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Meet the Founders: Esther Röling and Sole Riestra, Adventure Clean Up Challenge

Meet the Founders: Esther Röling and Sole Riestra, Adventure Clean Up Challenge

Meet the Founders

Esther Röling and Sole Riestra, Adventure Clean Up Challenge


In 2019, Adventure Clean Up Challenge launched its first edition which saw teams of dedicated adventurers take to coastal areas in Hong Kong and tackle the growing volume of pollution. Coming off of their recently completed second annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge (October 24th – November 8th, 2020), we sat down with the challenge founders to understand the levels of coastal pollution that pose such a huge threat to Hong Kong and to also to hear how the Retykle community can get involved.

Tell us a bit about yourselves and Adventure Clean up Challenge? 

Esther: I am originally from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and moved to Hong Kong 7 years ago from London.  I run several sustainability-focused projects and I also have a 3-year-old daughter.  When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I immediately fell in love with the outdoor adventures that HK has to offer including hiking, trail running, and climbing. My husband and I climbed the entire 75 km coastline of HK Island in 6 days in 2017. During this expedition, we were shocked by the amount of coastal pollution we came across so we decided to map everything we saw. I felt I had to do more than just mapping and fortunately I got in touch with Sole Riestra and together we came up with the Adventure Clean up Challenge, the first multi-disciplined sports event with an environmental purpose.   

Sole: I am from Argentina and work as an independent consultant and researcher in the fields of organisational development and sustainability. I help people and organisations change their strategies and behaviour towards more diverse, environmentally, and socially connected ways of living and working. I also have two little girls, my eldest is 3, and the youngest is 1. They were both born here in Hong Kong - which is one of the reasons why I feel so connected to this beautiful place in the world. I met Esther at an event for female entrepreneurs and we immediately clicked. Our joint passion for sustainability, coupled with our commitment and drive to make things happen brought Adventure Clean Up Challenge (ACUC) to life.  

 What I love the most about Adventure Clean Up Challenge is that it is so much more than just a clean up event. We purposefully designed it to bring together the fun and adrenaline of the more edgy, sporty, and outdoors competitions, with a purposeful and generative mission of cleaning our beautiful, yet difficult to access, remote coastal locations. Hong Kong's coast bears the heavy load of being highly polluted because of how the winds and ties drag waste into these spots and because they are more difficult to access than regular beach cleanups that can't be organised for these sites.   Another important part of what we are doing is community engagement and education. All participating teams are assessed not only on the amount of trash they collect but also the actions they take to raise awareness whether that is through co-workers, kids’ schools, or even bystanders in Central which is what one team did in 2019 during a one-day shout-out in Central. So all in all, I think have created a very rounded, memorable, and transformative experience for people to be part of. 

 What do you hope to achieve with Adventure Clean up Challenge? 

Esther: We are engaging with the sports community and outdoor enthusiasts of Hong Kong to channel their power and skills towards something bigger and greater: the extraction of the coastal garbage that is already out there, to begin with, but also - and most importantly - to inspire everyone else in Hong Kong to do their bit to minimise waste and bring about a cleaner city. The teams that participate are mostly formed by hikers, climbers, paddlers, swimmers, and anyone else that wants to take their sporting activities up a notch. Because the sites are difficult to access in some way or another, we carefully match sites with teams based on their skills and capabilities. 

Sole: Well, we always say that the best thing that could happen to us is that we are no longer needed. So in that sense, ultimately what we hope to achieve together with other organisations and stakeholders is a clean, waste-free coastal and sea area in Hong Kong. But of course, this is not something that we can achieve by ourselves. So, specifically to ACUC, we want to contribute by being much more than just coastal cleanup. We want to contribute to individual and collective behavioural change by influencing institutions to achieve proper waste disposal and collection in remote areas, finding more sustainable options for sea waste (repurpose, recycling), and building multi-sector collaborations across Hong Kong.

What are some of your success stories?

Before and after: photo from Team Bottle Bob Squad (ISF), one of the 13 teams who participated during the Adventure Clean Up Challenge (October 24th – November 8th, 2020). Site: Tai Wan Tau.

Esther: With 2019 being our first year of the Adventure Clean Up Challenge, we were thrilled by the support we received from sponsors and collaborators, as well as by the active engagement and participation of the teams. The moment each team saw the severeness of the issue we were tackling, everyone immediately rolled up their sleeves and started cleaning. Every single participant gave up their free time during the month of the challenge to make an impact. As a collective result, teams spent more than 840 hours cleaning at our designated sites, they gathered more than 1300 bags of trash, plus around 2 tonnes of bulky items such as fridges, chairs, air conditioning units, and other types of really hazardous waste.

Sole: I remember one of our first meetings with one of the teams that participated, and at the beginning, they were a bit hesitant about what we were doing. They had never seen the site they were assigned to, and it was their first time engaging with an activity like this one. But the day that we took them to their site, they immediately understood what we were trying to achieve, and to this day, they keep reminding how being a part of this challenge changed their perspective and empowered them to take direct, personal action to reduce their waste but also to advocate and inspire others to take part in tackling the environmental challenges we face here in Hong Kong. This, to me, is the biggest success we can hope for: to transform people so that they become change agents above and beyond the challenge itself. 

What does the future look like for Hong Kong when it comes to solving the plastic waste problem?

Esther: It is important that we all take accountability for the plastic waste issue in the world and in turn recognise that we need to be the ones to change this. Every single piece of plastic we buy or use will never really go away. If all the different stakeholders across government, industry, and consumers work together we can come up with great initiatives to reduce single-use plastic by cutting its consumption, and/or repurposing and recycling whatever we cannot reduce. Multi-sector collaboration is key so we want to bring together different groups to explore innovative solutions to sea waste and waste management in remote locations.  

Sole: Unfortunately if we don’t change our consumer habits, the future doesn’t look very good. Landfills are filling up very rapidly, and statistics show that the amount of trash generated per person in Hong Kong keeps rising. So, we need to first and foremost, become aware and truly conscious of this issue, and actively find ways of reducing our individual waste, particularly of things like plastic and styrofoam which are incredibly hazardous to the environment. The good news is that there is a rise in grassroots recycling initiatives, package-free stores offering bulk products, and offer of environmental education programmes for people of all ages. We just need to make sure that we keep on building momentum across society and engaging with all of the diverse communities that make this city’s wonderful social landscape.

 How can our readers get involved? 

Esther: We are working hard on next years’ challenge, which we are trying to make bigger, but for that, we will need several volunteers to help with various different types of activities. So even for those that might not join a team, there is space to take part and contribute. If you want to join as a volunteer, please reach out by email to info@adventurecleanup.org or message us through our Facebook, Instagram, or website.

Sole: You can also sign up to our newsletter for the latest information and news. Finally, if you go on a hike or boat ride and you see any polluted spots, write down the coordinates from Google Maps, take some pictures, and reach out to us via email or Facebook Messenger so that we can keep track of polluted areas that need some TLC!

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