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Sustainability: Interview with Tim Parker, co-founder of the Circular City

Sustainable practices are methods and means to achieve sustainable development which in turn is defined as one that satisfies the needs of the present without adversely affecting the conditions for future generations.

Tim Parker, based in Hong Kong, is very close to this topic and that of circular economy. LocalHood volunteer, Fiona Lee, interviews Tim to know more about his new venture Ch00ze.

In Pic: Tim Parker co-founder of Circular City, the startup behind Ch00ze, a reusable cup initiative:

Fiona Lee: Hello Tim, thanks for agreeing to the interview with LocalHood! Can you please tell us more about yourself?

Hi! I’m originally from the beautiful (but often cold and rainy) Northern Ireland, and have lived in the UK (Bristol) during my uni years, and then moved out to Hong Kong 8 years ago.

My background is in Mechanical Engineering, originally working as a subsea engineer, but I switched into the education sector shortly after my first job, and have been teaching Design and Technology for the past 11 years. I recently resigned from my teaching role to pursue Circular City full time and am excited to finally be focusing on our reuse & return system without having to balance two full time jobs!

Fiona Lee: This reusable cup programme sounds interesting, how does it all work?

In a nutshell, you can borrow a returnable ch00ze cup from one coffee shop, enjoy your coffee on the go, then return it to a different coffee shop, or drop off pod in your workplace, similar in nature to the power bank rental programmes. You’ll need to register on our ch00ze app to join and see our ch00ze partner locations, but after that, it’s free and easy to use. Oh, and each return increases your impact score so you can feel good seeing your individual and collective waste reduction efforts!

Fiona Lee: How did you come up with the name Ch00ze?

In Pic: Debbie Lau, co-founder of Circular City, modelling the reusable cup.

Our original pilot system was called CHOOSE:REUSE, because we wanted people to have a new choice (rather than no choice) when ordering takeout. We decided to change to because we received feedback that the word “reuse” had a negative stigma attached to it in Hong Kong (especially during covid!) with regards to hygiene perceptions. instead focusses on encouraging a zero waste (hence the 0’s and z’s) lifestyle by being part of a purpose driven club/community.

Fiona Lee: What're these cups made out of, and how much of an environmental impact do you expect to achieve with this programme?

Our current batch of cups, sponsored by Greenpeace, are made from stainless steel. They’re really nice to look at, hold, and drink your coffee out of. It really is a better experience over a paper/plastic lined cup.

We do have Polypropylene cups too, but we have not yet launched these.

The stainless steel cups can be reused between 500-1000 times and the plastic cups can be reused approx 200 times. Despite the heated debate of steel vs plastic in reuse systems, the bottom line is that as long as these are used to their maximum life capacity (ie remain in the system), they will trump single use cups, both environmentally (through life cycle analysis comparison)and economically. Recyclables and compostables are no match for the sturdy reusable cup that fulfils its destiny!

Fiona Lee: How have you found running a green startup in Hong Kong? Has it been difficult to get funding/users?

It’s been, er, challenging! We effectively launched a cup sharing system during both a 4th and then 5th wave of covid in one of the most hygienically sensitive cities in the world, all whilst F&B outlets were getting hammered by covid restrictions. We had just about every challenge thrown at us in a very difficult time for the F&B sector, and although I’m really proud of what the team have achieved (endured?!), it wouldn’t have been possible without the really rather large network of support that we have received from so many positive people. From our first pilot partners, Uncle Russ coffee, Hemingways and Plastic Free Seas, and our first ch00ze reusers, the DB commuters, to Cyberport, Science Park, Greenpeace and a whole host of corporate and NGO/volunteers backing to see this concept come to life in HK.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #17 comes to mind quite frequently when we manage to launch a system with many different parties’ involvement. As this is an entire system change, it needs the buy in of loads of different stakeholders, from suppliers, to F&B partners, to customers, to washing partners and logistics providers. Aligning visions and demonstrating value add to all these stakeholders can be quite a challenge! We’re excited to announce a few more partnerships in 2023! #partnershipsforthegoals #sdg17

Fiona Lee: Lastly, what's ahead for the Ch00ze team and how can our LocalHood newsletter readers help?

Reusable plates for the planet is what’s next! Our intention when we first started this was to replace single use food containers, but due to the nature of the many, many cuisine types in Hong Kong, we decided to start simple with the humble coffee cup. As it turns out, that was quite challenging in itself given the high temperatures required. It meant we had to find cups that balanced the material properties for comfort, taste, heat retention etc, but were also easy to wash and stacked efficiently. Needless to say, I'm now a walking encyclopedia on the topic of reusable cups!

So yes, watch this space for the launch of our food container range in selected outlets, alongside another expansion of our coffee cup programme with Greenpeace, who deserve a lot of credit for their campaign efforts thus far.

If there’s one thing we would like to ask from your readers to help further the #reuserevolution and really see this scale across Hong Kong (and the universe!), it would be to spread the word to your colleagues, friends, and if you work in an office/Co-work space, then we would bloody love it if you asked them to join forces with us to create zero waste workplaces with ch00ze. Corporate/school beach clean ups are great, but they’re only a band aid solution. We need to turn off the tap at the source, and we can all be a part of that by making everyday a #ch00zeday!

Thank you so much Tim, for sharing your project with us and all the best!


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