Special Report – Tackling the solid waste malady

Mass tourism translates into too much garbage. It has been a serious problem and prompt action is need. The Government is aiming at a 30 per cent reduction in solid waste.

MB September 2021 Special Report | Green Macau

In 2017, the Government launched the Macau Solid Waste Resources Management Programme (2017–2026) to define Macau’s solid waste policies, specific waste targets and action plans for the coming decade and promote the achievement of “waste reduction at source and resources recycling”.

Specifically, a target was set to reduce daily per-capita waste by nearly 30 per cent by 2026.

Halfway through the Programme, it’s clear the goal is still far from sight.

Discounting the year 2020, when due to the pandemic there was 20 per cent less waste treated at the Macau Refuse Incineration Plant, the annual volume has remained above 500,000 tons since 2015, even reaching an all-time record of 550,000 tons in 2019. (Prior to 2015 it had nearly doubled since the start of the millennium, from 230,000 tons in 2001 to 400,000 tons in 2013).

“Compared to other regions, Macau residents’ average daily per capita volume of municipal solid waste is quite high,” the DSPA reports in the text of the Programme.

To give the reader a clearer idea: Macau’s daily per capita waste production in 2016 (2.11 kg/day) surpassed the values for cities such as Beijing (1 kg/day), Shanghai (0.70 kg/day), Guangzhou (0.93 kg/day) and Hong Kong (1.39 kg/day).

According to a research paper (2017) from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Macau, “Several factors, such as the liberalization of gambling activities, forecasted population and economic growth, goods exchange within the region and increasing visitation numbers, will increase the pressure on existing resources, especially on the waste management system.”

The text of the DSPA Programme likewise warns: “The problem of waste management is imminent and needs to be resolved soon, and unless decisive and effective measures and timely actions are taken, it is estimated that in the coming years the amount of solid waste produced in Macau will exceed the capacity of Macau treatment facilities.”

A team of researchers led by Qingbin Song, in a study (2016) of residents’ attitudes, particularly their willingness to pay for solid waste management, writes that “Macau is currently faced with an urgent need to deal with the increasing volume of solid waste.”

Their results showed that Macau residents possessed “a relatively high environmental awareness.” With respect to Macau’s environmental quality, most respondents (92.4 per cent) expressed satisfaction with the current situation. About 50.2 per cent of respondents thought more attention should be paid to solid waste pollution in Macau than to the other three forms of environmental pollution (air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution). The survey data also revealed “positive attitudes toward source separation in Macau”: about 95.7 per cent of respondents stated being willing to sort solid waste at home should the government require them to do so.

Researchers Huiting Zheng, Kun Pang Kou and Yun Ge of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Macau, conducted a risk assessment using evaluation of local municipal solid waste to establish an environmental risk assessment indicator system. “The study was carried out to estimate a predicted likelihood of reaching a critical point of environmental risk, and with the influence of the Response index, Macau will enter Level IV (relatively high risk level) in 2019 and Level V (extremely high risk level) in 2041; the Pressure index and the State index will reach Level V in 2017 and 2025, respectively.”

Huiting Zheng’s team adds, “the quantity of urban domestic waste per capita is worthy of concern.”

These and other concerns make perfect sense, especially considering that, as one local expert put it, Macau is the world leader.

“The problem of waste management is imminent and needs to be resolved soon, and unless decisive and effective measures and timely actions are taken, it is estimated that in the coming years the amount of solid waste produced in Macau will exceed the capacity of Macau treatment facilities” – DSPA

Circular economy and urban mining

Circular economy and urban mining are two concepts, as yet little explored, representing alternatives to solid waste incineration.

“By promoting the adoption of production patterns that close the loop within an economic system, the circular economy aims to increase the efficiency of resource use, with a focus on urban and industrial waste, to achieve an improved harmony between the economy, environment and society. In the case of China, the concept of a circular economy has been introduced as a new development model to facilitate an orientation to a more sustainable economic structure.

“Urban mining involves the systematic recovery or extraction, followed by reuse, of materials from urban areas containing large stocks of materials such as buildings and infrastructure, end-of-life products, packaging material and biomass. In theory, urban mining presents significant potential for enabling more efficient resource use and offers new business opportunities.”

(source: Understanding residents’ and enterprises’ perceptions, behaviours, and their willingness to pay for resources recycling in Macau, 2019)

“People are spoiled with free waste handling”

Morse Lei, Executive Director of Suez R&R Macao, is a waste management expert.

Discounting 2020 (because of the pandemic), solid waste has increased year on year in Macau. What is the limit?

Morse Lei – Actually, with respect to incineration, Macau’s facilities were about to reach their design capacity of 1,728 tons of solid waste incineration per day before the pandemic hit in 2020. Therefore, the DSPA has started work on an extension plant to double capacity by the year 2024. But this is only incineration; there still needs to be further storage of bottom ash and fly ash from incineration plant to Landfill. There seems to be no further landfilling possible in Macau today.

Some studies show that the population does not consider solid waste a high priority, putting air pollution or noise ahead of it, for example. Is this a cultural problem? Can it be resolved with more environmental education?

M.L. – This is because scientific, academic research on air pollution and noise can easily be carried out by an individual; the data collection is easier than it is for waste management. You are right! People are more tolerant of waste than that they are of air pollution and noise pollution. In addition, executive and legislative controls on air pollution and noise disturbance are generally more widely accepted. Macau’s air pollution actually comes primarily from power generation and vehicle exhaust. (People in Macau are spoiled with free municipal waste handling; there may be resistance to implementing a user-pays system).

In your opinion, how can the problem of excess solid waste in Macau be solved, at least partially?

M.L. – We need the implementation of a user-pays system (which will encourage recycling and produce less waste) and increased awareness and education about waste treatment procedures, i.e. informing people that waste is a permanent problem, not solved after incineration. Communication on a Governmental level with China is necessary to facilitate the export of recycling waste to China and to have a complete and efficient recycling strategy and Government policy and collaboration with Macau’s waste recovery and reuse industry.

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