11 November 2009

eco expo 2009

Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©

I have not been blogging for a long time now as a result of travelling and general inertia. During this time a lot has happened - Maldives had an underwater cabinet meeting, the Indian government has decided to have a public vote on Bt Brinjal, the clock towards Copenhagen is ticking and the UK believes it is not the answer for climate change.

So right now, I'm unsure about what exactly to write about because I am a little disheartened. The lead up to Copenhagen does not see a consensus despite pressure from environmental groups and society in general. Part of the reason for my time off was to organize my thoughts, to stop wallowing in the negativity and look on the positive side of things.

On this front, there are many things happening. My travels took me to Hong Kong and Singapore. In Hong Kong I visited a Eco Expo, a trade fair of sorts and met several people who are committed to running an environmentally sustainable business. Most of it revolved around the area of waste management and upcycling of wastes into products of use. Among these I saw some excellent examples: bagasse boxes being used for take-away food, use and throw glasses, plates and also rice-husk cutlery and crockery. Both are biodegradable, the bagasse whilst typically use and throw, the rice husk item could be re-used and is microwave and freezer-safe.

I also saw hi-tech compost bins for large scale units like hotels and water purifying systems for home use and large scale use. Apart from this bags made out of plastic PET bottles, bamboo furniture were also show cased. It is interesting to note that people are interested in these products and still others manufacturing them. Most of the manufacturing occurs in mainland China, Malaysia and Indonesia. I also had a long and interesting conversation with a friend of mine in Hong Kong who told me that recycled material is usually higher priced and people prefer to buy virgin material because its cheaper. Recycling in the city generally does not fetch profits.

Hong Kong is a very interesting place - an excellent mix of up-market posh and back-streets. The island is almost circular with skyscrapers around the circumference, as a result of this, the smoke from vehicles doesn't entirely leave the town and you can see it forming a thick haze of smog. It is one of the most densely populated places and yet there is an odd sense of space. But it also gives one the impression that it is struggling to support the weight of the population on the island and the smog is a clear indicator.

Singapore on the other hand has always been green and spacious; almost hospital-like in its cleanliness. The amazing thing is that the standard has been maintained and improvements are being made on a continual basis to infrastructure and public amenities. However, on the eco-front there isn't much happening. Plastic bags are still being handed out with gay abandon. Both countries do have dedicated recycling bins but not enough for the average commuter to actually make use of them. The reason that both countries have a head start on waste management is because they already have a system in place that segregates waste types. This is something that countries like India still do not have, this is hindering our progress towards a greener and cleaner nation.

It struck me whilst I was in Singapore that the port city was completely bombed during WWII and yet it has managed to rise to the top in terms of infrastructure and city planning. We have been an independent nation for about the same time - why are we still wallowing at the bottom of the totem pole?

End note: It's good to be blogging again. Watch this space :)

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