Macau Matters | Food waste composting

Richard Whitfield

In early July I wrote an article about the value of recycling used coffee grounds and how it would be a good social enterprise for Macau. It has been pointed out to me that this is the tip of the iceberg and that recycling food waste is a much bigger issue, and a much bigger opportunity for Macau.

We currently have about 2.8 million tourist arrivals each month, and on average each one stays a bit over 1 day, ie for about 3 meals. Thus, Macau food outlets serve around 8.5 million meals to tourists each month. Even at a modest 200g/meal, this represents consumption of about 1,700 ton/month of food. It is not unreasonable to expect that 15+% of this food, ie 250+ ton/month, is wasted. Interestingly, much of this food waste is generated in the food courts and other outlets of just a handful of large casino properties. For example, I have heard of one casino property that generates up to 50 ton/month of food waste and so a few other properties must generate more.

This is a very large volume of food waste to be dealt with and dumping it into landfill or burning it is totally inappropriate. Composting is a much better use. It keeps the material out of landfills and breaks it down using aerobic processes that produce minimal methane or other greenhouse gases. Moreover, compost is a very valuable resource for maintaining the fertility of farmlands.

There are many large commercial facilities for dealing with food waste around the world that use composting and digestion. Composting converts the waste to a valuable resource while digesting simply liquefies the food waste so it can be mixed into sewerage and disposed of that way. Composting is clearly the better long term approach from an environmental perspective.

I am told that the Macau government has been encouraging the major casino groups to adopt food waste composting and digesting technologies and at least two different properties have already purchased both kinds of equipment for testing. However, individual property-based facilities have several problems, ie they do not take advantage of the potential economies of scale, are costly assets on each property’s balance sheet (reducing their ROI), occupy valuable property space and need to be operated by imported workers that need “Blue Cards”.

I believe that a single large composting facility on Hengqin Island operated as a social enterprise is a much better strategy. Hengqin has the advantage of being a relatively inexpensive location that is closer to farmlands that can use much of the compost produced and can use Chinese labor (no “Blue Cards”). There should also be considerable extra green matter available there (from farm plant waste) to be mixed with the food waste to increase production volumes. One concern with locating a composting facility on Hengqin Island would be having special arrangements to overcome the difficulties of importing waste materials into China, but I am sure they could be overcome.

A commercial scale composting facility for Macau would probably require government support to help with the initial capital investment, but should produce good operating revenues and would be a clear signal that Macau supports good environmental practices. It should also be well supported by Macau casino operators and other food outlets, if the alternative is running their own facilities. Who is interested in moving this forward?

Categories Opinion