by TGE x SHEEPPOO Artist

In the past, people were used to reusing things and repairing them when they were broken, rarely throwing anything away. However, the new material that emerged after World War II,


completely changed this frugal attitude towards possessions.

Plastic has desirable properties:

it is lightweight, durable, and strong, but the finished product is not easy to repair and is so cheap that it discourages people from fixing it.

Therefore, most plastic products will be thrown away immediately after use, and disposable lighters are among the most representative.

Before disposable lighters appeared, people would buy matches or use refillable lighters made of metal to light a fire.

However, in the 1970s, high-end lighter companies that initially produced metal lighters successfully developed plastic substitutes, which became their pride and joy.

Plastic lighters were cheap to produce and sell, and could be thrown away after use, so they quickly became popular.

This epoch-making little thing even made it to The New York Times, a newspaper with global influence, earning the reputation of being "the attractive toss- away."

Buying matches or filling a refillable lighter with fuel is not complicated, but the emergence of disposable lighters completely changed people's habits.

Everyone quickly learned to use them and fell in love with the new disposable norm;

even people who didn't smoke would not mind carrying this cheap, convenient, and fashionable little thing.

In the 1980s, more than 350 million plastic lighters were sold each year globally,

and by 2020, China had exported 5.6 billion lighters, a staggering number.

If all the lighters collected from international beach cleaning activities in 2017 were stacked up,

they would be 10 times higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris (324 meters).

Picking up lighters during beach cleanups is nothing new, but I once had a close call.

At noon, I arranged the lighters I had collected and took a photo for record-keeping before tossing them into the helmet I had just retrieved, not expecting what would happen next.

With a sudden "bang",
they exploded!

Instinctively, I jumped away, but the fragments of the lighters still scattered all over my face, hands, and body. Thankfully, I was okay, but it scared me:

lighters on the beach can be deadly!

Later, I learned that when a lighter is exposed to temperatures above 55 degrees Celsius, the liquid butane inside the fuel tank expands. Additionally, the plastic casing becomes fragile due to years of exposure to sunlight and oxidation.

Even the slightest impact, such as picking it up and setting it back down, can trigger an explosion.

Since then, I've been extra cautious when picking up lighters during beach cleanups under the hot sun.

This experience has overturned my perception on lighters. Nevertheless, lighters are still tough marine debris because their shells contain ABS plastic material, a type of plastic that can substitute metal.

Therefore, ABS, also known as "impact-resistant plastic," has the characteristics of polyacetal resin, including high strength, high hardness, high wear resistance, as well as resistance to solvents and fuel permeation, and is difficult to decompose.

Most of the lighters I found on beaches are intact, including a commemorative lighter for the Hong Kong sovereignty handover. After 25 years of wear and tear, it was picked up by me in good conditions, except for a bit of loss
of luster.

Apart from being sturdy and durable, lighters also leave remarkable traces.

When Professor David Kari from the University of Hawaii's Department of Oceanography was collecting garbage in a vast expanse of the northern Pacific Ocean, he found a disposable transparent lighter with text on it that contained the address and phone number of a Hong Kong liquor company in both Chinese and English.

Kari called the phone number and spoke to the office manager, who knew nothing about the promotional lighter but confirmed that it bore the company's previous address from seven years ago.

How did the lighter end up in the ocean, and how did it drift 9,200 kilometers from Hong Kong to Hawaii is a fascinating story!

Because lighters often bear images and text, are not easily broken, and have strong buoyancy, they are ideal for tracing the flow of marine debris over long distances.

Since 2003, Professor Shigeru Fujieda from Kagoshima University in Japan has used lighters as research subjects and has found that the number of lighters on the beach increases significantly after every typhoon or flood.

Fujieda also studied the albatross on Midway Island, collecting 1,400 lighters from their stomachs and nests.

After analyzing their text and characteristics, he found that 80% of the lighters came from Asian countries or cities, including Hong Kong.

are common marine debris in Hong Kong.

The garbage on the Fan Lau Stone Circle Beach in Lantau Island is particularly abundant. Once, we picked up 1,645 shoes and 520 lighters, making it the largest collected litter in the history of beach cleanups.

Upon closer inspection, many of these small items drifted from mainland China. The commonly seen lighters include colourful "Shenzhen Duty-Free Shop" lighters, as well as those with various advertisements and logos, including "Guangdong Rice Wine", "2008 Olympics", "XXX Restaurant", "Goji berry and Betel Nut," and "XX Dog Meat Restaurant".

I lined them up in rainbow order on the beach, and the finished product was awe-inspiring, instantly becoming an eye-catching "artwork",

everyone exclaimed that they never thought that trash could look so beautiful.

If the ocean could hear,
it would indeed feel heartbroken.

The belly of the sea is filled with all sorts of garbage, most of which are
single-use plastics.

These artificial, colourful products slowly consume the vibrant yet fragile marine ecosystem.

Photo source: ©Sebnem Coskun/ TNC PHoto Contest 2021

But lighters are just a small item.

After that, more and more businesses realize that the profits from "durable" and "reusable" products are limited,

and they switch to embracing the new features of "daily new models" and "disposable", investing heavily in production, stimulating demand, and profiting from it.

When products cannot be repaired or recycled, and when "throwing away" becomes a casual act, garbage will only continue to pile up worldwide, devouring our living conditions and limited space.

What is the cost of convenience?

When we keep throwing things away, will we throw out the values we need to uphold, even the future of humanity?

Why not trying to strike a match or switch to
a refillable lighter,

and take action to ignite some hope for humanity?