When looking at the issue of environmental sustainability in Hong Kong, waste reduction is always an important point of discussion, as the city’s landfills are predicted to be exhausted by 2020. At the forefront of this is Garager Ceicy, who is the General Manager of Vegware, a UK-based company that produces plant-based, biodegradable packaging with a mission of producing 'Zero Waste'.
The always lovely and humble Ceicy sat down with us to chat about her inspiring career journey, Vegware's award-winning products, and her thoughts about how to be a responsible consumer with the rise of food delivery. Keep reading to the end, as she also shares some of her favourite hacks for going green and favourite veggie restaurants in town.
JESSIE: To start, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
CEICY: Hello Ladies! I am Ceicy. I’m from Hong Kong and also half-Taiwanese. Grew up in Taiwan, Hong Kong and studied in UK, US and in France. I started Vegware 3 years ago. I used to work for an Italian luxury brand and after 10 working experience at the corporate, I felt ready to start my own business. I was looking for ownership of my career and also a social responsible business. And when I came across Vegware, I knew this is the brand I want to introduce in Hong Kong.
I love branding and the architecture forming a good brand. I used to work in a company with very unique brand positioning and it fascinates me the value and message a brand can influence people. I received an MBA degree in luxury brand management in France and it’s a very valuable experience. There were brands and products I considered introducing to Hong Kong but I was very impressed by Vegware when I first came across it. A company with integrity, strong brand value with transparency and social responsibility. It provides solution to food waste issue and that’s what we need in HK.
I wouldn’t claim myself an excellent environmental warrior but I do refuse and dislike wasting things. I would reuse plastic bags, paper bags or any resources multiple times. I believe if we don’t value the resources we have, they’ll be taken away…
J: Let’s talk about Vegware. As I know, Vegware’s eco-friendly packaging and catering disposals have gained international recognition and has won a number of sustainability, innovation, growth and business awards. Can you tell us a bit more about what the company — its history, mission, and products?
C: Vegware is a UK company. Our founder and CEO Mr Joe Frankel started the company since 2006. It started with a small team, around 3 people and now there are more than 80 employees worldwide. And it’s the only plant-based packaging operating globally. We’re unique in terms of brand and positioning, and the message we want to carry out.
It’s a straightforward company with clarity and transparency. We received twice Queen’s Awards, which is very encouraging — just like someone patting on the shoulder and saying that you are doing the right thing. I would love to bring those knowledge and practice in Hong Kong.
We focus on plant-based packagings in food industry and our products are completely plastic-free! Plastic is made of petroleum which is a finite material that will use up one day. We do not want to waste such valuable resources that can be used in other more useful way. It’s inevitable to avoid packagings or disposables packagings as they are so embedded in our lifestyle. Our goal is to share the benefits of plant-based products and also promote sustainability to restaurants and companies in Hong Kong and also in Asia.
J: Hong Kong, as reported, the landfills are overflowed and food waste is one of the major sources. Do you think Hong Kong is a difficult Market in terms of promoting sustainable products like Vegware? What are some challenges you’ve faced?
C: I am grateful to meet clients who are keen on plastic-free packaging and support Vegware from the beginning. They have been running restaurants for a long time and absolutely wish to switch to green alternative. People have good heart to do the right thing and it’s our job to make Vegware available and visible. Currently, a lot of packagings are with plastic linings and what Vegware offers is complete plastic-free.
Material can’t be recycled unless it’s cleaned and back to its original form, and often that involves a lot of labour work and costs. Whereas plant-based products are organic material that can decompose along with food waste. All our material used are recyclable and renewable material therefore we are reusing the resources to make our products. Thus, Vegware products don’t release chemicals like plastic or polystyrene.
Another intangible value that we share is the mandatory carbon footprint data. It’s very in depth study on each product of the carbon footprint saved vs conventional packaging. Vegware follows the EU Regulations. All our packagings receive certifications. This is what we are very proud of.
We are all part of the ecosystem to encourage and provide a solution on food waste issue. We also encourage the government and large corporates to join us and be the green warriors.
J: What do you see for Vegware’s future in the region and beyond? Is the future optimistic?
C: Very optimistic. We’re continuing designing new products, ie that cater Asian food; ie saucy and heavy weight food. Vegware is a small company with big global vision. We are not only focusing on Western market but also international market. In fact, we are receiving more and more inquiries on plant-based products or the solution that we provide. People do care about the environment and it truly motivates us.
J: Can you share some highlights since you started working at Vegware?
C: It’s a fun journey. I’m lucky to pursue what I believe, a job that I enjoy working on and the brand that shares social responsibility. My friends are super cute that they tag me or Vegware on Facebook/ Instagram when they see restaurants use plastics and urge us to go and speak to the owners about our product.
J: Do you have any eco-friendly life hacks that can share with us — how to take the first step to go green? Or what kind of changes can we make to our lives in order to be more conscious consumers?
C: First, like our Facebook page and Instagram! We have to reuse and recycle for sure. When you have no choice, try to use the alternatives, such as plant-based products. We should do the right thing and influence the others. The solution is here and it’s not a myth. We need more people to believe, support and use plant-based packaging.
J: What are your thoughts about the global rise of food delivery? What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue facing us today?
C: It’s not news that we are facing landfill problem in Hong Kong. 60% of the waste comes from food waste, including packaging and it truly brings negative impact to the environment. HK is a fast-growing city and its inevitable not to use disposable products. Though it’s sad to see so many boxes, mostly plastics, being used in delivery service. I feel guilty too -- seeing so many packaging used around one single meal. We are hoping plastic-free containers can bring a greener and healthier option to the food sector.
In China, I am surprised that hot pot can also order and deliver to home! Though, you can imagine how many packagings are used in one delivery. It’s really important and be smart to choose the sustainable option over plastic or polystyrene.
J: Now onto some fun questions: what are your favourite restaurants in town?
C: Salad is my favourite lunch choice! Mana! is on top of my lunch spot list. I used to go to Home Eat to Live, but sadly it’s closed in July. They were true supporter to local farmers and local enterprises to promote sustainability. Other than that, I also recommend French cafe/ grocery store — Monsieur Chatte, where they serve salad at lunch time or sandwiches, cheeses and so on. I enjoy the walk from Garage Society to the restaurant; it’s a good breather and I get to reset the mind.
J: Could you share with us some of your personal passions or aspirations, professional or otherwise?
C: Self-discipline and being optimistic are foundation element when running your own business. We have to have strong believe in ourselves. Apart from hiking in the morning, meditation also helps clearing the mind and give clarity. You only need to spend 10−15 minutes to quiet your mind and allow thoughts to come and go. I recommend Andy Puddicombe on Headspace. He’s a good teacher and give good technique on meditation.
Most people encounter busy schedule and hectic lifestyle in Hong Kong. We are fed by information, social media on a daily basis. It’s necessary that we pause ourself, identify our goal and what we have to achieve.
There are so much for me to learn. Sharing is very important that I often gain the most when I share my knowledge or thoughts with friends and people. Support system is also important that you have a group of friends to support and give you positive vibes. Things are not smooth in life; but we always need waves to bring us to the shore.
At Garage Society we believe imagination — the capacity to create and evolve — is crucial to how we operate, create opportunities for our members, and find new paths to grow.
As the world adapts, problems aren’t getting simpler, with today’s challenges requiring a more creative approach. From childhood, we’ve been taught that creativity is for some people, or that it’s something you lose as you grow older.
Today’s entrepreneurs do not like getting tied down and are inherently drawn towards options that let them progress at their own growth-plan. Personalisation and a sense of creative freedom has picked up the pace and is here to not only rule but also dominate the work culture.