The Environment Protection Volunteer Association: Macau far from achieving environmental conservation

Thursday, October 7, 2010
Issue 1133, Page 10 – 11
Word count: 1976
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Human-induced climate change is now widely recognised as the major environmental problem facing the Earth. But how many of you have tried to make a difference?

In a fast-growing economy like Macau’s, the concept of environmental conservation seems to have been downplayed and overlooked.

Yet, according to the Macau Environment Protection Volunteer Association, economic development and environmental preservation are not necessarily against each other in the contemporary world.

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times in a recent interview, president of the association Gary Ho Ka Wui and chairman Andy Loi Man Keong both agreed that the main problem in Macau is the absence of specific environmental policies and legislation.

Not only does the Macau Government fail to be a good role model for the public, the importance of saving resources and reducing ecological footprint in daily lives has not been heavily promoted in Macau and therefore, local people’s environmental awareness is weak.

Reporter: How will you describe the environmental work in Macau?

Loi Man Keong: Macau is still in the beginning stage. The formation of the Environmental Protection Bureau showed that the Government has the determination to work on the issue. In the past without a formal government department to formulate environmental policies, we could not even say that Macau was working on protecting the environment.

If we want local people to bring the concept of environmental preservation into their daily lives, I think we’re still very far away from achieving the goal.

It seems that environmental work in mainland China is developing even faster than in Macau. China already has a lot of clear guidelines and legislation concerning the conservation of wildlife and forest parks. If the Macau Government is determined to accelerate the work progress, having legislation of this kind should be set as one of the goals.

R: What are the reasons that Macau’s development in this area is lagging behind?

Ho Ka Wui: The main problem in Macau is that our laws have failed to keep up with the pace of society. There are a lot of legislation and administrative regulations in Macau that need to be updated, let alone legislation in a new area [environment].

Mr Loi: Many people are saying that due to environmental concerns diesel-type pile drivers should no longer be used. But this is not only about the lack of legislation, it’s also about the development of an industry in Macau. If Macau was to stop using diesel-type pile drivers, do we have the right facilities and technologies to replace them at the many construction sites here? Macau has a lot of infrastructure projects at the moment such as the light rail transit, public housing and on the Cotai Strip.

It’s undeniably very hard for Macau to choose and strike a balance between environmental conservation and economic development.

In fact I would like the Government to roll out a clear route map – for example, telling society how many years later diesel-type pile drivers will be eliminated, then the industry can be alerted and start to plan for the future.

R: Are the other countries and regions also having the same dilemma of choosing between preserving the environment and developing their economy? Or is it particularly prominent in Macau?

Mr Loi: It’s not only in Macau. For example in northern Europe, many countries are aware of climate change and understand that if some problems can’t be solved, the melting of glacier can pose a serious threat to the size of their dry land. But they know that it’s impossible for the people to change their living habits and lifestyles which have lasted for hundreds of years in a short period of time. Therefore, there are many things that we should start working on or educating the people about right now.

R: Is it impossible for environmental conservation and economic development to co-exist?

Mr Loi: I don’t think so. In contemporary society economic development projects will take into account the environmental aspect. For example in the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, environmental conservation was an absolute priority. More money was spent in order to protect the environment, ecology and the wildlife as well as to prevent pollution.

The Hong Kong Government has also spent additional hundreds of millions in a bid to minimise the impact of the construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link on the surrounding wetlands and rural areas.

Nowadays the two sides are developing under a coordination mechanism, which is an international trend. I believe that in the future Macau will follow the same path and will not give up environmental conservation for economic development.

R: The Environmental Protection Bureau has been established for more than a year now. How will you comment on their performance?

Mr Ho: Some policies could have been implemented by now without seeking public opinions. Could the Government put in more effort to promote waste recycling or the use of environmental bags? The Government has to take the lead in order to encourage the people to follow suit. It’s easy to talk about environmental conservation, but it needs determination to actually do it.

However, not only the Government, but also enterprises and residents have to shoulder the responsibilities to protect the environment and scarce resources.

Mr Loi: In Macau the kind of impact that is chiefly affecting the environment is commercial, for example the airborne grease and smoke from restaurants. The Environmental Protection Bureau deals with a lot of complaints of this kind but it remains at the stage of publicity. Education should come first in environmental work so that people can understand the harms. If the bureau can handle a complaint with a more high-profile approach, other people can learn about it and may avoid doing the same thing.

R: Do you think the Government is a good role model for the public?

Mr Ho: I think [the Government] can do more. We’ve seen that many public facilities and service centres have the air-conditioners set below 25 degrees. There is an Environmental Protection Bureau but the other public departments also have to support and cooperate with it.

Mr Loi: The Government also hasn’t greatly promoted the implementation of paper-free offices. The Hong Kong Government was previously trying to change most of the fluorescent tubes in the public departments to compact fluorescent light bulbs [CFLs] of a certain brand, although the plan faced conflict of interest allegations, the Government’s intention was positive. CFLs can save from 50 to 70 percent of energy. The Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT) should in the future add some energy saving or environmental elements in public project tenders.

Macau’s per capita energy consumption was four times higher than the world average, according to the Census and Statistics Bureau two years ago.

R: Any examples to show that Macau people’s environmental awareness may be strong or weak?

Mr Ho: Many residents actually want to lead a greener life but they don’t know how to do it. The amount of waste they produce every day can be reduced. In May our association conducted a survey at supermarkets and shops about people’s habit of using plastic bags. It was found that a majority of the respondents didn’t bring their own bags as they thought that it was very troublesome. One of our volunteers interviewed a man who had brought his own bag, he was very proud of himself and said that finally there was someone who appreciated what he did. There were also some shoppers who had brought their own bags but forgot to use them.

Mr Loi: Water resources are another example. Each year Macau faces salinity problems but statistics from Macao Water and the Port Authority showed that local people were using more and more water year after year. Although the commercial sector such as hotels and restaurants remains the largest water user in Macau, it’s for sure that people still lack a water-saving concept.

R: Has waste recycling been effective in Macau?

Mr Loi: How convenient is waste separation in Macau? How many recycling bins do we have in tourist attractions and public places? I think neither the Government nor CSR [Companhia de Sistemas de Resíduos] has done a good job. The Government supports schools to encourage students to separate the waste and bring it back to the school for recycling, but most of the time the separated waste will be taken away and sold by the school’s janitors.

Some environmental entrepreneurs told me that recycling waste costs huge investment but the rate of return is also very high. Has the Government ever tried to encourage Macau or the cross-border industrial zone to establish more business entities or facilities of this kind, for example through reducing taxes or granting interest-free loans to help entrepreneurs purchase the facilities or equipment? A chimney which is to treat the gas generated during the waste combustion already costs MOP 2 million. In addition, it’s even hard to get a license to operate a waste recycling treatment plant in Macau because the Government doesn’t even know which kind of license it has to issue to the business.

R: How common is it to see people separate their garbage and then put it into the recycling bins?

Mr Ho: It’s not much actually because recycling bins are mainly put in the streets, next to garbage huts and schools. But is recycling well promoted in enterprises, hotels or large housing complexes? I think in Macau residents have the condition to carry out waste separation at home, as our living area is generally a bit more spacious than that in Hong Kong. And after that they can take the separated garbage down and throw it into the recycling bin.

Used batteries, industrial materials and medical supplies cannot actually be recycled but have to be treated separately or otherwise they will harm the environment seriously. But the recycling bins in Macau don’t have a separate container to collect waste batteries and so eventually they have to go to the garbage bins and then be combusted or dumped in the landfill.

Mr Loi: Batteries can neither be decomposed nor thrown away in garbage bins. But Macau doesn’t allow the export of waste batteries for special treatment. In Hong Kong there is also no such treatment plant for batteries but it allows the export of it. Many electronics suppliers in Hong Kong will encourage their customers to return used batteries to them and then they will apply for an export license from the Government in order to transport the waste batteries to a special treatment factory in Shenzhen. The companies do this in order to show corporate social responsibility but at the same time it also needs the Government’s support [to allow the export]. But as far as I’m aware Zhuhai doesn’t have this kind of treatment plant.

R: Would you like to share some tips with our readers regarding how to live a greener life?

Mr Loi: Actions are very important and environmental conservation is not just a slogan anymore. Every element in lives can be related to environmental protection, from the morning to the night. For example when we brush our teeth we can use less water, have breakfast that comes in the right portion, and we can go to work using public transport. In the office we can use less paper and try not to turn on the air-conditioning.

Mr Ho: When going shopping we should avoid using plastic bags or buying products that have a lot of packaging. We should also reduce buying takeaway food, and if it’s really needed, we can use our own cutlery at home instead of the disposable ones? In Taiwan, the people’s awareness is very strong that they will bring their own containers to go buy takeaway.

People have to try to do something in their daily lives in order to minimise the impact on society.

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