Macau Matters | Zero-waste lifestyles

Richard Whitfield

I seem to be on a waste elimination jag at present, but it is a relevant topic for Macau given that the local Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA) is asking for stronger support for recycling programs. They recently noted that only 18%-20% of wastes are recycled in Macau, while the comparable rates for Hong Kong and Singapore are 33% and 61%, respectively (in 2015-16). Moreover, in Macau we dispose of 2.11kg of waste per person per day, again, an average higher than Hong Kong or Singapore.

Clearly, we need to do better, and my earlier articles about composting coffee grounds/food wastes provide a good starting point. But this will probably require government money, which we can afford and should be spent.

Internationally, Bea Johnson is well known for living and promoting zero waste lifestyles – there are several videos available of her informative presentations on this subject. (Don’t you just love how all kinds of information is now readily available on the global Internet at the touch of a few buttons! It is a pity that China restricts access to it to much.) She often talks about five principles for getting to zero waste which should be applied in sequence:

  • Refuse the things that you do not need, eg take your own shopping bag and refuse plastic bags
  • Reduce use of the things you actually need, eg reduce your wardrobe to just a few outfits
  • Reuse what you consume, eg use grey water to irrigate your garden
  • Recycle only what you cannot reuse, eg send used aluminium cans for recycling
  • Rot everything else, ie make it into compost

These are very simple, and yet very powerful, principles and it is clearly important to apply them in sequence. They begin by minimizing the wastes that come into your life – prevention is always better than cure. And go on to consider how wastes can be converted into productive resources – preferring reuses that require minimal material reprocessing, eg it is better to reuse a glass container “as is” rather than melt it down to make a new container.

These principles also help you to minimize costs as well as wastes, eg only buying new clothes when they are really needed will clearly reduce your living costs.

These principles also clearly apply at both the personal and commercial/industrial scale and, in fact, can have a much larger impact when applied commercially. A household may need to dispose of a few 1kg of food waste each day, but a casino may need to dispose of a few 1,000kg of food waste each day. Thus getting one casino to compost its food waste is equivalent to getting a few thousand households composting.

At a personal level I have also always found that children are much more receptive to these kinds of ideas than adults – probably because they do not need to unlearn bad habits and the logic is easy to understand. Kids are also excellent at manipulating their parents into doing things that they may otherwise be too lazy to do.

I am sure that we can do much better in Macau at reducing the amount of waste that we burn or dispose of in landfills. The government needs to support these efforts with regulations and money to encourage good behaviors and provide infrastructure and business opportunities. (For example, I understand that a local glass recycling plant was severely damaged during Typhoon Hato and needs support to get up and running again.) It also needs to strengthen its promotion efforts and activities and these should be especially focused on children and larger commercial waste producers.

Categories Opinion