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Friends of the Earth

Estimates of the amount of Hong Kong rubbish being recycled are plain rubbish

Overhaul of system is promised as officials admit estimates of the amount of waste the city recycles have been drastically overstated

Officials have admitted that estimates of the amount of Hong Kong waste being recycled – once put at over 50 per cent – have been drastically overstated.

They said yesterday that the figures were distorted by “external factors” beyond their control and the system for calculating them would be overhauled. The admission came as the Environmental Protection Department reported a slashed recycling rate of 39 per cent in 2012, down from 48 the previous year and a peak of 52 in 2010.

The department blamed fluctuations in the waste trade and irregularities in export declarations for the distortions. In an effort to improve its data collection, it will introduce extra measures, as recommended by a consultant commissioned to look into the problem. But the officials said they did not believe the distortion would affect policy-making or the achievement of targets set out in the waste-management blueprint released last year. World Green Organisation chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping said he was concerned about the “inflation of the recycling rate” and urged the department to set up an expert group to review the system.

Friends of the Earth said the public would be confused by the figures. According to the 2012 solid waste monitoring report released by the department yesterday, Hong Kong recycled just 2.16 million tonnes of waste, 860,000 tonnes less than 2011. About 60 per cent of the shortfall was due to a sharp drop in the trade in plastic waste.

Last year, a reported 320,000 tonnes of plastic waste was recycled, down from 840,000 tonnes in 2011 and 1.58 million tonnes in 2010. But the amount dumped in landfills largely remained steady at 600,000 to 700,000 tonnes during the same period. Since then, officials have used the disposal rate per person, rather than the recycling rate, as the key indicator to measure policy effectiveness.

In 2012, the former rate rose 3 per cent to 1.27kg. (CTA comment – what about the 50 million Mainlanders’ annual waste here – no doubt excluded?)

The department said the recycling rate had been calculated from waste export figures compiled by census and customs officers, and the booming trade in recent years might have inflated the figure. It also admitted that the formula could not accurately reflect local recycling efforts since it also included waste imported and then exported after processing.

“We believe the 2012 figure is closer to the reality of how the city fared in recycling after a slump in the trade,” said an official, speaking anonymously.

Officials refused to be drawn on whether the admission showed that the recycling rate, used by former environment chiefs to highlight the city’s progress in dealing with its waste problem, had little value.

“The public still have expectations for this figure and we will try to give the best estimate,” said an official, adding that the formula was widely adopted elsewhere in the world.

Greeners’ Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the government should set up a registration system for recyclers in order to get first-hand recycling data. Lau Yiu-shing, a local waste recycler, admitted some operators might have wrongly reported export figures to suit their needs. But the scope of doing so had shrunk as mainland customs stepped up checks in recent years.

Source URL (modified on Jan 29th 2014, 10:15am):

Euractiv: Incineration causes more problems than it solves

An interview with Ariadna Rodrigo, Resource Use Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe, published on Euractiv:

Touted by some as a two-fold solution to the EU’s energy and waste problems, incineration is not the answer the EU looking for as it debates changes to its waste and landfill rules, argues Ariadna Rodrigo.

There have been reports that incineration, the practice of burning waste, is inhibiting the development of recycling. Is this the case in the EU?

Yes, unfortunately this is the case. Incinerators come with a 20 or 30 year contract – a period in which municipalities are locked in to provide waste. This means municipalities have very little incentive to reduce, reuse or recycle waste. Europe already has too many incinerators and plans to build more will further hinder our chances of improving our waste management.

The price of materials has risen by 150% over the past ten years and it is estimated that we are throwing away over 5 billion euros annually. Our waste is wealth.

However, our policies allow these valuable materials to escape the economic cycle by being burned or buried. According to the latest Eurostat figures, we still landfill and incinerate 60% of our waste. We need to reverse this trend and ensure that we keep the materials in the economic cycle, through reuse and recycling, for as long as possible.


Friends fall out

Friends fall out

The Hong Kong branch of Friends of the Earth has severed relations with the international environmental organisation because of a dispute over sponsorship. The disagreement focuses on support of the Hong Kong group by Shell, the multinational oil company. Shell pays for local education programmes and buys advertising space in the group’s magazine One Earth. Shell is the target of a campaign by FoE International against producers of pesticides that contaminate the environment.

The argument arose at FoE International’s annual meeting last September. FoE England and Wales complained about the Shell adverts in One Earth. ‘They said we would be expelled unless we made major changes to our policy,’ says Ross Penlington, chairman of Hong Kong FoE;s board of directors. ‘It would have meant closing our magazine and changes in our funding policy which we didn’t feel we could make.’ Hong Kong FoE announced its temporary withdrawal from FoE Internatiohnal.

Greens aim new blows at air targets

Hong Kong Standard

Monday, February 06, 2012

Nearly three weeks have passed since new clean-air targets were announced, but attacks by environmentalists on the proposals show no sign of abating.

Green groups Friends of the Earth and Clean Air Network yesterday rolled out a fresh line of criticism, alleging the new Air Quality Objectives violate existing legal provisions.

They say by enacting “harmfully low” objectives and delaying implementation for the benefit of major construction projects the government is in breach of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

Friends of the Earth legal adviser senior counsel Ruy Barretto said sections of the provisions require objectives be created and fulfilled in the public interest, while the objectives were based in getting environmental impact assessment approval for projects.

Thomas Choi Ka-man, senior environmental officer from Friends of the Earth, accused the government of enacting lax objectives and delaying tactics to create a “backdoor exit” for it to achieve the completion of its projects.

Civic Party vice-chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak said the environment secretary has the power up to 2014 to enact amendments without going through the legislative process.

“This attempt to legislate for more delays clearly shows the government’s dishonesty in confronting the issue,” he added.


Clearing the air over credit for source of pollution data

SCMP Laisee – 26 Nov 2011

Good to see Friends of the Earth pointing to the “disappointing and shameful” air quality in Hong Kong.

It is also a shame and somewhat disappointing it wasn’t so frank about acknowledging how it came by the data.

While the original source of the data was the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Friends of the Earth first heard about the existence of measurements for PM2.5 in Hong Kong in an e-mail from another green group, Clear the Air.

Lai See saw this original data some time ago and it was sent by Clear the Air to the Legco panel on the environment on October 1.

When contacted, Clear the Air chairman James Middleton said the organisation was “somewhat miffed at the lack of acknowledgement” of Friends of the Earth’s source.

But, he added, “any press exposure that shows the horrendous state of lethal PM2.5 and ultrafines’ pollution here caused by incompetent government inaction, prevarication and lack of political will, is good exposure that will be picked up on by the international press and corporations thinking about setting up shop here.”

PM2.5 refers to particles suspended in the air of 2.5 micrometres in diameter. These are smaller and more dangerous to health than PM10, for which the EPD publishes measurements on its website.

The department is doing test-runs for PM2.5. These smaller particles enter the lungs and contribute to acute respiratory symptoms, increase the frequency of child bronchitis, cause premature death owing to their toxicity and carcinogens, and cause cardiovascular illnesses such as heart attacks and heart beat irregularities, according to studies by Harvard University and others.

Middleton says Clear the Air, with help from a donor, plans to buy a Dust Track unit. With a certified expert at the controls, the unit will take PM2.5 readings in our busiest streets which will be published later.

Watchdog upholds air quality complaint

South China Morning Post — 8 May 2011

The Ombudsman has upheld a landmark complaint from an environmental group which accused the Hong Kong government of dragging its heels over setting new air quality standards.

After a five-month investigation, the watchdog – which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of officialdom – said the government should set out a timetable for new air quality objectives to give the public a clear picture of progress.

Yesterday, Friends of the Earth, which lodged the complaint with the government watchdog in November, welcomed the decision but expressed frustration that the Ombudsman had not found officials guilty of maladministration.

The green group’s senior environmental affairs officer, Thomas Choi Ka-man, said they received a letter on Friday from the watchdog confirming their complaint had been upheld. Choi said his organisation was pleased but added: “We are disappointed as the department’s delay is not considered maladministration.”

Last night the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said it welcomed the Ombudsman’s report but added that it was already reporting progress on the matter to the Legislative Council every six months.

“We welcome the reply of the Ombudsman regarding the complaint about the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) Review. We are also working closely with the concerned bureaux and departments and other stakeholders with a view to drawing up a practicable timetable.”

The department also said the proposed air quality improvement measures covered a wide range of issues and cut across a number of often complicated policy areas. “The government needs to analyse in detail the different views collected and assess their impacts on the relevant policies in order to fully consider and co-ordinate the implementation of the recommended measures. We are pleased to note that the Ombudsman accepts that the government would need more time to achieve consensus within the community.”

According to Friends of the Earth, the Ombudsman’s letter said: “To improve air quality, the department should not only focus on amending the objectives alone without complementary measures. From an overall prospective, the situation has not constituted maladministration.

“However, there are increasing public expectations for better air quality following the public consultation. Our office [Ombudsman’s office] believes that even though the department may have encountered difficulties in setting new air quality objectives and in carrying out measures, it still needs to set out a timetable and explain to the public the progress and difficulties.

“It [the department] should put in place the new air quality objectives as early as possible,” the letter said.

The Ombudsman’s office refused to comment on its letter to Friends of the Earth.

In January, the Ombudsman pledged to investigate why the government had yet to set new air quality objectives even though it had conducted a review of air standards three years ago and invited public comment last year.

The government commissioned a consultant to review the objectives in 2007. It came up with a public consultation document that proposed a new set of standards recommended by the World Health Organisation.

But a year after people gave their views on the public consultation document in November 2009, officials are still not saying when new objectives will be introduced. The delay has added to doubts about the government’s determination to improve air quality, which has worsened year after year at street level.

Lawmakers Hit Out At Air-quality Targets

Joyce Ng, SCMP – Mar 20, 2009

Lawmakers criticised the government yesterday for setting its targets for meeting World Health Organisation air quality guidelines so low, and for lacking a timetable for implementing them.

Their comments came at a meeting of the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel to discuss a report on the air quality objectives review, released last week.

Democrat Lee Wing-tat said many measures suggested in the review had been discussed for years, such as the electronic road-pricing system and low-emission zones.

“Has the government really decided to implement these measures? Otherwise, improving air quality will only remain empty talk,” he said.

Mr Lee also criticised the administration for choosing the lowest interim targets, and for dragging out the process.

Another Democrat, Kam Nai-wai, said the government justified the adoption of the least stringent standards by scare tactics, such as saying that electricity charges would rise by 20 per cent if half of the city’s power was generated by using natural gas.

He quoted a petition by Friends of the Earth that said all the measures would bring a health benefit worth HK$61.4 billion, which outweighed their cost of HK$28.5 billion.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said pollutants such as carbon monoxide and lead would be controlled by the more stringent sets of standards.

Mr Yau and the consultant that conducted the review, Ove Arup, said it was unable to give a timetable for implementation. Ove Arup director Alan Kwok said: “The measures suggested for phase one are related to businesses and the community. We have to ask the public whether they accept the measures, and we need businesses to give us a timetable.”

The review suggested Hong Kong should adopt the least stringent of the WHO’s three sets of guidelines for sulfur dioxide and ozone, but relatively tougher limits for respirable suspended particles.

Nineteen first-phase measures, including increasing the use of natural gas, were identified as helping to meet the new objectives.

The consultant will complete a draft report in June after gathering views at a public forum today.

Air Quality Panel Split On WHO Standards

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Mar 13, 2009

A third of the experts overseeing a government review of air quality objectives believe the standards it is proposing to adopt will not safeguard public health.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth polled 15 members of the panel of advisers ahead of a meeting today, at which consultants will present the review’s initial findings.

Hong Kong’s air quality objectives have not changed since 1987.

The World Health Organisation has proposed three new sets of standards. Of these, Hong Kong is proposing to adopt, as an interim step, the least stringent set.

Critics say these are aimed at developing countries, not wealthy places such as Hong Kong.

Clean-air advocates expect the consultants to stick largely to the government’s plan today.

Asked if they agreed the minimum WHO standards were insufficient to fully protect public health, five of the advisers said that was so. Three are professors of medicine.

The rest of the panel members would not reply or offered no clear response. Among these are businessmen and representatives of the transport and logistics sectors.

Wan Chi-tin, a senior executive from Hongkong Electric, told the green group that he supported practical steps to improve air quality in the next five to seven years but would not say whether he considered the standards adequate.

Ng Hoi-san, a taxi company operator and a panel member, said: “We are not prepared to pay all the costs for a very tight standard that stands a low chance of being accomplished.”

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, feared some panel members would put the interests of their own sector ahead of the public’s.

February Was Warmest On Record

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Mar 02, 2009

Last month was the warmest February since records began 125 years ago, with an average temperature of 20.5 degrees Celsius, 4.2 degrees higher than the month’s average for the 30 years to 2000.

The thermometer hit 28.3 degrees on February 25, a record high for the month.

The Hong Kong Observatory said the warmer weather was the result of a weak northeast monsoon and the stronger than usual influence of warmer air from the south.

“The cold air from the north seldom reached southern China. In Hong Kong, the occurrence of the warmer southerly winds originating from the ocean was about three times normal,” the Observatory said.

The temperatures were in line with the warming trend seen over the past 50 years, it said. The average February temperature has been rising by 0.4 degrees each decade.

Global warming and increasing urbanisation had contributed to this trend, the Observatory said.

The previous warmest February was in 2007, when temperatures averaged 19.5 degrees.

The city has just experienced its warmest autumn on record.

Last year, in a projection of the long-term impact of climate change on the city, Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying warned summers would get longer and winters shorter, and that winters would disappear for good by 2049, possibly as early as the 2020s. That would mean temperatures falling to below 12 degrees for less than one day per year.

This scenario would happen if greenhouse gas emissions were not controlled and urbanisation continued to accelerate.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, the Hong Kong director of environmental group Friends of the Earth, said the new data reinforced the fact that global warming was affecting the city.

“No doubt climate change is at work,” he said. The city should step up efforts to conserve energy through measures that encouraged businesses to cut their energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint.

Proposed Idling Ban To Be Eased For Taxis

Daniel Sin – Feb 24, 2009 – SCMP

The proposed ban on idling engines would be relaxed, but not dropped, for taxis, the environment chief told lawmakers.

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah told the Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel that the legislative proposal to ban idling engines would be revised for taxis. The change would exempt from the ban the first five taxis, rather than the first two, at a taxi stand, and taxis in a moving queue or in the process of passengers boarding or alighting.

The taxi trade had demanded that cabbies be given a full exemption. But Mr Yau was not willing to make that concession, saying it would lead other sectors to make the same demand, defeating the purpose of the legislation.

He also dismissed suggestions for exemptions during exceptionally hot or rainy weather, saying there was no such precedent in other jurisdictions adopting a ban.

The government would draft the law with a view to introducing the bill to Legco before mid-July, when the current legislative session ends, Mr Yau said.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party criticised Mr Yau for being ignorant of how the taxi trade operated, saying the revised proposal was not workable. “How would the sixth taxi driver, and those behind him in the queue, know whether to switch off the engine, especially when the queue is long or the view is obstructed?” she asked.

The Motor Transport Workers General Union called for the legislation to be shelved, saying the proposed measure would be ineffective in improving air quality while putting drivers’ and passengers’ health at greater risk.

Edwin Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said the legislation should take effect as early as possible, but flexibility in enforcement should be allowed in special circumstances such as extreme hot weather or heavy rain. He said the regulation could be fine-tuned as more experience was gained in making it work.