HK hiking: the domestic helpers scaling new heights to tackle countryside litter scourge

25-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

These domestic helpers might be tempted to have a lie-in on their one day off a week.

But they have a grander vision: waking before dawn to scale some of Hong Kong’s hardest-to-reach peaks and help rid the countryside of litter.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Mary Jane Escalante would spend her time off in Central with her friends, but took up hiking last February to avoid the crowds, now rising before 6am to do so.

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As they pounded the trails, the 43-year-old from the Philippines and a group of friends noticed discarded tissues, plastic bottles and masks even on the highest peaks, prompting them to bring along black bags to collect and properly dispose of the litter. “Rubbish is the world’s problem,” says Escalante, a helper who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years.

“When we noticed there was a lot of rubbish everywhere and you can even see it in the mountains we wanted to be responsible hikers.”

She added the group adhered to social-distancing restrictions by hiking in pairs and wearing masks.

With international travel severely curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic which has generated 9,797 cases in Hong Kong with 166 fatalities, as of Thursday there has been an explosion of hikers on the city’s trails, according to seasoned hikers, some of whom are contributing to the litter issue.

In addition, the city’s commercial and industrial waste disposal rate has steadily risen, growing from 3,364 tonnes per day in 2014, to 4,617 tonnes daily in 2018, of which 23.3 per cent was plastic, according to government data.

Despite only taking up the pursuit early last year, Escalante has already progressed to more challenging hikes.

She has even undertaken stream trekking, a mixture of climbing and hiking along a riverbed that allows the more adventurous to immerse themselves into nature away from man-made tracks. And everywhere she goes, she picks up litter.

So far, the group have climbed Lantau and Sunset peaks, as well as numerous streams on Lantau Island.

Rimar Castigador, a keen hiker who has been navigating trails for four years, often guides Escalante and others on the more extreme hikes.

“In my opinion, if we collect rubbish to keep the trails clean and if people see others doing this, then they might also think of doing so as well,” says the 34-year-old domestic helper from the Philippines.

On January 1, Castigador and Escalante were among a group cleaning up as they hiked Mount Stenhouse, Lamma Island’s highest peak at 353 metres.

“It was rocky and there were a lot of bushes,” Escalante recalls. “We filled two big black bags of rubbish; mostly tissues, plastic water bottles and masks.”

Photographer Ed Stokes was hiking the trail with a friend on New Year’s Day when he happened upon the group collecting other people’s rubbish.

While Stokes says he occasionally encounters litter pickers, organised by a company or community group and wearing “smart T-shirts and white gloves”, it is rare to see people collecting rubbish of their own volition.

“What really struck home to me was these ladies had gone all this way up a steep, very strenuous, and in places quite dangerous to collect rubbish,” says Stokes, who has lived in Hong Kong for 27 years and photographs the natural landscape.

“I am very attached to Hong Kong’s landscape and natural beauty. That’s why it has always been troubling to see countryside litter and why it is so lovely to see these ladies doing a very positive thing about it.”


Category: Hong Kong

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