Team:HK GTC/Human Practices

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Integrated Human Practice

Throughout our iGEM journey, we have interviewed professors, companies and non-governmental organizations to gain advice and insights on how we can improve our project.


Research Team

From our past research, our research team has had difficulties predicting successful mutation sites for PETase. Prof. Ngo has suggested that we refer to the structure of the enzyme, more specifically, the active site of the enzyme. We could possibly refer to the binding energies and the positions of hydrogen bonds in the protein structure, as well as the catalytic site of the enzyme. We can look specifically into each amino acid, nucleotide, and see which is the key nucleotide that is responsible for the catalytic activity of the entire enzyme...

Human Practice

In the interview with Prof. Ngo, we told the professor how students opposed the idea of participating in seminars about plastic pollution according to our survey results. He mentioned that showing videos about plastic pollution may be vague and unpersuasive. He suggested that we make our survey and educational materials more convincing to students...

Drone & AI Team

From the interview with Prof. Ngo, we realised that the main cause of plastic pollution is that plastic is too convenient for the general public, and this leads to an excessive usage of plastics. He pointed out that in order to tackle this problem, we must organize more promotion events for citizens to arouse the awareness of the new generation...


Survey Aim

Our aim: To discover the awareness, action, and knowledge of HK secondary school students towards plastic pollution and reduction. Also, this survey could be used as a first-hand resource to reflect on the current challenges related to plastic pollution and recycling, providing a referential direction for stakeholders (e.g. government, NGOs, other industries) to develop future strategies and plans.

Overview of our survey

Since last summer, we have planned a survey for middle and high school students (Grade 7 to 11) that aims to test their understanding of different aspects of plastic pollution. Our survey consists of 60 questions and is divided into 4 parts: Knowledge, attitude, behaviour and government schemes. Until now, we have received 325 responses from students of 4 local secondary schools.

The knowledge part of the survey tests students about some general facts about plastics and recycling, such as how long does it take for a plastic bottle to be naturally degraded completely. We have also added questions testing how familiar students are with the government policies in Hong Kong focusing on waste management and reduction.

For the attitude part, the student’s view of the plastic pollution problem can be revealed. We aim to see how students think about the severity of the problem, and if they are willing to change their own habits to ease the problem.

In the behaviour part, we asked students about their habits regarding the 4Rs (Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle) and whether they have taken action or not in their daily lives in response to the problem.

For our last part, the government schemes, we set up some questions about the Hong Kong government policies and schemes targeted towards plastic pollution to see how students feel about these schemes. We hope to find out whether our government has done enough promotion about these schemes and if they have any opinions towards government schemes.

How do we calculate the scores?

For most parts of our survey, the more environmentally friendly the surveyee is, the higher his/her scores will be.

For the knowledge part, the higher the mark of the surveyee, the better their knowledge around topics of plastic pollution and related government policies in Hong Kong is revealed to be.

In the knowledge part, for every correct answer, the surveyee gets 1 mark. If the answer is wrong, no marks will be given.

In the attitude part, students give their answers by ranking the statement in the question from 1 to 5 as shown below.

The level of agreement increases as the number increases. 2 marks are given for “strongly agree” and 1 mark is given for “agree”. For other answers, neutral or any degree of disagreement, no marks will be given. However, Q10 and Q11 of the attitude part are exceptions.

For these two questions, 2 marks are given for “strongly disagree” while 1 mark is given for “disagree”, no marks are given for neutral or any degree of agreement.

For the behaviour section, there are more variable question types.

In the example question shown above, 2 marks are given to surveyees who answered “always”, 1 mark is given to surveyees who answered “often”. For other answers, no marks are given.

For yes/no questions or questions that require students to choose their most-agreed statement like this one, 1 mark is given to surveyees who answers “yes” or other reasons, environmentally-friendly answers. No marks are given for other answers.

As for the government schemes part, if the student got a higher mark, that reveals that the surveyee believes that the Hong Kong government could improve on raising awareness, promotion etc.

Take the above question as an example, if the surveyee answers “I have not seen such advertisements”, this reflects that the government has not done enough to promote its schemes or information about plastic pollution to the public. Therefore, the student gets 1 mark. This question is also used to analyse the level of promotion about plastic pollution and reduction by the Hong Kong government.

The above question is also an example of the government schemes section. In this question type, 2 marks are given for “strongly disagree” while 1 mark is given for “disagree”, no marks are given for neutral or any degree of agreement. That reflects on the fact that students think the plastic levy scheme has been unuseful and the government has to do more.

Survey Analysis

Average marks of students for each part:
Attitude: 7.30/20
Behaviour: 4.44/12
Government schemes: 7.94/18
Knowledge: 5.04/18 (Government policies: 2.91/9, Plastic pollution: 3.00/9)

In general, we found out that students are unaware of the properties of plastic, the severity of the plastic pollution problem and government schemes.


From the low score of the attitude part, we can observe that students lack environmental awareness and they are not quite willing to know more and take a more significant role in advocating and easing the issue, such as participating in activities held by NGOs, organising campaigns on their own.

From the above question, we can see that students are fairly indifferent about the idea of organising a campaign to promote public awareness. A large amount (39.7%) of the surveyees responded “neutral”. This shows that they may not have the intention and passion to spread the seriousness of the problem to help save the Earth.

Despite their attitude towards taking up a larger role, we found out that students are still quite willing to take small steps to help reduce the use of plastics, and thus reducing the damage we are causing to the Earth.

In this question, more than 70% (44.6% agree, 33.8% strongly agree) of our surveyees support the idea of using eco-friendly substitutes in restaurants. This reflects that students acknowledge that the problem of plastic pollution exists and want to try and limit their own use of plastics.


In the behaviour part, the low average score of the surveyees reflects that students do not actively participate in reducing the use of plastics and are mostly environmentally unfriendly.

From the above question, we can see that most of the students (88.3%) have never participated in any government-held activities or events related to plastic pollution. This shows that students are not interested or do not care about such activities, which shows that they may not be interested to learn more about the situation in Hong Kong or what the government has done. Another reason that may explain this phenomenon may be due to the lack of promotion by the government or other related organisations.

Although it is possible that the government has not put enough effort into promoting, it is certain that students are not personally interested in environmental issues.

The data from this question reveals that the majority of students have never subscribed to any environmental conservation publications. This can reflect on the fact that secondary students do not take initiative in learning more about topics like environmental conservation and they rarely care about such topics. This may be because of the repetitive exposure to contents related to environmental protection, leading to students being fatigued towards such information.

The vast majority, 88% of the surveyees have never participated in government-organized events related to plastic pollution. This may reflect that students have no interest in joining such events. It is also possible that the government may not have organized a lot of these activities, or they may not have done enough promotion for plastic pollution-related activities to reach the general public.

Knowledge (Government schemes)

Once again, the low overall average mark of the section shows that students do not have sufficient knowledge of government schemes related to plastic pollution in Hong Kong and are mostly clueless.

A reverse vending machine is a machine that allows people to recycle plastic bottles. For every plastic bottle placed in the vending machine, a rebate of $.02 will be given. Only 7.4% of the students know when the RVM was introduced by the government while most students(69.2%) are not sure. This reflects that students may not have paid attention to their surroundings. The reason for this low recognition could also be due to the weak presence of the machine, to which the government should do a better job in promoting the program.

“Plastic-Free Takeaway, Use Reusable Tableware” is a campaign co-organized by the government and several fast-food chains to encourage citizens to reduce their use of plastic tableware when taking away food. The public can get a sticker after not getting disposable tableware in each of their takeaway orders.
In this question, only 4.9% of students know how many stamps are needed to be rewarded a set of stainless steel cutlery in the “Plastic-Free Takeaway, Use Reusable Tableware” campaign. On top of that, 72% of students admitted that they are not sure about their answer. This reflects that students may not realise that this campaign is ongoing and they may have not been to the restaurants that are a part of this campaign. It is possible that this is due to the lack of promotion by the government or the students just simply do not care about campaigns like this as it does not directly interfere with their habit of using plastic.

Knowledge (Plastic pollution)

In the plastic pollution section, the results suggest that the students do not have a great understanding of the properties of plastics and the severity of the current plastic pollution.

From the question above, only 13.5% of students know that biomagnification is a possible effect microplastic have on aquatic lifeforms. This suggests that students are not familiar with the negative impacts that are brought to animals around us by plastic pollution.

From the above question, only 18.8% of students answered the question about health impacts brought by plastic pollution. This reflects on the fact that students are unaware of how much plastic pollution is going to harm us, humans. Therefore, they may continue to increase their use of plastic.

Opinions on government schemes

From this question, 77.5% of students agree (44.5% agree, 32% strongly agree) that setting up rewards can increase their willingness to recycle.

From another question of the government schemes part, we know that 71.7% of students agree (39.4% agree, 31.7% strongly agree) that the implementation of penalties can increase their willingness to recycle.

By comparing the results of these two questions (Part B Q1 and 8), despite the small difference in percentages, secondary students tend to react more positively towards rewards rather than penalties. This may serve as a reference for future policy planning.

Insights for our team

Despite the slight difference between “yes” and “no”, many students have actually heard of plastic-eating bacteria, the focus of our project. This indicates the researches and investigations we are doing are not completely unknown to the public. As students likely have a basic concept of what plastic-eating bacteria is, the result gives us confidence in further explaining and promoting the bacteria to students.

Students and teachers were listening to our sharing.

From the data above, we can see a lot of students(41.2%) believes that enzymatic degradation is the most effective way of breaking down PET plastics. This demonstrates that students are confident in using enzymes to recycle PET. There is a lot of room for us, and the industry to bring the enzymatic degradation of plastic to a larger scale, which is what we aspire to achieve.

Students and teachers were listening to our sharing.

Most of our surveyees think that education in school is the most important source of environmental knowledge. Due to this, and their confidence in plastic-eating bacteria to recycle PET, we have arranged a sharing session in our school in order to educate our students on the mechanisms and benefits of plastic-eating bacteria. As well as consolidating and expanding their knowledge regarding plastic pollution.


From the results of the survey, we have found out that students only have a basic understanding of plastic pollution and do not care much about the situation. Despite that, most students do know about policies that heavily influence their daily lives(e.g. Hong Kong’s Plastic bag levy scheme issued in 2015) and are willing to do some minor changes as far as their ability allows.

In response to the results from this survey, we have organized a sharing session in our school to share our findings with students and to educate them about the causes, solutions of plastic pollution and about our project. Sadly, due to the pandemic, we have not been able to bring this sharing session to a larger scale. However, we have also designed an educational e-booklet that will be available for the public to view. We sincerely hope that we could spread the information to the general public, and alarm the world about this issue that has been growing quietly in the wild. Check out education and engagement to learn more.

School is an important source of environmental knowledge and is an ideal place to cultivate students in environmental awareness. Students are continuously being exposed to the similar environmental education contexts and traditional activities in which they may not be interested in. This may partly explain the inactive role of students towards environmental issues as revealed in our survey. As technology is evolving rapidly, it creates opportunities to replace the traditional and enabling a higher level of performance, innovation and creativity to solve environmental issues. We suggest schools and teachers integrate emerging technologies such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence (AI) into learning contexts and activities to engage young students developing skills and gain knowledge to solve environmental issues. Besides, student-led activities such as survey conduction and sharing session would create more students engagement and empower students to make voices. Such innovative and engaging teaching method and leanring experiences help students become skilled and creative individuals willing to make a commitment to the Earth.


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