Cover Story

A Researcher's View on Green Products – Experience Sharing by Prof. C.S. Poon


I think most of PolyU's staff and students may have already heard about a locally developed green research product – the Eco-block. This is an environmentally friendly concrete block first developed by Prof. C.S. Poon at the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering of PolyU in 2002. This product is made from recycled waste materials instead of natural sand and stone. It is now widely used in public pavements, universities, private and public housing estates, parks and playgrounds. The study of Eco-block also brought many awards to Prof. Poon. The story behind the successful development of this environmentally friendly construction material may allow us to reflect on the development of green research products in Hong Kong.

The Difficulties Encountered

Prof. Poon encountered many difficulties while promoting the application of his research product, the first-generation Eco-block. These included difficulties in persuading the government to revise the relevant specifications and the lack of support from local manufacturers.

For a research product to be successfully developed into a marketable product, there are many barriers. Taking the Eco-block as an example, Prof. Poon said that upon the successful development of an Eco-block prototype in his research laboratory in PolyU, he needed to apply for patents to protect the IP right. Then he had to locate business partners (local block manufacturers) who were interested in his product. At that time, green products were not popular in Hong Kong and local manufacturers did not show much interest in collaboration. The Eco-block technology would not be available on the market if the product was not eventually commercialized by a new private enterprise set up by two PolyU alumni. They were also students of Prof. Poon while they were studying in PolyU.

To encourage utilization of the Eco-blocks by the Government, Prof. Poon engaged in a lengthy liaison process with the concerned government departments. Before starting to use such innovative products, the Government has to take into account various factors such as technical and economic considerations, compliance with specifications that were based purely on virgin materials, fairness to various stakeholders, and so on. Moreover, there is often a lack of coordination among various government departments, and it is often difficult to persuade the government to change its policies (e.g. the free disposal of waste in landfills, making the technical specifications for construction products more amenable to recycled materials) that would help promote the use of the new product. After Prof. Poon's relentless effort, support was eventually garnered from the Government in the use of Eco-blocks. Currently, the Government also includes a priority clause in the tendering exercise associated with the use of certain green products.

Prof. Poon mentioned that researchers are enthusiastic in conducting research but they usually lack the time in negotiating with potential users and manufacturers in the application and technology transfer of green research products.

Similar to other research areas, the research on green products in Hong Kong lacks long-term financial support. Prof. Poon is currently seeking funds to continue his research on the fourth-generation Eco-blocks.

The Road Ahead

Prof. Poon is now the Director of the Research Centre for Environmental Technology and Management at the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering in PolyU. The Research Centre aims at carrying out application-oriented research work, transferring the developed technologies and knowhow to local and regional users, and providing professional development courses in related disciplines. He has been serving as advisers in a number of environmentally-related advisory bodies of the Government including the Sustainable Development Council. He has a strong feeling that the pace of policy implementation by the Government is rather slow possibly due to a multitude of factors to be considered in making a decision.

To further encourage and facilitate research and development on green products, Prof. Poon reckons that more support can be obtained from different parties including the universities, the manufacturers and the Government.

For the universities, their senior management can demonstrate leadership and show more commitments to campus sustainability by providing more technical and administration supports in green products' technology transfer. They can also encourage relevant departments in adopting environmentally friendly materials in campus development and maintenance projects.

For the Government departments, they may show their support by using more green products and allocating more research funding for the researchers. Finally, the manufacturers may simply open their minds in the use of new technologies for developing green products.


Activities and Development on Campus

Earth Hour 2011

PolyU actively supported the Earth Hour 2011 campaign (organized by WWF) held on 26 March 2011 from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm.


Our academic departments and administrative units responded enthusiastically with different supportive actions including the encouragement of staff and students to support the event at their homes or in the university by switching off unnecessary lighting in areas within their control. In our Library, not only non-essential lights but also copiers and printers that were not in use were switched off. For the public areas on campus, our Facilities Management Office switched off much non-essential lighting including lighting for the fountain, flood lights, corridor, covered walkway, facade, waffle and landscape lighting as well as the lights for the PolyU logo at Core D. Moreover, our Student Affairs Office closed our outdoor soccer pitch and tennis courts from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm on that day.

At the Student Halls, a short briefing on the Earth Hour campaign and an environmental film show were held by the Green Green Hall Community. The Community also set up a counter at the entrance to the Student Halls and formed a team of Earth Hour Ambassadors to remind fellow hallmates to switch off their lights during the period.

In addition, the College of Professional and Continuing Education supported the campaign by closing the two campuses of its Hong Kong Community College at 8:00 pm, 3 hours earlier than the normal closing time. Non-essential lighting in public areas of the campuses including corridors, lobbies, foyers, communal space, landscaping and decorative lighting were also turned off during that period of time.

PolyU is proud to have joined this campaign together with about 3,200 other buildings in Hong Kong. We anticipate that more Hong Kong people will be aware of the seriousness of global climate change and take action to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Talk Series on Environmental Protection

A series of talks on environmental protection was held on 22 and 23 March 2011 by the Cultural Promotion Committee in PolyU. These talks were delivered by Dr Rebecca Lee Lok-Sze, who is a polar explorer, graphic designer and writer. Her talks focused on the changes in polar regions due to climate changes as well as art in science and environmental protection. Each talk had more than 100 participants and received enthusiastic response from students and staff.


Resources Conservation

The new round of "Use Less Plastic and Styrofoam Campaign"

Following the relatively shorter first-round campaign held in November 2010, this second-round campaign commenced in 7 February 2011 and will last for 6 months till the end of July 2011. Organized by the Health, Safety & Environment Office and with full support from the caterers and the Catering Committee of PolyU, this campaign aims at promoting environmental protection by encouraging students and staff to use less plastic and Styrofoam for take-away foods. Those who bring along their food containers for take-away foods are able to save one dollar.

Print Cartridges Recycling Program (粉墨再生計劃)

PolyU recently joined a recycling program for used print cartridges launched by the Greeners Action. This program targets to collect used toner cartridges and inkjet cartridges for refilling and re-use. Collection boxes for this purpose have been placed at selected locations on the PolyU campus including the podium of Cores A, F, P and Q, as well as the podium of Blocks M, R, and Y.

Used toner cartridges can be returned to the corresponding suppliers for recycling by individual user departments. Used inkjet cartridges are rarely recycled. This new program provides another convenient means for recycling both used toner cartridges and used inkjet cartridges on campus.

Pollution Control

Progress of the Legislation on Clinical Waste Disposal

Clinical waste refers to waste generated from medical premises or laboratory that has the potential to cause disease, including, for example, discarded sharps, laboratory waste, animal and human tissue, blood, swabs and dressing. Currently, the disposal of clinical waste is not legally controlled but should follow the Practice Note as recommended by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). However, a new piece of legislation, the Waste Disposal (Clinical Waste) (General) Regulation (Cap 354O, Laws of HKSAR), is almost ready for enforcement. The licensing provisions of this regulation have already taken effect since 19 November 2011. All clinical waste collectors are required to have valid licences. As revealed by the EPD, all relevant provisions of the regulation will become effective most probably within 2011. Once the full regulation is enforced, each clinical waste producer has to obtain a premises code from the EPD and employ a licensed clinical waste collector for collection and transportation of waste to the treatment centre. Similar to the chemical waste disposal scheme, a trip ticket system will be implemented for monitoring the disposal process.

News and Tips

Sustainability-Related Seminar and Workshop

There are sustainability-related seminars and workshops to be held in PolyU in the near future. Organized by the Institute for Enterprise (IfE) of PolyU in collaboration with many local organizations, a seminar on Low-Carbon Economy will be held on 8 April 2011 in PolyU. Professionals and officials from Hong Kong and Mainland China will share with you the impact of developing a low-carbon economy along with the implications and business opportunities for enterprises. Besides, the Department of Building Services Engineering of PolyU will arrange a one-day workshop on Energy Performance of Buildings on 19 April 2011 jointly with many professional bodies in the related field. This workshop will focus on green buildings, low-energy building technologies, and building performance simulation. For more details of these events, please visit the websites of the corresponding departments.

Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2010

The latest Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2010 issued in January 2011 shows that Hong Kong has a very large ecological footprint (ranks 45th amongst 150 countries/regions in the world). The report states that Hong Kong's reliance on imported resources, such as crops, meat, seafood and timber, will make the city more vulnerable to the changing world as natural resources run out. The Hong Kong Ecological Footprint Report 2010 was prepared by WWF-Hong Kong in collaboration with the Global Footprint Network. It provides an invaluable benchmark to track our shift in consumption and the size of our ecological footprint, from which trends can be identified and actions proposed. The full report can be retrievable at hong_kong_ecological_footprint_report_2010.pdf.

Help Recycling Plastics

Recycling is one of the means to reduce waste being dumped into landfills. In daily office operations, we can help by sorting out recyclable materials before we discard them into rubbish bins. Apart from paper waste, one of the other recyclables is plastic waste.

Recycling bins for plastics accept plastic bottles, bottle caps, plastic containers, plastic chairs, shopping bags, plastic wrappings, laser discs, CD, DVD, cassette tapes, video tapes, toys and stationery.

In the office, we occasionally come across one or more types of the above plastic waste. Packaging material is one of them. Others include damaged stationery. More examples are shown in the following photos.