There are so many fantastic women doing incredible things right here in my local community of Discovery Bay. I had trouble deciding who to speak to next!
I recently did an interview with 9 year old environmental activist Lucia Torresi – Hong Kong’s own Greta Thunberg! When I asked Lucia what initially sparked her drive for protecting the environment, she said that it was a visit from Dana from Plastic Seas who came to her preschool to talk to the kids and afterwards her class did a beach clean-up. That was the beginning of Lucia’s eco journey.
This made me want to meet Dana – a lady here in my own community who inspired such belief in this young girl and, I don’t doubt, many more. Dana is a very busy lady with all the hours she gives to Plastic Free Seas (PFS) but she kindly agreed to meet with me to tell me about the valuable work done by Plastic Free seas and a bit about Dana herself.
Meet Dana Winograd!
Canadian born Dana relocated to Hong Kong in 1996 when a job as a hotel inspector brought her here. 24 years later, she is still here with her partner and her 4 children.
DB Green–The Journey Begins
Dana told me how DB Green was formed 12 years ago over a get together at Pacific Coffee – a lady called Kate Wade sought out other DB residents who were interested in getting involved in green initiatives in DB and during a get-together at pacific Coffee one evening, DB Green was formed.
It was that evening where Dana first met Tracey Read who is Dana’s partner at Plastic Free Seas.
DB Green undertook such initiatives around DB as beach cleanups, tree planting, convincing the VOC’s of the various villages to set up recycling systems and raising public awareness.
Plastic Free Seas
Dana went onto tell me how the formation of Plastic Free Seas then came about. Tracey went on a research expedition through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to learn more about plastic in the ocean. Coming to realise the extent of the issue, Tracey came back to Hong Kong inspired to do more and with the idea of setting up a charity to educate people. And so, in 2013, Plastic Free Seas was born and has gone from a start up charity run from Dana and Tracey’s homes to the go-to organization in Hong Kong for action, education and awareness raising on protecting our oceans and other environmental issues.
To date Plastic Free Seas, in the 6 years of its existence, has spoken to 57,000 students in 150 schools ranging from kindergartens to universities all around Hong Kong providing free education on how these kids can help protect our oceans and the environment. Last year they led 67 beach clean ups, removing over 14.5 tonnes of rubbish from Hong Kong beaches. What an incredible achievement! The ladies have even been invited to speak at schools in China and Australia and have done Skype sessions with schools in other countries but their focus is Hong Kong.
I think if we are to make a real difference and impact then it is key to educate our children so that they are aware of the damage caused by single use plastic and strive to make changes themselves as well as telling their parents what they shouldn’t do. I find that my daughters are particularly good at this……
I remember being in primary school in Ireland back in the 1980’s when a lady came in to talk to us in school to tell us about the glass recycling banks that had been installed in the car park of my local supermarket. She explained to us that we should tell our parents to help us bring all our glass bottles to these bottle banks and that they could then be remade into new glass products. Recycling was a new “concept” to us back then and I remember being excited to bring my parents to the bottle bank, sorting through the various bottles and putting the green glass bottles into the green bottle bank and the clear glass bottles into the clear bottle bank and so on. I felt I was doing something important and my family diligently brought all our bottles and jars to the bottle bank from that day on.
Thanks to Plastic Free Seas, many children in Hong Kong will now be familiar with the PFS Life Ring which is the Plastic Free Symbol representing how we need to save the oceans in order to help the animals in the oceans and consequently help us on land who depend on the oceans.
With the language gap, they have found it a struggle to reach out to local schools but now with a new bilingual educator on board they are able to bridge this communication challenge and extend the reach of their message.
I was curious to know if there was a particular incident or experience that initially inspired Dana to get out there and do something about protecting our environment and she told me that when she had children that she became even more aware of the rubbish on our beaches –
“I wanted my children to collect shells on the beach, not bottle caps.”
I also wanted to know what has been her most rewarding moment so far in her work with PFS and she told me that is is
“’when a parent tells me that their child has made a change following something they heard in one of our talks. Recognition is nice but that does it for me every time”
Making a Difference
I feel that, when it comes to the environment, we are going to be handing over a lot of problems to our children’s generation to deal with and I asked Dana how she thinks we might inspire our children to act responsibly now when it comes to looking after our planet. Dana thinks that
“we need to stimulate a love for our beaches and marine environment in our children so that they want to take care of the oceans.”
I grew up beside the sea and close to numerous beaches in Ireland and, as kids, the beach was our playground – collecting shells, climbing rocks, looking for crabs, fishing in the rockpools, making hideouts from driftwood and picnicking on sandwiches that would inevitably end up with a sprinkling of crunchy sand on them! . Now when we go back for our summers, I look forward to taking my daughters to the beaches I grew up on. Although, growing up in Asia, they are used to warm water and don’t last more than a few minutes swimming in the cold Irish Sea!
While changes are obviously needed from the top down in the form of government policy changes, I think that there are little things that every one of us can do ourselves that together would make an impact. Dana agrees and thinks that we need to empower our children that their voices matter and make a difference –
“their choice not to use plastic straws or the letter they write to their local 7Eleven asking them not to hand out plastic straws makes a difference and their voice made that change happen”.
After the big T10 typhoon last year, our beaches were a mess. I took my daughters on a beach cleanup with some of their friends. My 8 year old and her friends had a great time making a “museum” out of the most interesting bits of trash they found on the beach – construction hard hats, rope etc. Our little trash artists! They were so proud of themselves afterwards when they could see the big patch of the beach that we had cleaned together and couldn’t wait to call their grandparents that evening to tell them all about it.
Clearly, we all have a part to play – governments, companies and individuals. Dana thinks that It can be difficult for companies to undertake Green initiatives when they are trying to compete on price with their competitors who may not be implementing such initiatives and these companies have a duty to deliver the best returns to their shareholders. The only way forward on this is that:
“’government needs to make it a level playing field for all companies by implementing measures that apply to all companies. For example, Companies must use a certain % of recycled content or introducing penalties for using polystyrene”
What can we do?
People generally now seem to be consciously aware of the damage to the oceans from using plastic straws and it has become the responsible thing to do to use re-usable straws instead. I asked Dana to tell us about some more simple changes that we all could make and these included:
- Water bottles -using reusable drinking bottles instead of buying bottles of water
- Coffee cups – be sure to ask for your coffee in a mug to stay and carry a portable reusable coffee cup for your coffee to go
- Lunchboxes – for school and work, use reusable lunchboxes instead of Ziplock bags, tinfoil and saran wrap. Dana suggested using silicon foodbags or beeswax wraps as other alternative options.
- Shopping bags – carry a reusable shopping tote in your bag so you don’t have to ask for a plastic bag at the supermarket
- Cutlery and straws – carry a pouch with reusable cutlery and a reusable straw in your bag to avoid having to use single-use plastic versions when out and about.
- Fruit and Veg muslin bags – bring these when you go to the supermarket for your fruit and veg and rather than using the plastic bags provided
- Bars of Soap – use instead of pump bottle soap dispensers as the pump is made of different types of plastic making it difficult to recycle and it’s an unnecessary waste of plastic. You can find shampoo, conditioner and even dish washing liquid bars.
You can purchase your No Excuse for Single Use reusable straws and cutlery set from Plastic Free Seas– see link below:
Education is key in my opinion. For example, I only recently found out that Tetra Pak-style cartons will not get recycled if put in a paper recycling bin. I had carefully been washing out and pressing flat my milk cartons for years and then putting them in my paper recycling bin! Dana recently started a tetra pack collection station in Discovery Bay – stay tuned to DB Mums for the next collection date.
I also asked Dana where we could go for more information as to what is / is not recyclable and how to dispose of correctly for recycling in order to avoid any more Tetra-Pak type errors. Dana said that you can always contact Plastic Free Seas with questions via their FB page or website and she also suggested the following podcast called Trashtalk from Sustainable Asia as a great source of information:
Find Out More
You can find out more about Plastic Free Seas and the fantastic work they do at:
I wanted to get to know more about Dana!
As a young girl growing up, what women were role models to you, who inspired you?
“’My mother – from the examples she set for me and her morals”.
I love how many of the women I have spoken to in the course of this series of articles have stated their Mum as their role model. Maybe someday, my daughters might think the same – hmmm someday, not any day soon I suspect, need to get through those teenage years first……….
What ladies inspire you today?
“’The everyday person – that lady who goes out of her way to help, who is inspired by something and goes and does something about it, even when no one knows about it”.
I couldn’t agree more – it doesn’t have to be the big public figure that inspires our girls, it is often the regular women around them in their community – their teacher, their sports coach, their grandmother, the kind neighbor who collects books for kids in need etc.
I remember my English teacher in school who encouraged my love of reading and introduced me to books that opened up my mind to new ideas and an interest in the world around me.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“An accountant like my Dad – I just loved numbers!”
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing young girls in Hong Kong today?
“”Peer pressure – to have the confidence to be yourself, not to be taken in by material things and not to care what others think.”
Absolutely – my 8 year old is becoming very conscious of what is “cool”. I tell her that true cool is being yourself and not just following along and copying what is deemed to be cool. However, I also clearly remember what it was like to be in school myself and how I very much wanted to fit in and not stand out. For me, it was only at university that I think I was “me.” I think that we must constantly encourage our girls to be confident in who they are and hope that they start to believe in themselves too.
What advice would you give 16 year old you?
“”I’d need to give that one more thought!”
I’m not sure 16 year old me would have listened to my advice…….
Finally, can I ask you, what is your favourite product from the Our Girls Gang store?
“”The Eco Warrior t-shirt!”
This design was actually inspired by 9 year old Lucia Torresi who herself was inspired by Dana from one of her Plastic Free Seas school talks!
Thank you Dana – it has been a pleasure to chat with you. You are a role model to girls out there, showing them that their voice and actions can make a difference. Plastic Free Seas is a fantastic organization and Hong Kong is lucky to have you – keep up the good fight!