Special Report – Tá Pau* recycled

Reducing food waste is a Government priority, but 72 per cent of local restaurants still treat food waste as regular domestic waste.

MB September 2021 Special Report | Green Macau

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA) has been expanding the recycling network in community areas, with the total number of various types of collection points already exceeding 3300.

But taking 2020 as a reference, while it is true that the amount of municipal solid waste incinerated in the treatment centre fell due to consequences of the pandemic, it is also true that participation in the various forms of recycling and reuse also decreased.

This fact could be a sign that the population’s environmental awareness still needs to evolve.

It’s the reason many defend the implementation of financial incentives for recycling, like the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM, the acronym in Portuguese) programme offering supermarket vouchers in exchange for paper recycling.

The focus of the DPSA’s recent efforts is the recycling of food waste, which requires a more complicated framework than the three-colour system, as there must be daily collection. Food waste in Macau accounts for 40 per cent of total biological waste as defined by the IAM.

A tally taken in May showed that recycling values remain low: each point received 3 to 4 containers/day, meaning that often not even one ton was collected, when the target for this type of waste is hundreds of tons daily. But the process is still being tested and the various parts need to be learned.

A study published this year confirms there is a long way to go.

The research team, led by Qingbin Song, Macau Institute of Systems Engineering, Macau University of Science and Technology, writes that though about 70 per cent of respondents agreed with paying for separate food collection and treatment facilities, the majority of restaurants (72 per cent) treat food waste as regular domestic waste.

“The majority of [local] restaurants (72 per cent) treat food waste as regular domestic waste” – Qingbin Song et al.

This year the government plans to launch the tender for the construction of a food waste treatment centre. “In the first phase, we are forecasting the treatment of 200 tons per day, so, taking into account the complexity, we will first solve the social area and then the industrial,” the DSPA director announced recently.

Song and team reveal that “in total, most restaurants have realized that improper disposal of food waste will cause environmental pollution, and they hope that their food waste can be sorted for useful recycling and treatment in the future. Still, many restaurant managers remain concerned about the extra costs of food waste treatment.”

In 2020 the Macau SAR Government published important documents in the area of recycling. Both the “Construction Material Waste Management Regime” and the Chief Executive Order “prohibiting importation and trading of disposable takeaway boxes, bowls, cups and dishes made of polystyrene [i.e. styrofoam]” are good examples. The Government has also expanded the scope of electronic and electrical equipment collection (see the supplement below).

About half a year after the regulation banning the importation of disposable styrofoam foodware was introduced, the DSPA investigated more than 100 food establishments, of which around 99 per cent had already eliminated their use.

Not governed by these plans, though, are plastic boxes, also used for take-away food.

To those asking the Government to establish goals to reduce the use of these materials, the DSPA has responded that the Executive has no new plans in this regard.

“In 2019, around 15 million fewer plastic bottles were used than in 2018. The DSPA will continue to promote this measure, and at the moment the Government has no other plans to restrict the use of plastic containers,” DPSA Director Raymond Tam Vai Man said.

In response to a local lawmaker, Mr Tam also revealed that last year plastic bottles accounted for about 6.33 per cent of discarded plastic. In the same reply, he stated that “hotel entertainment complexes have replaced plastic bottles with glass bottles or other forms, with notable positive results.”

The DSPA’s next goal is to launch measures to restrict the use of plastic straws and stirrers within the next year. Bureau Director Raymond Tam announced the news last June, saying the proposal could ultimately ban the import of these utensils.

The DSPA, however, “does not currently have plans to implement mandatory separation of materials for recycling,” the Bureau confirmed for Macau Business. “At this stage, public awareness of environmental protection will be achieved through promotion and education. In recent years, work on separating materials for recycling has been gradually expanded and improved.”

* 打包 | dáa bāau | Cantonese: take-away container

Recycling of electronic and electrical equipment

In January of last year the Government launched the “Program for the Recycling of Electronic and Electrical Equipment”.

The aim is to prevent people from continuing to throw away old computers or screens, which will end up incinerated.

This program makes it possible to recycle old and used household electrical and electronic equipment, including also refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, televisions, small appliances and mobile phones.

The computer equipment and household appliances collected that can be reused will be donated to individuals who need them. The remaining materials will be dismantled, with the parts being treated for transformation into resources.

The service is aimed at citizens, schools, non-profit institutions and public services, who need only make an advance appointment to benefit from free doorstep collection of large appliances.

There are also several fixed collection points integrated into the “Green Points” Programme collection sites located in the Municipal Affairs Bureau’s civic and municipal service centres.

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