by TGE x SHEEPPOO Artist

You have been to a beach cleanup,

you know how tedious it is to be greeted by the most common marine waste-disposable plastics. You are lucky if you stumbled upon a pleasant surprise such as a plastic toy.

If you are looking for little plastic green soldiers, you need to be sharp-eyed besides luck. The finger-sized green soldiers formed many boys’ battle arrays and became the new generation’s favourites after the release of ‘Toy Story’, a classic of animation. But the carnage that met our eyes was this: little green soldiers were strewn on the dirty beach in various forms each holding a piece of weapon, some disfigured and some whole. It was like witnessing the landing of a heavily-wounded army over the rough sea after a tough battle.

In the 70s, Hong Kong was the largest export centre of toys in the world.

This was because the entrepreneurs made their money in plastics industry. Plastic is more malleable than wood and iron sheets, and enabled manufacture of more intricate toys.

Plastic toys such as little green soldiers and 'watermelon balls' did not cost much to be mass produced.

It is not uncommon to find plastic toys made in Hong Kong on a beach.

One wonders how far would they drift and how long would they ‘live’!

With greater buoyancy than wood or metal allows plastic toys to drift a greater distance.

Here, we cannot fail to mention the rubber duck.

The flat-beaked yellow duckling has been the bath buddy for generations of children and its popularity shows no sign of waning. But its greatest odyssey went beyond the bathtub. The chum drifted and landed around the world with a following including scientists who study ocean currents.

The story1 goes like this:

In 1992, a cargo ship from Hong Kong ran into a severe storm near the Aleutian island in the North Pacific.

The freight of twelve containers loaded with close to 30,000 bath toys fell overboard.

1 The Green Earth: The Most Popular Marine Waste?

From then on, these little toys drifted to America, England, Iceland, Australia, South America, Indonesia…. They were spotted even after a period of sixteen years.

The toy legion has blue turtles, green frogs, red beavers etc. The widely known rubber duck was spotted first and became the figurehead of the legion.

The yellow duckling was regularly spotted in Hong Kong’s coast.

We scavenged a cute rubber duck, uncertain if it was one of the 30,000 bath toys, in one of our beach cleanups on Ngan Chau Tsai beach, Peng Chau Island.

Our childhood is indispensably
associated with toys.

A survey2 reported that, 65% of children in Hong Kong had more than 50 toys each.

When they were asked what they did to their loving toys,

throwing away was the answer of the 70%
of the polled.

2 The Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong survey in 2015

Toys were among a child’s prized possessions. However, the more one has the less one cherishes. A nursery rhyme was being played as I wrote,

I like it when you play with me.

I like it when you don’t get angry with me.

It’s you. It’s you.

I like to be with you.

It’s you – toy.

You are the wings of my happiness.

To paraphrase Hungerford, the beauty of a toy is in the mind of a child.

An abundance of mass-produced toys is not central for a happy childhood. The company of loving parents and a touch of imagination that bring life to unanimated toys are unmatchable.

There is a limit to one’s possession of toys but the memories live on

like stories of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Andy and Bonnie that continue in Toy Story sequels and spin-offs.

Desire feeds on happiness brought by possession
of toys.

Business savvy fast food chains understand it well and have cashed in on the 'toy dollars'.

In 1998, McDonald’s launched limited edition of Snoopy Word Tour encouraging people to eat a McDonald’s meal for 28 days for the acquisition a complete set.

Inspired by the hit, McDonald’s launched another campaign, Love McKitty, the next year. Heavily advertised, it was another smashing success, creating long queues of patrons.

However, it produced huge leftovers. Desire was artificially pumped up by the fast food chain with its promotion of meals with toys while ignoring such marketing strategy has turned consumption into serious wastefulness.

In recent years, some fast food chains overseas stopped giving out free toys with kids’ meals to make it easy for kids to turn down junk food. Some replaced toys with books.3

But Hong Kong has not caught the trend. There are still many kids’ meal toys, some of which were editions from long time ago including the 1998 edition of Snoopy from Singapore and the 1989 edition of Fry Kids, on our beaches.4

3 U.K. example 1U.K. example 2Taiwan story

4 In recent years, some countries ban their fast food chains giving out toys with kids’ meals to reduce kids’ intake of junk food. Some fast food chains replaced toys with books.

Yesterday’s megahits
became today’s immortal marine waste.

This Ultraman was found on a beach.

The man-made piece of the imperishable was the invincible hero before being defiled by the sea. Its muscles and armor are made of plastic which has become one of the most difficult environmental issues of
our time.

Do not rely on any heroes to save us nor a knockout punch to finish the monster.

Folks like you and me need to face the challenge and learn to distinguish between cravings and needs for the survival of future generations. Some folks became no more than an unthinking Barbie doll with a wardrobe choked full with the latest fashion. Some ladder-climbing folks became the personification of materialism.

In our time of affluence,

a frugal lifestyle begs a following.

In 2019, we stumbled upon a little bunny on Little Palm Beach in Sai Kung. It set us on a flight of fancy.

The fantasies kept it from being sent to a landfill.

We picked it up took it with us, and washed it. It became a member of The Green Earth and attended many of our important functions including the
fifth anniversary event to welcome our guests.

Toy or garbage?

It depends on one’s mindset.