When Genie Juicery first arrived on the scene, its goal was mainly health oriented: offering fresh juices made from wholesome ingredients. With a branding of wood and grass, the ethos of the juice specialist looked earthy and premium. Slowly, its goals evolved and morphed to include a further environmental aspect to the business that is a bit more costly, a bit more time-consuming and a bit more difficult in most ways, but also ultimately one that doesn’t cost the earth. Genie has recently changed from disposable plastic bottles to all-glass bottles, uses paper bags for its snacks and offers completely compostable packaging.
Melanie Barnish, founder of Genie Juicery, says, “It was logistically tricky and quite costly to buy the stock in the beginning, but moving over to recyclable packaging has undoubtedly been worth the effort. We didn’t have to search too far to find a supplier. The change has been on our radar for years, and glass bottles were always our goal; we just needed the right team in place at the right time to make it happen. There are plenty of options out there for businesses willing to put in the time and effort.”
Difficulties abound when it comes to making responsible choices, with a deluge of misinformation in terms of “biodegradable packaging”. Barnish says, “It is still a minefield, particularly regarding biodegradable plastics. We know for sure that our packaging is made up of the most sustainable and eco-friendly options in Hong Kong. More and more people are becoming aware of brands green-washing themselves with pseudo-eco-friendly products.”
And does it cost more to make the switch? Should other companies do it? Barnish continues, “Initially, yes, but in the long run, no, as we are able to reuse the bottles and have about an 80 per cent return rate. Definitely do it, and quickly. It is so important. I wish we had been able to change our bottles sooner. Both our in-person and online customers are extremely conscious, and it has made a big difference. We made the change to improve our environmental impact and lower waste. Genie Juicery wants to lead by example and encourage people to make conscious choices. Our bottles can now be fully reused and recycled, but they also preserve the nutrients and flavour of the juice much better. There are only positive things to say about making the change.”
Changing the way we drink bubble tea
Hong Kongers adore bubble tea. However, this promotes a woefully plastic-prolific drinking culture of a big-tunnelled plastic straw poking through a plastic-wrapped top – to allow for smooth boba passage – all in a large single-use plastic cup. It’s only fitting that the originators of the bubble tea craze, the Taiwanese, will also be the ones to fix it, by changing the way we actually drink bubble tea.
Taiwan has mandated that all plastic be cut by 2020, an aggressive stance that is powering innovation by companies like FLOAT. Traditionally, bubble tea pearls sit at the bottom of a plastic cup, with ice on top and tea poured over. FLOAT has created a purpose-built cup made from recycled glass (in collaboration with Spring Pool Glass), with a tapioca pearl holder (much like a tea filter) and a small drinking hole that allows individual pearls to escape with each mouthful, much like a straw delivers. By rethinking bubble tea drinking, the need for single-use plastic has been removed in one swift step, along with the billions of plastic cups and straws generated from bubble tea drinking each year.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan states that as the country’s largest glass recycler, Spring Pool Glass recycles about 100,000 metric tonnes of glass per year, accounting for 70 per cent of all glass recycled in Taiwan. Taiwan’s glass-recycling rate is the second highest in the world, behind only Sweden. It is a core value of Spring Pool Glass that “everything we do is for the next generation”.
“Everything we do is for the next generation.”
– Spring Pool Glass, Taiwan
The company launched the the W Glass Project two years ago to promote continual innovation with companies like FLOAT in order to enable a circular economy to thrive in society and make an impact. The chairman of Spring Pool has over 50 years experience in the industry. His son, TA Wu, also works at Spring Pool and says, “Through cross-disciplinary cooperation and creating market demand, we will enable these masters to find heirs to their craft so that it can be passed down to the next generation. The circular economy should produce value at the end of the chain if we are to close the circle.”
Giving bubble tea a new lease on life in the modern world through glass recycled from a previous life seems a pretty fitting start. The bubble tea cups are to be unveiled in the winter of 2019. We have high hopes that Hong Kong will be one of the first purchasing markets – so we can all continue to have our tea and drink it too.
Less of a step in the right direction and more of a celebration of a decade in business doing things responsibly is M&C ASIA. Morgan Cousin and César De Sainte Maresville established the fishmongery business back in 2009, passionate about sourcing and distributing only sustainable seafood products to Hong Kong and Macau. In an infamously opaque industry where one in five fish samples worldwide is mislabelled, M&C ASIA carefully monitors its supply chain to ensure transparency right from the docks. Every fish, clam, oyster and langoustine can be traced back to the shores of Brittany, and even the fisherman who caught it.
The founders say, “To ensure the traceability of our products, we try not to use intermediaries, and we deal directly with the source. For fresh seafood, this means that we have direct contact with the fisheries on the French coasts, who receive fish directly from the boats before they go to auction. This way, for each product we buy from our suppliers, we know the name of the boat, as well as the catching method and area, and there are no unknown factors. If you deal with big seafood brokers, the product has been handled by multiple intermediaries, and it can be very difficult to know where your seafood product actually comes from, if it’s been tampered with or if the product was caught in a sustainable manner.
We are both lovers of nature, we care about the environment and the future of our planet, and we both believe we are ethically responsible to operate our business with as little impact on the environment as possible. As a player in the seafood industry, we want to be among those who are actively pushing for positive change, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve our business.”
When asked if they have seen the tides turning in the way of sustainability, Cousin and De Sainte Maresville say, “There has definitely been an increase in awareness of seafood sustainability among our clients, especially our hotel clients. Most hotel groups now have to respect quotas for certified sustainable products in their seafood purchases. We believe WWF put together a strong campaign to convince hotels to comply with sustainability standards. Not only is it beneficial for a hotel’s reputation, but it makes the management aware of the impact overfishing has on the world and encourages them to get personally involved in making a positive change. Groups like Marriott, Hyatt and Shangri-La have adopted these sustainability standards, which has a real impact worldwide when you consider the scale of their seafood consumption globally. You can feel that people now really understand that it is their responsibility as consumers to make better choices.”
And their advice for making those better choices? “It can be confusing, as there are many different sustainable labels, and some artisanal fish suppliers are in fact sustainable but are not certified by a label. At restaurants, consumers can ask the chef for the origin and catching method of the fish – line-caught is the most sustainable method as it selectively targets fish species and does not damage the sea floor. When shopping. the easiest labels to recognise are the MSC and ASC labels, recommended by WWF. For restaurants, we would suggest they only order seafood species that is in season, to allow out-of-season species to rest.”
Another Hong Kong business that’s paving the way towards a greener future is South Stream Market. It only offers products that can be traced all the way through the supply chain. It works directly with farmers, fishermen, producers and artisans, so it knows exactly where the salmon, chicken, vegetables and dairy offered to customers come from. Traceability is intrinsic to South Stream Market, as is the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution, including importation and retail, so that customers know exactly where the food is from, how it’s produced, its impact on the environment and the welfare of the animals involved.
For meat, South Stream chooses to work with HG Walter, a family-run business that has perfected traditional methods of meat preparation over many years, sourcing from passionate British farmers who use traditional, free-range farming methods. They ensure they know exactly how the animals are reared and oversee the production through to delivery, ensuring quality, safety and best-welfare practices.
South Stream Market features an artisan section to showcase the best producers, farmers, butchers and bakers from around the world. It discovered Mayse Artisan Bakery in Tai Po, a father-daughter bakery selling sourdough using ancient Latvian recipes, handmade and fermented for 35–40 hours. It works with Just Shot Coffee to source premium beans, roasting directly in Hong Kong. The organic teas come from WITAL Tea and The Wellbeing Tea Co, a company supporting tea projects around the world. All their teabags are 100%-hand-stitched muslin cloth, and the box packaging is made from grass, both of which are completely compostable.
Going back to the roots
We will soon be seeing products from a sustainable, non-GMO meat-alternative company in the USA that uses a unique community-driven voting platform to guide which products first make it to market. Kim Le founded Prime Roots, determined to create protein-rich meat alternatives that help to reduce the burden that the conventional meat and seafood industries have placed on the planet.
Prime Roots’ products will launch in early 2020 and will range from meat-free chicken to seafoodless options such as salmon and lobster. Le says, “We’ve made great progress in the past year and have made many different types of meat and seafood alternatives, all using our koji super protein that we grow. Our protein is naturally well textured and has double the content of the average meat product. We aim to be as close nutritionally as meat (without the cholesterol and all the bad stuff). We don’t need to use heavy processing like extrusion, which is the status quo in the plant-based meat industry. Our community primarily self-identifies as flexitarian, which shows us that there is a lot of opportunity to create great experiences around plant-based foods so that it is the default, not a choice.”
Le continues, “I hope that the future of food is more transparent and equitable for all. Protein is expensive, and we want to make it so that it is delicious and affordable. Consumers are shifting their buying habits to be more plant based and also want to support missions and companies that are helping the environment. People are voting more and more with their forks, and I think it’s an exciting time to see all of the innovation happening in the food world.”
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