Seeking solutions for ‘too much in our bins’

The extraordinarily high quantity of waste produced during the typhoon last week and early this week has aggravated an ongoing situation – namely, the inability for facilities such as the Macau Solid Waste Incineration Center to deal with solid waste produced in the region.

According to the latest figures presented by the Civic and Municipal Affairs (IACM), approximately 10,000 tons of waste were collected and sent for further treatment between August 24 to August 28. IACM’s president, José Maria Tavares, said this amount far exceeded the capacity that the region could incinerate and claimed that the only solution is to store the waste on a landfill until it becomes possible to dispatch them for incarceration.

According to information to which the Times had access, the incinerator plant should have at the moment a capacity of 1,400 tons/day. Half of this capacity comes as the result of a recent modernization of one part of the facility. Nevertheless, specialists claim that the total modernization, that would provide added treatment capacity, should have been completed about a decade ago in order to keep up with the demand.

The critical situation of the treatment of Macau’s solid waste has been raised on multiple occasions, particularly two years ago when lawmaker Kwan Tsui Hang questioned the government about practical measures to deal with the almost-saturated capacity of the incinerator. The government replied through the Macau Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA), stating that the bureau would carry out an assessment on the Macau Solid Waste Incineration Center through a consulting firm.

Around the middle of  last year, the DSPA informed that it would tentatively carry out a program within the year to manage the city’s solid waste resources, which would include plans for upcoming policies.

The DSPA also acknowledged that it would be necessary to improve the environmental protection infrastructure by building more recycling facilities and expanding the current ones. The bureau cited figures from the Statistics and Census Service (DSEC) that showed that the amount of waste taken to the incineration facilities had been growing by close to 11 percent every year.

Another change said to be necessary was the revision on the current policies for managing solid waste resources, since the results from the study seemed to indicate that many of the items being incinerated have a high potential to be both “reduced at the source” and “recycled.”

According to DSPA’s 10 year plan for the Environmental Protection Planning of Macau (2010-2020), it was estimated that the amount of waste to be treated at the Incineration Center could reach 500,000 tons per year by 2020, a figure that, according to DSEC, was exceeded in 2014 when it registered 509,111 tons.

As for other possible solutions, analysts are looking to Japan – one of the countries that has been providing extensive insights over how to recover and rebuild after natural disasters.

One of the examples comes from the coastal city of Higashi-Matsushima, which was severely hit by the tsunami that struck Japan’s northeastern coast six years ago, killing 1,134 people and destroying 73 percent of its homes.

As recently reported by The Straits Times, the city has now become a role model for others based upon its reconstruction capacity and disaster risk management.

According to the official data, the 2011 tsunami left 1 million tons of waste in Higashi-Matsushima, 110 times the amount of general waste generated by the city in a year.

In an incredible recovery from the situation that makes this city an example, Higashi-Matsushima successfully recycled 99 percent of the disaster waste, made up mainly of wood scraps, concrete pieces and incombustible mixed waste.

The recycling was driven by the city’s philosophy that such rubble could be turned into resources, if sorted. Otherwise, it would just be waste.

According to the city’s authorities, every other city can replicate the process as long as it is prepared in advance.

Higashi-Matsushima had signed an agreement eight years earlier with a local construction association, which promised the aid of its men and equipment should a natural disaster strike the area.

The lessons learnt by the Japanese city are now being passed on to other Southeast Asian nations such as Banda Aceh province in Indonesia, which, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, signed a memorandum of agreement with the Japanese municipality to cooperate in disaster prevention, reconstruction, economic revitalization and other areas in light of their yet to complete recovery from the 2004 tsunami.

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