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Nature lover vows to clean up Hong Kong waters

If you commit your energies to protecting the oceans, it helps to live close to the sea.

That’s how Toronto-born Lisa Christensen found her calling growing up in a small town on the US east coast, where she developed a healthy respect for nature.

She recalls a time of bliss.

“There was nearly no pollution. The air, water and the beaches were all so clean,” Christensen says.

“Nature is a wonderful thing. We should all learn from it.”

She did. In 2000, she founded Ecovision, an environmental awareness group in which she also serves as chief executive.

Christensen’s parents moved to Hong Kong in 1989 when her mother got a job at KPMG. She followed eight years later.

She had her first experience with Big Wave Bay on Hong Kong Island but was later horrified to find it strewn with debris, some of which had washed ashore.

The sight brought her to tears.

“I have travelled with my parents to South America and Europe since I was young but I have never seen such a scene,” she says.

She decided to do something about it.

Christensen went to beach clean-up events with friend Christine Loh, who would later become undersecretary for the environment and from whom she would learn about environmental issues.

Christensen quit her job as a sports marketing professional to establish Ecovision, working with schools and shopping malls tor collect and recycle waste.“It was a decision made out of passion,” says Christensen. “My father has been my biggest supporter.” Not even SARS could stop her, although the 2003 outbreak seriously dented her recycling efforts to a point where many of her projects were canceled. After her father died of brain cancer in 2006, Christensen pressed on. And when her mother returned to Canada, she decided to stay in Hong Kong.

“I love Hong Kong. It’s such a lovely, vibrant city,” she says.

And the rubbish problem? “It’s not impossible to tackle.”

Later, Christensen realized Hong Kong was not ready for recycling because people lacked awareness.

Hence, she decided to turn her venture into an environmental awareness organization. It organizes educational campaigns and the annual Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge for schools and civic organizations. Christensen says the clean-up campaigns are just the first step. Education is key to spreading waste consciousness. “In the 1997 policy address, Hong Kong landfills were projected to full by 2009. Yet, the government has not come up with a better waste management system and simply expanded the landfills year after year.”

Christensen has recently introduced Zero Waste Week to Hong Kong businesses to promote reduction of plastic and paper waste.

“Zero waste is achievable,” she says.

She cites a San Francisco resort which has cut waste production by 95 percent in 14 years, and the Slovenian capital Ljubljana which has been declared as the first city to adopt a zero waste policy, with more than 60 percent of its waste reduced by recycling.

Christensen says Hong Kong should also set a target to end waste production.

“I’m hopeful that Hong Kong will show a much higher level of environmental awareness,” she says.

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