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New offer proposes zero waste, zero pollution and zero to landfill

04 December, 2014

Howard Winn

Given the controversy surrounding the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator and extensions to the landfills, you would think a proposal that involved zero waste, zero pollution and zero waste to landfill would be of interest to the government and the public at large.

Zero Waste Smart City Resources Association says it can do this by the end of 2018 and is today sending copies of the proposal it sent to the government to the district councils and legislative councillors. Furthermore, Zero Waste chief executive Peter Reid says his company’s proposals would obviate the need to extend the landfills since there would be no waste left to send.

At the same time there would be no waste for the mega incinerator, organic waste treatment plants, hazardous waste incinerator, or even the sewage sludge incinerator.

The approach views “waste” as a resource, much of which can be recycled on a commercial basis. The government’s approach assumes waste is useless and is proposing to incinerate it, a process which produces up to a third by weight in toxic waste which has to be sent to landfill.

The zero-waste scheme envisages that the waste will be sorted within Hong Kong’s 18 districts using advanced proven digital waste separation technologies and waste applications at no charge to households. The food and green waste would also be dealt with at district level using anaerobic digestion plants, which would produce fertiliser and fish food. Recyclables would also be extracted at this stage. The remaining waste after this would be sent to a plasma vapourisation closed-cycle combined power and heat plant to be built at the Tai Po Industrial estate or the Science and Technology Park.

This would produce syngas to be used in the production of electricity or fed into the gas network. Reid believes his proposal can achieve a 12.5 per cent net return on investment. This stands in stark contrast to the government proposals which will cost about HK$60 billion to build and operate.

Shek Kwu Chau incinerator requires careful look

28 November, 2014


Howard Winn

The Legislative Council finance committee is again poised to give the go-ahead for funding the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. We hope the committee will take a careful look at this project. This so-called Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) is to be built at a total capital and operating cost adjusted for inflation of HK$45 billion.

It is supposed to handle 3,000 tonnes a day of municipal solid waste (MSW) as a waste-to-energy plant. However, unlike every other major world city, the input feedstock is unseparated and unrecycled MSW. Some 50 per cent of this MSW is organic food and green waste with a minimum water content of 70 per cent. This means that 35 per cent of the 3,000 tonnes a day is water, or 1,050 tonnes of water. Since water does not burn, this means that the input fuel stock is actually 1,950 tonnes a day. Of this one-third is left as toxic top and bottom ash after combustion with atmospheric oxygen – 650 tonnes a day.

The net MSW to be dealt with at the IWMF next to Shek Kwu Chau will therefore be 1,300 tonnes a day. Comparative incinerators in other locations presume fuel feedstock that has been quality recycled and packaged. Shek Kwu Chau will need additional energy inputs like coal to burn this low energy value MSW and will have no viable energy output worth connecting, as it is located too far away from existing power generation networks to be worth the cost.

Proposed incinerator will be world’s most expensive bonfire

26 November, 2014

In reply to Victor Sum’s letter (“Promote incinerator advantages [1]”, November 14), I would like to inform him that the proposed incinerator has nothing worth promoting.

In fact, 30 per cent of what is burnt will go to landfills. And, based on the Environmental Protection Department’s own data, this will require the extension of all three landfills.

The reality is that the incinerator is a poor choice for Hong Kong on account that it is old technology. It does pollute (why else would the Netherlands not install the same incinerator within 15 kilometres of a residential area, based on health concerns of its residents). It will cost Hong Kong taxpayers billions to build and millions to run once built. The energy it produces is small and there is no agreement on price from CLP, so it is unlikely to produce any cash offset for its operating costs. Plus, the incinerator won’t be ready until 2022 or later. All three landfills will require extending from 2015.

The problem is the department is blinkered and is pressing ahead knowing all this and residents like Mr Sum are sufficiently misinformed to buy what the department is selling.

There is a better solution. It is gasification and it burns everything. It is cheaper than the reclamation alone at Shek Kwu Chau. It produces “syngas” that can be turned into biofuel and sold to airlines and shipping operators, therefore producing a profit within the first year of operation.

If built now, it would be operational by 2016. But, best of all, it can be used to back-mine the existing landfills, turning them back into useable land (back-mining involves digging up the old rotting rubbish from the landfill and feeding it into the gasification plant).

Maybe Mr Sum and other residents with similar views should write to the department, instead of these columns, and demand a better solution than the world’s most expensive bonfire.

Craig Colbran, Lantau

This Is How Thoroughly Rotten and Corrupt Hong Kong’s Government Is


When I read Hong Kong leader C.Y. Leung’s statements to the foreign media, I think, “He really needs to sack his PR guy.” Whether he believes what he is saying or not, we know that he is mouthing the party line because to control Hong Kong, the Communist Party requires the maintenance of the current system.

Although the path along which our political development was supposed to run was the eventual abolition of functional constituencies, not a single step has ever been taken towards dismantling them since 1997. And why would a constituency of vested interests take any step towards removing the source of their political power?

C.Y. inadvertently pointed this out with his reference to the sports community. According to him, they would not have been on his radar screen but for the fact that they have representatives on the Election Committee. That he got his facts wrong is neither here nor there (There are 15 representatives of the sports sub-sector on the Election Committee — not 20).

The point is that it is essential for someone who aspires to be Chief Executive to glad-hand enough people who are on the Election Committee to ensure his election. This is where the election is stitched up with back-room deals. This is where the pork-barrel politics takes place. Only some pigs are more equal than others. Out of the 1,200 members of the Election Committee, precisely 35 members represent the general voting public, namely the 35 members of the Legislative Council who are returned through direct elections from geographical constituencies. Any aspiring candidate can safely ignore them as he can get by without their support but the various special interest groups that make up the rest of the Election Committee have to be assiduously courted and wooed.

Since the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is that the number of members, composition and formation method of the nominating committee shall be made in accordance with the number of members, composition and formation method of the Election Committee for the Fourth Chief Executive (namely C.Y. Leung), the glad-handing remains essential to become one of the two or three candidates that the nominating committee will nominate. Except this time, to become a candidate, it will be necessary to secure the endorsement of more than half of all members of the nominating committee.

The Election Committee consists of four sectors. The First Sector consists of seventeen subsectors all of which have corporations or associations of various kinds as voters. Nine out of the seventeen sub-sectors have no natural persons as voters and out of those that have individuals as voters as well, in four of them, the individuals are way outnumbered by the corporate voters. Individual voters have to be permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) but corporate voters can be wholly under the control of persons who are not permanent residents. So much for foreign interference in our internal affairs.

As we know, there are many businesses set up by mainland interests in Hong Kong. They just have to appoint a dummy who is a Hong Kong permanent resident to go and vote on their behalf for the representative of their choice. It is also possible to buy up the controlling interests over corporations with votes. Those with controlling interests in different businesses have multiple representations through having corporate votes in different sub-sectors. Most of the representation is decided without any sub-sector election.

This what the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress considers to be “balanced participation.” The most extreme example of this so-called balance is the electorate of the Agriculture and Fisheries sub-sector whose corporate voters, all 159 of them, have 61 representatives on the Election Committee whereas the 3,466,201 ordinary registered electors have 35 representatives on the Election Committee. Yes, the Agriculture and Fisheries sub-sector had no election, with all representatives being returned uncontested. And more than half of the electorate in that sub-sector simply have their names listed in the legislation. There are no objective criteria provided in the legislation setting out the qualifications for being a voter. You could say that the Government of the HKSAR gets to appoint the voters.

To Beijing and C.Y., it is completely acceptable not to have equal representation in the nomination committee “because you would be talking to the half of the people who earn less than US$1,800 a month.” Apart from the bone-headed assumption that all people within a certain income bracket would vote in a particular way, he ignores the facts that the vested interests make demands for their support. The community at large has already had to pay the ransom demanded by the transport industry for taking filthy polluting vehicles off the road at some time in the future.

With such a thoroughly rotten and corrupt system, is it surprising that the majority of the general voting public want the option of nomination by citizen voters instead of nomination by a rigged nomination committee? Is it at all surprising that so many thousands, young, middle-aged and old, have turned out into the streets to repudiate this vision of their future and refuse to yield up the public areas they have occupied, despite pepper spray, tear gas and the violence unleashed on them? When there is no prospect of constitutional change to the institutionalized inequality in our political system, which nakedly favors vested interests, what other option is there?

Lamma islanders warned over pile of waste they cleared from beach

02 November, 2014

Lana Lam

Far from the heart of Occupy Central, one woman is battling the government bureaucracy over accusations of a different kind of illegal occupation.

Long-time Lamma Island resident Jo Wilson, 45, has drawn the battle lines over the Yung Shue Wan waterfront rather than roads and government buildings.

Fed up with seeing piles of litter strewn along the coastline, the mother of two started a 42-day clean-up project, picking up all manner of rubbish that had washed on to the shore, with the help of dozens of volunteers.

Every morning since September 21, Wilson has gone to the beach, laboriously sieving sand to separate bits of glass, plastic and polystyrene as well as collecting construction waste.

Yesterday was the 42nd and final day – the figure is a nod to the number of kilometres that marathon runners cover during a race.

But little did she suspect that her sustained efforts – along with those of parents and children who have given up their time – would be rewarded with a warning from the Lands Department.

Two weeks ago, she was startled to find a letter from the department on top of a large pile of rubbish that volunteers had collected and placed in a corner.

The letter stated that the debris had to be moved as it was an “illegal occupation” of the land.

“Does that mean we are all liable to prosecution for cleaning up?” Wilson said.

She contacted several government departments and was met by a wall of bureaucracy, with reasons including that the area was not gazetted as a beach and interdepartmental confusion over responsibility for the rubbish.

Eventually, she found Food and Environmental Hygiene Department staff to help collect the rubbish.

A spokeswoman for the Lands Department said it knew about the clean-up but received complaints about the waste pile. Issuing the notice was routine procedure, she added.

Wilson said it was not the first time she had come up against officialdom.

About five years ago, she helped form local advocacy group Living Lamma. They wrote dozens of reports on environmental problems on Lamma and submitted them to the relevant Legislative Council bodies, but the group’s efforts were futile.

“We wrote reports; it didn’t work. We cleaned up beaches; it didn’t work,” she said.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“We’ve occupied the beach with love and peace,” she said, in a nod to the official name of the Occupy Central movement.

“It will continue and I will continue. We’ve got to have a new normal, but what we need is participation.”

On Friday, a group of children from the Banyan House preschool joined Wilson to clean up the area. Maeve Cheng accompanied her three-year-old son Tak to pick up rubbish as well as good practices: “If you learn from an early age that you should recycle, it becomes a habit.”

Protesters who blocked roads also cleared Hong Kong’s polluted air

09 October, 2014

SCMP Editorial

Heavy roadside pollution is bad for health – of that there is no dispute. The exhaust fumes from vehicles, especially the decades-old diesel buses and trucks common on Hong Kong streets, irritate eyes and skin, exacerbate respiratory problems and, with long-term exposure, can lead to lung cancer and heart disease. Despite the risks, authorities have largely implemented voluntary schemes rather than legislation to improve air quality, leading to little noticeable change and continued risks. An unexpected result of the democracy protests was to give a glimpse of what could be expected were the government to adopt a resolute approach.

Student sit-ins closed our busiest streets to traffic, causing the rerouting or cancellation of hundreds of bus services and the clearing of thousands of delivery trucks. Unsurprisingly, on September 29, a normal working day ahead of a two-day holiday break during which the protests gathered steam, the sky was blue and government monitoring station readings were better than usual in the areas where the demonstrations took place: Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok. Official data showed the health risk from air pollutants in the areas was low rather than the typical high; it stayed like that throughout the day in all but Mong Kok, where it shifted to moderate at 3pm.

There was a steep fall in levels of nitrogen oxide, one of the harmful pollutants emitted by diesel engines. In Causeway Bay, it dropped from 125 micrograms per cubic metre of air at 10pm on Sunday night to about 60 micrograms after 9am on Monday; in Mong Kok, from 126 at midnight on Sunday to 70 after 9am; and in Central, from about 110 at 7pm on Sunday to about 60 after 9am. Roadside station readings are less susceptible to pollution from other sources like power stations and cross-border factories. The disruption of traffic by the protests has had an undeniable impact on air quality alongside streets. Without a government policy shift, after the demonstrations have ended, we will have to rely on our memories of the protest days for what clean vehicles on our roads mean for air quality.

Scientists examine the health risks of Hong Kong’s notorious ‘street canyons’

13 October, 2014

Cheung Chi-fai and Ernest Kao

Findings will help urban planners minimise impact of air pollution on residents

Hong Kong’s notorious “street canyons” have become the latest research subject for a group of the world’s top scientists specialising in air pollution and health.

Researchers from Britain, Canada and Hong Kong are conducting a three-dimensional air quality study in the city, which has a unique urban morphology – a dominance of high-rises and a close proximity between the population and traffic.

The study will not only map the three-dimensional movement of air pollutants, but also try to relate the pollution levels to the health of residents living at various heights in high-rises.

It will assist urban planning and building designs to minimise pollution impacts in Hong Kong and other megacities across Asia.

The street canyon effect is often cited as one of the factors in Hong Kong’s worsening air pollution. Closely built high-rises with heavy traffic in between are blamed for blocking ventilation and trapping air pollutants.

Funded by the Health Effects Institute in the US, the 30-month study will be jointly carried out by scientists from King’s College London, University of Hong Kong, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

The study consists of two parts. The first, which started in March, collects spatial air pollution data from 100 selected sites across the city. The scope of the pollutants includes fine particles, as well as nitrogen oxides and black carbon.

The second part is to identify suitable canyon sampling sites to measure vertical pollution exposure. Small sensors capable of recording pollutant concentrations as well as weather data will be installed on buildings.

Dr Benjamin Barratt, of the environmental research group at King’s College London, who described Hong Kong as an ideal “urban laboratory”, said they had selected estates in different districts to represent varying characters of street canyons.

He said the first-phase vertical monitoring in Mong Kok, Jordan, Choi Hung and Sai Wan had been completed and participants from two more districts – North Point and Hung Hom – were now being recruited.

He did not want to disclose the estate names, however, as he feared it might mislead the public into thinking that they must be pollution hotspots.

He said two sets of four monitoring units had been mounted on the exteriors of the selected buildings at four height levels. Another two sets are installed inside homes to examine the extent of pollution infiltration.

“We are assessing how pollution emitted from vehicles is trapped inside street canyons, how this changes with height and how much enters the homes of residents,” he said. “Our study is primarily concerned with mapping the level of risk to public health, but these questions are also important for city planners.”

He said the study results would help planners design buildings that minimised the impact of air pollution on the health of residents.

Barratt said they would also launch a study “relating hospital records of specific diseases with patients’ home addresses, including floors”.

Dr Wong Chit-ming, associate professor at HKU’s School of Public Health, who is taking part in the study, said the research was the first and “most systematic” ever done in a city.

Wong said the results could provide more understanding about the dynamics between pollution levels and heights.

“The higher the altitude, the less the air pollution should be. But the situation might be far more complicated than that, as city layouts and wind directions have an impact, too,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said: ” The dispersion of air pollutants in street canyons is a complex physical phenomenon that the scientific community, including ourselves, has been trying to better understand.

“The research project of King’s College will surely help advance scientists’ understanding of this complex physical phenomenon.”

Clean Air Network chief executive Kwong Sum-yin welcomed the research project as it would provide much-needed urban pollution analysis and modelling on a more micro, rather than a macro, scale.

Hong Kong stops bidding for MTR projects involving UGL

Oct 10, 2014

Hong Kong has halted bidding for railway projects involving an Australian company at the center of controversial payments to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Apple Daily reported Friday.

MTR Corp. (00066.HK), Hong Kong’s railway operator, shelved the public tender for two projects, including a HK$3 billion (US$386.8 million) train refurbishment program for which Australian engineering company UGL is bidding.

The move may be related to an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) into MTR’s bidding procedures, the report said, citing an unnamed source.

In July, an employee of the rail company questioned MTR’s bidding process in documents filed with the ICAC which decided to investigate.

The investigation relates to potential violation of the anti-bribery ordinance.

UGL had been tipped to win the train upgrading project because of its experience. MTR chairman Raymond Chí’en sits on the UGL board, the report said.

The bidding will be postponed to the second quarter of next year, MTR said on its website.

On Wednesday, Australia’s The Age newspaper reported that Leung received US$7 million in secret payments from UGL after he became Hong Kong chief executive.

The Australian said the payments were outlined in a secret contract signed in 2011 when Leung was a private citizen.

Leung’s lawyer denied any wrongdoing in a statement in which he rebutted any suggestions of impropriety for the Hong Kong leader.

MTRC and UGL have worked closely since 2002. Last month, they joined forces with construction company Leighton Holdings to win a HK$25.2 billion project in Sydney, Apple Daily said.

Why HK airport is losing out to Singapore’s Changi

Frank Chen

Oct 9, 2014

Some people say the Occupy campaign has been hurting Hong Kong’s transportation efficiency and overall competitiveness.

This is obviously a far-fetched accusation. First, protesters did not occupy the airport and Airport Express stations. Secondly, the number of non-mainland visitors to the city actually rose 9 percent to more than 300,000 on Oct. 1 from a year ago, according to the Immigration Department.

Between Oct. 1 and 4, mainland visitor arrivals in Hong Kong also increased 1.6 percent to 663,000.

In terms of aviation capacity, Hong Kong remains competitive in the South China region. But how does our facilities in Chek Lap Kok compare with Singapore’s Changi Airport?

Changi Airport has recently pulled down Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) from the top spot on the list of the world’s best airports this year, according to a ranking by international airport and airline rating firm Skytrax.

The downgrade came even after HKIA handled more passengers (59.9 million) and cargo throughput (4.12 million tons) than Changi (53.7 million and 1.85 million tons respectively) last year.

The slide in ranking has much to do with the territory’s ill-planned expansion programs and poor management of existing airport resources over the years.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon for passengers at HKIA to find that the travel experience is not what it should be.

Rather than being ferried through a skybridge directly onto the aircraft, travelers often have to take a bus — usually filled with the pungent smell of aviation fuel — to a plane sitting in the open-air apron and climb stairs to get on board. Given the hot temperatures in summer, it’s definitely not a pleasant prospect.

Rivalry in aviation has been a key aspect in the competition between Hong Kong and Singapore. HKIA used to have an upper hand with its status as a predominant transfer hub for long-haul passengers and a gateway to the Chinese mainland. But, as HKIA is now serving more passengers with fewer facilities compared to Changi, there is a price being paid.

HKIA has a total of just 49 aerobridge gates, all in Terminal 1 and unchanged since its inauguration 16 years ago, according to figures from the Airport Authority. Changi, by comparison, now has a total of 92 such gates; 28 have been added since the completion of Terminal 3 in 2007.

Around 40 percent of passengers departing from HKIA are now told to board planes from the apron, whereas at Changi — given its larger number of aerobridge gates and fewer passengers — it is a far more comfortable process for boarding.

HKIA recorded a new high in monthly passenger traffic last month, at 5.8 million.

When Changi completed its sleek Terminal 3, HKIA added its Terminal Two, at the north side of the existing terminal, in the same year. Yet the irony is that, the HK$2.8 billion (US$360 million) new terminal in Hong Kong is not a genuine one as it has no boarding gates at all. Departing passengers must take the automated people mover (APM) or buses to Terminal 1 for boarding. One wonders, what’s the point of building such a facility? Walk into the building, and indeed you realize it is more of a shopping mall than anything else.

The Airport Authority doesn’t stop with its whimsical planning. In 2009 it finished the North Satellite Concourse, a mini terminal located to the north of Terminal One mainly for mainland-bound flights. There is no APM connecting the two buildings and passengers, having been told to go through immigration and security checks in Terminal 1, will have to take shuttle buses there to board their planes. The construction cost of the 20,000-square meter facility is HK$1 billion and it just has ten frontal stands for narrow-bodied aircraft.

Lam Chiu-ying, former director of the Hong Kong Observatory and a well-known conservationist and blogger, lashed out at the concourse in one of his recent articles, saying it is a white elephant as most passengers would rather choose to board planes from the apron than wasting more time in the concourse, an isolated islet in the middle of nowhere.

Another problem, according to Lam, is that the concourse was not included in the original airport masterplan gazetted in the 1990s. It occupies part of the apron and may pose potential safety threat to aircraft taxiing nearby.

Some also question the Airport Authority’s decision to shelve the plan to build an X-shaped new terminal in the reserved middle field, which could have added an additional 44 jet bridge gates. Currently a much smaller terminal is under construction and is expected to be operational in 2015 with only 20 new gates.

Last month, the Advisory Council on the Environment has given its green light to the environmental impact assessment for the third runway, which is scheduled to be up and running within a decade after total investment of HK$200 billion.

Yet Lam and other green groups argue that priority should be given to short-to-medium initiatives to add further capacity to existing terminus, such as adding more jet bridge gates, building an APM to serve the north satellite concourse and rearranging facilities in Terminal 2 for easier and faster boarding.

While green activists and the government continue their debate on whether Hong Kong needs a third runway, the airport needs more terminal buildings and aerobridge gates to use its existing resources.

The airport authority should also seek cooperation with neighboring airports in Shenzhen and Macau in order to boost the overall service capacity in the region.

Waste plans limited to incineration

Saturday, 30 August, 2014

Waste plans limited to incineration

I refer to the letter by Elvis W. K. Au, assistant director of environmental protection (“Government serious about tackling waste”, August 18) replying to my letter (“Sustainable disposal solution needed to tackle mounting waste”, July 26).

He used well-worn bureaucratese talking about “blueprints” and “initiatives” to manage Hong Kong’s waste “in the coming decade”.

He says nothing about what is being done now to encourage territory-wide waste separation and recycling. Where is the public education campaign on sorting waste at source? Why is only 0.02 per cent per year of Hong Kong’s rubbish collected in the so-called recycling bins? Why are most of the recyclables collected in the 26,000 bins still dumped in landfills? Why does Au have no accurate figures on the amount of waste recycled? Where is the cooperation among the Environmental Protection, Food and Environmental Hygiene and Housing departments to collect and sort domestic waste? To refute my “unsubstantiated assertions”, he fails to substantiate his own with statistics.

Instead, Au proclaims “strategies, targets and plans” for comprehensive waste management in the future. Similar “strategies, targets and plans”, declared by a previous environment secretary, have yet to be implemented.

Au trumpets the “Blueprint on sustainable use of resources 2013-2022”. It’s largely a rehash of a blueprint issued in 2005, “A policy framework for the management of municipal solid waste 2005-2014”, with strategies and targets for community-wide reuse, recovery and recycling of waste. Nine years later, we’re still waiting.

The Environment Bureau’s only major plan is the mega-incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, from which toxic ash residue must be shipped across the busy harbour to be dumped in expanded landfills. The bureau has pro-incinerator roadshows and TV ads, instead of a media campaign to educate people on how to properly sort their refuse.

Since 2010, Au has championed this incinerator, paying lip service to waste separation and recycling. The “green community stations” are more window dressing.

After nearly a decade of failure to push anything other than incineration, how can we believe Au’s current “strategies, targets and plans” will lead to comprehensive waste management, especially if the incinerator gets funding? All our waste will then go into this plant, and there will be no incentive to reduce or recycle.

Throw refuse in black plastic bags, dump it in the incinerator and landfills; build more incinerators and expand landfills as needed. That is the bureau’s real waste-management plan, past, present and future.

Kim Chai, Lantau