Eating our environment away

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Issue 1166, Page 2
Word count: 658
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

This is the 10th year that the Macau Food Festival has been held, and I wonder if we pile up all the disposable food containers and cutlery that was tossed into the rubbish bins there, how many more “Macau Towers” we could have after a decade.

I went to the festival last week and just like everyone else, I purchased food from more than one booth – a total of three – and at least five foam disposable containers and three pairs of chopsticks were wasted, absolutely unnecessarily, in only one hour.

I felt guilty after going to the Food Festival and have started questioning why the Government didn’t sponsor the shops to use more eco-friendly food containers and plastic cutlery. To see countless foam boxes and disposable chopsticks go into the rubbish bins after just being used once really upsets me.

Then a couple of days later I saw a press release titled “The Food Festival Waste Reduction Program” from the Environmental Protection Bureau. For the very first moment I truly thought that the Government was finally going to do something specific.

But soon after I started reading the text, I couldn’t help but laugh. The bureau says that in order to increase the “green elements” in the Food Festival, it has joined with the festival’s organiser Association of Macau Restaurant Merchants to launch the waste reduction program, which looks to encourage locals and tourist patrons to cut down on the use of disposable containers and cutlery, plastic bags and also to separate the waste they put into the recycling bins.

The bureau suggests that, as “simple” as it sounds, patrons can bring their own containers and cutlery to the festival, reuse the (foam) containers, request the shop to use the least amount of containers when ordering different food, or clean the used cutleries and then use them again.

The bureau even goes on to say that it hopes that everyone can spend a little bit more time thinking of more good ways to avoid using disposable containers and cutlery and reduce waste production.

Immediately I wondered, isn’t it the job of our Environmental Protection Bureau to come up with more creative ways in order to promote public awareness and stimulate locals to become part of the green force?

If the Government honestly believes that local people will bring their own reusable containers and cutlery to the festival, then how about tourists? If the Government really wants to encourage patrons to reuse the foam containers and plastic cutlery, where are the facilities – for example a simple set up of sinks and taps similar to those found in the firework discharge areas during the Chinese New Year – to provide convenience for the people to rinse the things and then reuse them for their next food purchase?

While these suggestions appeared ineffective to me, I think it’s more important to shift our focus on how to reduce waste at the source.

Tens of thousands of people visit the Food Festival every year. Even if each of them was to only use one non-biodegradable foam container and a pair of disposable chopsticks – something I seriously doubt is likely to happen – the adverse impact generated on the environment is still unbearable.

One rough idea I came up with yesterday before writing this opinion piece would be to provide each patron, when purchasing their cash coupons, with a reusable/recyclable container (made biodegradable materials) and a set of cutlery for them to use in the festival. They could receive a MOP 1 discount from any of the booths each time they reuse their container for the next food purchase. This may require the Government to subsidise the participating food establishments in order to make the plan work.

I always believe that a government must be heavy-handed regardless of opposition/criticisms from business or other related industries, if it is truly determined to make the country/city a greener place and wishes to contribute to a sustainable world.

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