Plastic-Free in the City

Plastic-Free in the City

An Interview with: Lisa O’Dell

Lisa O’dell is a Hong Kong mom who made all the main headlines in January after starting a petition on Change.org demanding the local supermarkets to refuse excessive packaging. She gathered over 11,000 signatures and launched Plastic Free Hong Kong to provide sustainable solutions to fight plastic.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself

A: I’m originally from Chicago, USA but also have parts of my heart in Colorado and Oregon, where I went to school and discovered my love for nature and the outdoors. In 2009, I decided to check out Hong Kong for a year abroad, but to my surprise, I met my now-husband on my third day here, and the rest is history!  

My background is in real estate and human resources, so starting my own business was definitely a new venture for me, although it was never my intention. It all began very organically and this is how it has continued to evolve. While I was looking for ways to live a more sustainable life and leave less waste in my wake, I realised others were wanting the same thing, but didn’t have access to the right resources. It was then that PFHK was born.

Q: How and when did you start Plastic Free Hong Kong? Was it before or after your famous petition?

A: The idea for PFHK began about a year ago while I was trying to find ways to reduce the daily waste my family was creating. Each time I threw a plastic string of floss in the rubbish or needed to change my plastic toothbrush, I cringed. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Through this process of cleansing my home of as much plastic waste as I could, I saw there was a huge need and demand for more accessibility to sustainable resources for one’s home and beyond, and that there were many people just like myself wanted to make massive change.

It was then I decided to fill that need, and it has organically grown from there. Our aim is to provide a sustainable alternative to every disposable plastic item found within our day to day lives. Waste-free living is a lifestyle choice and affects us everywhere we go.

Q: How do you evaluate the petition’s success? Was it the main call to start the e-commerce platform?

A: I started the petition for two reasons. Primarily, I was so disgusted by all of the unnecessary plastic waste in most grocery stores and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I also wanted to see how easy it could be to make change happen. I had the thought “There’s nothing to lose. I’ll try to bring attention to this issue and see if real change can come”. In order for things to change, someone has to decide to start somewhere, and so, I made the choice to try.

My goal was to obtain 100,000 signatures to show Hong Kong’s decision makers on this issue that many of us feel the same way.  If the petition had garnered that many, I think I would have deemed it an absolute success.  Regardless, even though we only reached 10% of that goal, things were accomplished and I believe our voice was definitely heard by many. The press got involved and we were able to speak to CitySuper face-to-face and see some changes implemented.

Q: Why are you doing it? What’s your ultimate goal?

A: My goals for PFHK are to bring awareness and accessibility. I want the people of HK and beyond to become of aware of the damage plastic waste is doing to our gorgeous planet, and potentially, even the impact on our own health. Only through awareness and education does change come. We also want to create accessibility to a more sustainable life for those who want one.

Q: What are your future plans? How do you see yourself in a couple of years?

A: I definitely want to continue growing PFHK and hope to expand our reach into other countries.  My main vision is for Asia, as I feel there is so much work to be done here in regards to waste and sustainability.  At times the road to waste-free living seems so impossible. However, I do believe it’s not too late to turn things around, which makes the journey an exciting one as well, and one I’m very honoured to be taking.