with plastic cutlery. 

Hong Kong’s strict quarantine policies — intended to halt coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at the border and in the community — have been criticized for damaging the economy and mental health. Environmentalists say the policies are also hurting the environment by generating excess waste. 

“Every single one of the staff members here wears full PPE … the gowns, the gloves, the booties, the hats, and that’s every staff member and on every floor,” said Hong Kong-based skincare entrepreneur Clementine Vaughan, who flew into the city on April 4. 

“The phones, you know, the remote controllers, everything’s been cellophane-wrapped,” she said, speaking to Reuters from her quarantine hotel. 

Hong Kong disposes of over 2,300 tonnes of plastic waste a day, and with a recycling rate of just 11%, according to government figures, most of it goes into landfills. 

A government spokesperson said officials were aware of a surge in disposable waste since COVID began, urging people to adopt a green lifestyle as far as possible. 

Edwin Lau, with local environmental group The Green Earth, said Hong Kong’s approach to COVID reflected its lack of environmental awareness. 

“People living in quarantine hotels, they are not confirmed cases,” Mr. Lau said, urging the government to allow the recycling or reuse of plastics from quarantine facilities. 

Hong Kong, one of the few places that holds to a zero-COVID policy, has quarantined tens of thousands of people this year in facilities for the COVID-positive and near contacts. 

The facilities add to the waste problem, with residents confirming to Reuters all meals came in plastic bags. 

Paul Zimmerman, an elected district councilor, said the facilities are also wasteful because they can’t be used long-term, such as for public housing. 

“They’ve been built very quickly … (and don’t) comply with any particular building standards we have in Hong Kong.” — Reuters