Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Incineration – Solid Waste Disposal

Shek Kwu Chau incinerator proposal reflects worry over government power abuse

29 January, 2015

Comment›Insight & Opinion

Tom Yam

Should a government department regulate itself? To take a specific example, should the Environmental Protection Department propose an infrastructure project that has an impact on the environment, evaluate the environmental effects of that project, then approve the project as environmentally sound?

This is essentially the question before the Court of Final Appeal in a case concerning the department’s proposal to build the world’s most expensive incinerator off the island of Shek Kwu Chau. Wearing three hats as advocate, assessor and approver, the department’s director, Anissa Wong Sean-yee, has taken the incinerator project through all three processes.

The department has championed the incinerator for 15 years, despite significant local opposition. Its assistant director Elvis Au applied for an environmental permit. Another of its officers, then assistant director Tse Chin-wan, with the help of consultants engaged by the department, managed the environmental impact assessment, resulting in the approval of its report by the department and the issuance of the statutory environmental permit.

The court is now considering whether the department’s director has the power to approve the impact assessment report, prepared and submitted on her behalf, and grant the permit to herself. If the court decides she has this power, the department can proceed with the project. If not, the environmental permit will be invalidated and another impact assessment study will have to be conducted.

The issue goes to the heart of whether it is in the public interest for a government agency to police itself. It raises concerns about the vested interests of bureaucrats versus the rightful interest of citizens in minimising the risks to their health and environment.

The proposed incinerator, opponents say, will use polluting technology, produce toxic ash, disrupt the marine habitat, despoil a pristine island and destroy rather than protect the environment. But how impartial can an environmental protection official be in assessing a project which he has proposed, in which he has invested years of his career?

The self-regulation issue is related to the larger question of how major infrastructure projects in Hong Kong are conceived, analysed, evaluated and approved. In many cases, it appears that insufficient due diligence was done by professionals independent of the government agency proposing the project. Consultants are often hired to produce “the right answer” rather than an objective assessment; those who rely on government contracts will please the client rather than jeopardise future business. Such self-regulation enables government departments to release minimal information on the rationale, impact, financial and operational details of a project.

The Development Bureau’s reclamation plans for the East Lantau Metropolis is an example. The justification for such a colossal development, such as population, housing and transport needs, has neither been established nor quantified. Yet the bureau
intends to request HK$226.9 m
illion to explore building artificial islands in the waters between Hong Kong and Lantau islands.

Tom Yam is a Hong Kong-based management consultant. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Plea against Cheung Chau incinerator allowed

13 Jan 2015

Suresh Chandar

A Cheung Chau resident has been granted permission by the Appeal Court to take his case against the building of an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau to the Court of Final Appeal.

Leung Hon-wai had argued that the incinerator was very close to Cheung Chau and harmful materials emitted by it would harm the health of people on the island.

Mr Leung’s challenge was earlier rejected by the Court of First Instance and the Appeal Court.

But the Appeal Court ruling was a majority decision by two of the three judges

Why won’t government listen to incineration alternatives?

18 December 2014

As the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee prepares to consider the government’s proposal to build an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, I hope – as a Hong Kong taxpayer – it will ask some good, hard-hitting financial questions.

The first of these should be whether the budget is realistic. The budget increases for this unproven project have been substantial. In Lai See, Howard Winn pointed out that the capital cost of the incinerator rose from HK$18.2 billion to HK$19.2 billion between April 16 and October 17 (“Shek Kwu Chau incinerator smells even before it starts”, October 31) and that in April 2012 when the Environmental Protection Department submitted the project to the environmental affairs panel, the cost was HK$14.96 billion. The final construction cost is likely to be significantly higher, but how will it be funded given the cost of other infrastructure projects?

Second, the committee should consider the negative impact on property and investment values in South Lantau and Cheung Chau. Lantau in particular is being touted as Hong Kong’s next major source of income: the bridgehead to the Pearl River Delta with potential for business, conferences and tourism. But who wants to invest in a hotel overlooking an incinerator?

Who will want to hike Lantau’s glorious trails or enjoy its beaches while breathing in whatever will be produced by this outdated moving grate technology, especially when similar leisure activities are a short plane ride away in Southeast Asia? One only has to walk from Mui Wo to Sunset Peak to understand this – but has anyone in the government actually bothered to do so?

Third, how about value for money? Even the department admits that about 30 per cent of what will be burnt – if the incinerator finally gets going on time in 2022 – will have to be transported to a landfill. And yet a landfill is exactly the problem it is supposed to solve.

Many times the advantages of alternatives have been laid before the government, but no one seems to listen. Plasma gasification, which is more efficient and could be arranged faster, was dismissed, unfairly, as untried. Low-cost and advanced recycling possibilities are routinely ignored.

After the political turmoil of the last few months, this is the Hong Kong government’s chance to show that it can listen and think about the future: Legco can help it take that opportunity.

Amanda Whitmore Snow, Lantau

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

China adopts waste processing technology rejected by Hong Kong

07 November, 2014

Howard Winn

We see with some interest that the Zhuhai Gaolan Port Economic Development Zone is planning to build a waste-to-energy plasma gasification project with a capacity of 2,000 tonnes per day. It will be the world’s biggest plasma plant. This is of interest because green groups have been imploring Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department to take a proper look at this technology before proceeding with its proposed incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

These pleas have fallen on deaf ears and the EPD has clung to its incinerator project. The current price for this is HK$19.2 billion and rising. The original price in April 2012 was HK$14.92 billion. The incinerator will produce almost 1,000 tonnes a day of toxic waste, which has to be loaded into barges and sent to landfills. The incinerator is estimated to export some 10MW of electricity. This compares with the Zhuhai Gaolan Port project, which aims to produce some 200MW of exportable power. The project is being built for about 2.8 billion yuan (HK$3.5 billion) which we are told should be increased by a factor of three to compare with Hong Kong prices, which takes it up to HK$10.5 billion.

So half the price and 20 times the amount of electricity and no toxic ash. But the other aspect of interest here is that the company building this plasma project – Guangdong Plasma Power – is a subsidiary of the local power company Zhongshang Jiaming Electric Power. We gather that Hong Kong’s local power companies have considered the possibility of running plasma plants next to their power plants but have received no response from the government. We are frequently told by the EPD in letters to the SCMP and in public statements that the plasma technology is untried and not suitable for Hong Kong. Yet Guangdong Plasma plans to start building its Zhuhai plant in July 2015 and to complete it by December 2016 well before Shek Kwu Chau is built.

Hopefully the Legislative Council finance committee will scrutinise this carefully before giving the green light. It might at the same time ask the EPD about its practice of sending 1.41 million tonnes a year of construction and demolition waste (CDW) to landfill. It seems odd given that Hong Kong sends 20,000 tonnes a day (7.28 million tonnes a year) of CDW to China for “storage” under an agreement with China’s Oceanographic Administration. The remaining 11.56 million tonnes of CDW is recycled according to the EPD. You have to wonder why any CDW is being sent to landfill.

People are rightly incredulous when they hear this. The EPD claims that 80 per cent of CDW is recycled though the figures show that 58 per cent is recycled.
This compares with levels of 99 per cent for Singapore and 95 per cent for the Netherlands and Germany. It is a mystery why Hong Kong has to send such colossal amounts of waste to landfill. But its good business for the likes of Veolia Environment and their subsidiaries and Sitra, which control waste management in Hong Kong.

DEFRA cancels PFI support for Hatfield incinerator

Simon Inglethorpe

20 October 2014

DEFRA has withdrawn £115m of private finance initiative (PFI) support from Hertfordshire County Council’s residual waste infrastructure project.

Veolia is proposing to build a 380,000-tonne capacity energy-from-waste (EfW) plant near Hatfield as part of an £800m, 25-year contract with the council.

The waste management giant said it was “very disappointed” by the news.

“This shortsighted decision will increase the UK’s reliance on landfill to treat our residual waste,” a spokeswoman said. “Veolia believe that DEFRA’s decision points to a lack of government support for new waste infrastructure and fails to address the 17 million tonnes of waste that currently goes to landfill.”

State support for the proposed EfW plant is not warranted, DEFRA claims, because the treatment capacity it would provide is no longer needed to meet landfill diversion targets.

A spokeswoman for the department said: “DEFRA’s responsibility is to ensure public money is used appropriately and as we expect to meet EU landfill diversion targets with the existing infrastructure we now have in place in England, we cannot justify continuing to fund this project.”

DEFRA justified its decision by releasing an updated forecast of waste arisings and treatment capacity prior to the announcement.

Member states need to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2020 under the EU Landfill Directive.

But there is now a 99.9% likelihood this target will be met without the Hertfordshire EfW project, according to DEFRA’s latest forecast. The department now predicts that the EU target will be exceeded by about 6.6 million tonnes by 2020 without the project’s contribution.

Other independent forecasts broadly corroborate this prediction, it claims.

“Although conclusions vary regarding infrastructure requirements in general, there appears to be a consensus of results showing sufficient capacity to meet the requirements of the 2020 landfill target,” says DEFRA.

Recent infrastructure capacity reports by the Green Investment Bank, Veolia and Sita and are all consistent with the government’s latest forecast, in the department’s view. This is surprising given that Veolia’s report is highly critical of the “dangerous” assumptions used in DEFRA waste forecasting.

Criticisms of the withdrawal of PFI credits by trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA) echo Veolia’s concerns.

Its economist, Jacob Hayler, said it was a “wrong” and “short-sighted” decision that would increase the UK’s reliance on landfill and exports of refuse-derived fuel.

Hayler also accused the government of changing its waste composition assumptions to make the landfill diversion target easier to meet. DEFRA’s latest forecast assumes a much lower biodegradable content for waste (50%) compared with the figure used in its previous capacity forecast in October 2013 (65%).

Mounting project woes

The cancellation of government PFI support adds to the difficulties facing the controversial Hertfordshire project.

Communities and local government (DCLG) secretary Eric Pickles blocked Veolia’s application to build an EfW plant on a 12.6-hectare site south of Hatfield over the summer.

Veolia reacted to the planning refusal by launching a legal challenge and has pledged to continue this fight.

A spokeswoman said: “The decision has not affected Veolia’s belief that an in-county treatment solution for Hertfordshire is needed, and Veolia will continue with our legal challenge to the secretary of state’s refusal to give planning permission for the recycling and energy recovery facility at New Barnfield, due to be heard in December.”

The government has withdrawn £1.3bn in PFI support from a total of 12 waste infrastructure projects so far this parliament.

The latest cancellation comes less than a year after the axing of £91m in PFI support for Norfolk County Council’s EfW project.

This followed the removal of £217m in PFI support to three projects in 2013 and the 2010 scrapping of £926m of PFI support for seven projects.

Despite the cutbacks, DEFRA will spend £100m – nearly 80% of its waste and resource budget – on PFI projects in 2014/15.

MPs attacked the government’s “appalling” management of PFI support for waste infrastructure in a report last month

S China trash incinerator still under discussion: government

Sep 14,2014

A controversial trash incinerator project in Huizhou City in south China’s Guangdong Province is still in the discussion stage, local government said on Sunday in response to a mass gathering Saturday.

The planned ecological garden, which will contain an incinerator project, is still being discussed, said the spokesman with the Huizhou Municipal Government.

Rumors claimed the site of the garden had already been decided and the project was under construction, but they were all misinformation, said the spokesman.

More than 1,000 people gathered at a square in the city’s Bolong County on Saturday over concerns about site selection for the project.

Roads were not blocked and there were no extreme behaviors, such as smashing or looting, during the mass gathering, the spokesman said, adding that the crowd dispersed around 11:30 a.m. the same day.

The planned ecological garden will contain trash recycling, landfill, incineration and biological treatment facilities, he said.

A draft of the plan was published in the Huizhou Daily on August 16 and will be posted on the city’s housing and construction bureau website for one month. Specialist agencies are also conducting survey and evaluation work on the project’s environmental implications and geological conditions.

Government authorities will hold a demonstration meeting and hearings with the participation of local residents and experts. The demonstration and final decision will be made in accordance with the law and legal procedures, said the spokesman.

The municipal government of Huizhou will give full attention to the site selection and is soliciting opinions from all sides to make a law-based scientific decision, he added.

He said he hopes the public can remain rational and express opinions and appeals in a peaceful way.

Incinerators are considered the most feasible and effective means for Chinese cities to dispose of massive amounts of garbage.

The Huizhou mass protest follows another protest by hundreds of residents in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province over an incinerator project.

Protests began in April when the Hangzhou municipal government released information about the incinerator. It is a major project for the city, which must find a way to ease pressure on garbage disposal.

Local government authorities promised construction would not start without public support and before going through the legal process.

Waste companies and government guilty of obstructive inertia

Friday, 19 September, 2014

I write in reference to Elvis Au’s letter “Waste already transported by sea [1]”, (August 27).

Gustave Flaubert, the famous French author, wrote that “Le bon Dieu est dans le detail” – God is in the detail. The phrase has also been attributed to the French architect Le Corbusier and the modern American-German architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

A deliberate variation on the phrase is “The Devil is in the detail”, meaning it is easy to come up with a grand overall plan for something, but difficult to justify that plan when all the detailed questions show up.

In the context of waste management, Ségolène Royal, the French minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, recently stated that incineration is an obsolete technology and we should be moving towards a zero-waste society.

French multinationals Veolia Environnement and SITA – a subsidiary of Suez Environnement – are effectively a waste duopoly in Hong Kong. In France, the official waste “valorisation”, or the value creation rate from waste recycling, for these two companies is said to be around 70 per cent. By comparison, in Hong Kong the figure for the same companies is around 0.25 per cent.

Their global slogans translate as “making waste into a resource” and “global but local”. They and Au need to explain why these slogans don’t apply in Hong Kong. Judging by local figures, their slogan should be “do nothing at all”.

Hong Kong is at the bottom of the world table in recycling municipal solid waste, lower than many developing countries, making it the most wasteful city in the world.

Why is this the case, Mr Au? Who is responsible and accountable?

Premier Li Keqiang has forcefully stated that officials who obstruct progress by doing nothing are guilty of a form of corruption. The waste situation here is a prime example of such obstructive inertia.

The detail is revealing. Veolia and SITA on the commercial side, together with the Environmental Protection Department on the government side, are the primary vested financial interests in waste management in Hong Kong.

How much are waste management contracts worth each year, Mr Au? Who is in charge of the consortia favoured for all the proposed waste infrastructure projects in the city? Let everyone guess before you selectively reply.

Serafina Cheung So-hing, secretary, Anesidora Nature and Eco Education Association

dynamco Sep 19th 2014

We cannot have a Zero Waste policy without legislation
We have no source separation of waste legislation
We have no Govt provided collection system for recycled items which are currently voluntarily separated at source
The Govt intends to charge for waste collection without installing the two above measures so your nicely separated recyclables will get charged for & lumped in with the rest of the trash
Govt wants to spend money on ‘Green’ education centres in all districts instead of a big stick legislation
Recyclable items contaminated by HKG’s ultra wet food waste are useless – HKG deliberately ignores the advice of CIWEM’s worldwide policy on the use of the sewage system to handle food waste
Flawed ‘Blueprints’ are all wind no action
We have no method to handle remaining non recyclable construction waste that must be buried- yet Govt was offered a FREE 150,000 tpa Plasma plant that could destroy this , but refused it
HKG local recycling figures are fake & include transit import waste from overseas that passes thru HK port enroute China
All in all a retrograde disaster with Burn ‘n Bury policies
The waste collection companies cited are just using the system to get rich + the system is broken

Since Santa Monica resident Ms Loh is fully aware of California’s 77% recycling rate  and legislation it is ‘strange?’ that no such legislation is forthcoming here