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Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong

Trump has reheated debate with US withdrawal from Paris Agreement, former UN climate chief says

Speaking on sidelines of three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong, Christiana Figueres insisted the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions would not be shaken.

The United Nations’ former climate chief has struck a defiant note against US President Donald Trump [1]’s pullout from the landmark Paris accord, insisting the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions will not be shaken.

In an interview with the Post, Christiana Figueres, who formerly headed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, even “thanked” Trump for effectively reinvigorating the discussion over global warming and making it headline news again. But she admitted it was sad to see the US give up its leading role.

“The announcement was a political message that Mr Trump wanted to give out, geared toward his political base,” said Figueres, who headed the negotiations leading to the Paris agreement in 2015 [3]

“Most of the US economy, most cities, states and corporations, will continue because they know its in their own interest.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the city’s largest ever conference on sustainable buildings and urban development. Tackling climate change [4] in the face of rapid urbanisation is the key theme.

Trump’s politically-motivated gesture, Figueres said, would have limited impact on America, given that more than 175 US mayors, a growing number of states and more than 1,000 corporations had pledged to continue upholding commitments to the Paris Agreement.

“It is the White House which stepped out of [Paris], not the US economy,” she said. “That’s actually a sad statement to make as under normal conditions, a president should speak for the economy and the majority.”

Figueres brushed off Trump’s announcement as one riddled with inaccuracies, not least because there was no legal basis for it – no country can withdraw from the accord until three years after ratification – and his claims of bringing back coal industry jobs.

“It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it,” she said, adding that most coal jobs had already been killed by cheap natural gas as a result of the recent shale revolution, and mining jobs had been taken over by mechanisation and automation.

“It will be increasingly difficult for other heads of state to take Mr Trump seriously,” she added, suggesting that Trump had undermined his country’s credibility.

Figueres said it would be inevitable that China – the world’s biggest carbon emitter – continued the charge as its leaders recognised decarbonisation was “good for their economy”.

Figueres, who now vice-chairs the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, said built-up environments contributed to one-fifth of global emissions. The conference was being held in Hong Kong as it was a gateway to Asia, she said.

“Asia marks whether the world is going to succeed in climate change actions or not.”

Causeway Bay has worst air in Hong Kong, statistics show

District exceeded the WHO’s limit on the concentration of small particulates in the air on 227 days of 2016

http://www.atimes.com/article/causeway-bay-worst-air-hong-kong-statistics-show/

Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island, had the poorest air in the city in 2016, followed by Tuen Mun in the New Territories West and Mong Kok in Kowloon, according to chief of the city’s Environment Bureau, citing from analyses by the Environmental Protection Department.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a written reply to the Legislative Council on Wednesday regarding concern over high-level air pollution in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines state that the concentration of small particulates PM2.5 over a 24-hour period should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

In 2016, Causeway Bay exceeded the limit on 227 days of the year, while for Tuen Mun and Mong Kok the numbers were 173 days and 171 days respectively. Other locations in Hong Kong monitored by the government averaged 100 days.

Pollution from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province and tropical cyclones are often blamed for Hong Kong’s poor air quality.

Over 80% of high pollution days were said to be caused by the downdraught effect of tropical cyclones, which results in the accumulation of ozone and fine suspended particulates in the Pearl River Delta. Wong explained that the pollutants are then brought to the city by westerly or northwesterly winds.

Waste disposal charge will cost a typical Hong Kong family HK$51 a month

Environment minister reveals range of fees intended to meet target of a 40 per cent reduction in household waste by 2022

Hong Kong’s households will have to shell out around HK$33 to HK$51 a month to dispose of their rubbish when a long-awaited quantity-based charging scheme designed to change behaviour and reduce waste comes into force in two years.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said on Monday that charges for municipal solid waste – rubbish generated from homes, offices, factories and restaurants, a third of which comes from kitchens – would be imposed on all sectors in one go for the sake of fairness and in line with the “polluter pays” principle.

“Quantity-based waste charging aims to create financial incentives to drive behavioural changes in waste generation,” Wong said. “The biggest aim is to reduce overall waste disposal, not to increase government revenues.”

Residential buildings, village houses and street-level shops that use government refuse collection services will be required to buy one of nine types of rubbish bags of varying size, priced at an average 11 cents per litre. The charge will be 30 cents for the smallest, 3-litre bag, while the biggest 100-litre bag will cost HK$11.

A three-person household opting for the standard 15-litre bag – roughly the same size as a supermarket plastic bag – will pay about HK$1.70 a time, running a tab of about HK$51 per month. It will cost HK$1.10,or HK$33 per month, for 10-litre bags.

Oversized items that cannot fit into any of the nine designated bags must be tagged with a label that costs HK$11 for disposal.

Sold in packs of 10, the bags will be available at 4,000 sales points, including convenience stores, post offices, petrol stations and special vending machines.

Commercial and industrial buildings using private collection services will pay a landfill “gate fee”, based on the weight of the rubbish they produce. The tip fees will be set between HK$365 and HK$395 per tonne.

Details of the charging scheme were revealed by the Environmental Protection Department on Monday after years of public engagement. A bill will be tabled at the Legislative Council before the summer and, following its passage, the public will be given 12 to 18 months to prepare for the charging scheme. Full implementation is expected in the second half of 2019.

The average Hongkonger throws out about 1.39kg of household waste per day. A target was set in 2014 to slash that figure by 40 per cent by 2022. Wong said the city’s municipal solid waste had increased by over 80 per cent over the past 30 years, far outpacing the population growth of 34 per cent.

He said the government would step up enforcement at refuse collection stations and bin sites. Legislation could also empower public officers to carry out enforcement and spot checks within common areas of private residential estates.

waste-price

Fixed penalties for non-compliance have been set at HK$1,500.

Wong said the charges – which will be in place for three years – were “acceptable” and in line with practices in Taipei City and Seoul, both of which have seen significant waste reduction since levies were introduced.

World Green Organisation policy advocacy manager Angus Wong Chun-yin welcomed the scheme but said the departments involved would need to be clearer about how to divide labour and monitor and carry out enforcement in estates. “It still seems a bit clumsy,” he said.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the charging scheme’s impact would be greater if rates were set higher.

“At this rate, I believe it will be difficult for the government to meet the 2022 waste targets,” he said.

“But as a starting point, we can acquiesce.”

He said the government also needed to consider how property management companies of commercial buildings will divide tip fee costs equitably among tenants.

“What if I produce very little waste, why should I help pay for others? This is something they will need to think about.”
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2080508/11-cents-dump-1-litre-trash-hong-kong-government?_=1490065597228

David Suzuki, climate science’s caustic Dr Doom, rips into consumerism, hails China’s green tech

Japanese-Canadian geneticist offers gloomy prognosis of looming catastrophe, and rubbishes the idea that humanity can innovate its way out of its problems

http://www.scmp.com/print/lifestyle/article/2079813/david-suzuki-climate-sciences-caustic-dr-doom-rips-consumerism-hails

David Suzuki is a force of nature. The Canadian geneticist turned celebrity champion of the environment is operating on severe jet lag, two hours’ sleep and an ever-heightening world-weariness. But he fires off epithets, facts and acerbic quips with a vigour that’s as implausible as the ageless glow of his skin.

“Humans value growth; that’s like cancer cells,” Suzuki, 80, says. We’re overpopulated and live in a finite world but are deluding ourselves that the opposite is true, he says.

“We’re an invasive species,” he adds, forecasting that a Spanish-flu-like epidemic might cut back swelling populations in the near future.

The developing world is a target of his ire for its booming populations, a position he admits is controversial. “We don’t talk about how these populations are growing too fast because we’re told it’s racist to say that.”

Touching down in Hong Kong to deliver a rallying speech at City University that kicks off its inaugural lecture series on sustainability, Suzuki does not mince words on stage nor during interviews, in which he refuses to suffer optimists.

He has a reputation as a fearsome figurehead of Canada’s environmentalists, having, on occasion, responded to detractors in expletives, and proved a slightly scary interviewee. At times, he emanates a grandfatherly warmth; at others, a wry impatience that veers on the grouchy.

“Yeah, humans are just so smart, we’re just so, so smart,” he says, rolling his eyes at the suggestion that humanity might save itself through its own inventiveness. This quality, though marvellous in some respects, is what enabled us to develop in ways that are unsustainable.

“We have the internet, that’ll fix things,” he says sarcastically. He finds effusive optimism of this sort not only deeply distasteful, but also dangerous, as it vindicates inaction in the face of creeping adversity.

That man-made solutions to climate change’s increasingly disastrous impact, by way of geoengineering, or conquering new planets as recently proposed by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, might be just around the corner, are beliefs he calls delusional. The answer lies not in new inventions, but in scaling back big time and pushing for others to do the same.

The solution to our problems goes far beyond paltry gestures such as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, he says, but doesn’t offer any specific suggestions besides a total overhaul of the status quo, and mobilising society to campaign for its rights to clean resources.

“Since I arrived in Hong Kong people keep saying ‘free the market, you gotta free the market’,” Suzuki says, waving his arms flamboyantly. “The market” is a human construct, he adds. It’s not a preternatural force that’s beyond the control of humans – it can be tamed.

Needless to say, Suzuki is no proponent of deregulated capitalism, nor is he hopeful about the future prospects of mankind within the current framework of the global economy. “Corporations don’t give a s*** about us,” he says.

He argues that what’s happened is that we imbue “the market” with an almost transcendental power while relegating the natural world to a position of servitude. This sanctions our plundering of the Earth with ever greater and prospectively more dangerous ingenuity.

On China, he has a nuanced take: “I vowed never to go back because of the air pollution. Now China has invested in green technology because it’s had to – the pollution is killing people. It’s becoming a world leader in green tech.”

On recently elected US President Donald Trump he is far more critical: “We’ve moved from a biocentric point of view to an anthropocentric one. It’s all about me, me, me – and Trump is the cultural expression of that,” he says.

We once respected nature and bowed to its demands. Now we expect it to do our bidding and plunder its resources with an absurd expectation that they are infinite and a grandiose sense of entitlement.

“There’s no limit to what we want,” he says. “You walk down the street and see people in jeans that companies have ripped for them. I think that’s disgusting.”

Suzuki, a Vancouverite and third-generation Japanese-Canadian, rose to prominence as a TV presenter and environmental activist during and after the decades he spent as a research scientist.

His family suffered internment during the second world war, and, in its aftermath, were forced to relocate to the east of the Rocky Mountains after the government sold off their dry-cleaning business.

Suzuki attributes to his parents’ need to scrimp and save his own distaste for the materialist values that flourished after the war.

“My parents taught me not to run after money,” he says.

The fledging scientist earned his PhD in biology from the University of Chicago, and later became professor of a genetics department at the University of British Columbia, specialising in fruit flies.

He went on to host several documentaries, radio and TV shows, among them the internationally popular science programme The Nature of Things, which cemented his place as a household name.

“When I started doing those shows, Canadians were scientifically illiterate,” he recalls. “I had hoped that by helping disseminate information people would get better about making the right decisions.

“I’ve had to alter that belief – now we have the internet and access to so much information, we just read the stuff we want to believe.”

In the late 1970s, during the shooting of The Nature of Things, he interviewed the indigenous people of the Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia about protests they were holding against the cutting down of their forest.

These encounters proved life-changing for Suzuki, who has since campaigned tirelessly for the rights of indigenous cultures and has been adopted into one tribe.

“I’ve been welcomed into the eagle tribe – I’m an eagle,” he says. His adoptive tribe sees men and animals as one and the same, an idea Suzuki says is supported by recent research showing that humans and animals share many chromosomes.

He believes they are among the only societies who live sustainably, within their means and with respect for the natural world. He says science now backs many of their conceptions of man’s place in the world as part of an interconnected matrix.

With 55 books under his belt, a foundation in his name, and environmental campaign work spanning decades, Suzuki admits he’s exhausted, angry and prone to moments of despondency.

He has been a particularly active force when it comes to debunking climate deniers and the industry lobby groups that support them. “Companies that put their own profit over the survival of the planet – that’s evil.”

The past year has been a particularly bad one for his ilk. Deadline upon deadline set by climatologists and transnational alliances to offset climate change’s increasingly palpable impact have been flouted.

And what has emerged is an increasingly polarised world, unverifiable information chaos and a climate change denier at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation.

Suzuki remembers the evening of last year’s US elections. A party with his wife and friends in Massachusetts had disbanded early when the results became apparent. “I left that night worried that some of my friends might kill themselves,” he says.

A few weeks later he would find himself reading a particularly dismal report from an environmentalist’s research project that forecast climatological doom in our near future owing to methane being released from the Arctic as the permafrost thaws.

“I couldn’t move for a week after I read that,” he says. “My grandchildren have a very uncertain future.”

A family man with five children – three from his first marriage – he admits that for a proponent of population control his ecological footprint isn’t the most admirable.

“You have one kid, and you think, this is great, let’s have another,” he says. “And grandchildren are even better.”

His daughter, Severn, is like her father. At the age of 12, she travelled to Rio to give a speech at the summit and has since followed in her father’s footsteps by becoming a prominent environmental activist. When Suzuki needs to escape he retreats to the Haida Gwaii reservation, where Severn now lives with her husband and two sons.

“My grandchildren keep me from despair,” he says. “My grandchildren are what keep me fighting. Because we’ve got to keep fighting, otherwise – what’s the point?”

Hong Kong can create its own smog, researchers say

Scientists from Hong Kong and Macau found one day in which pollutants were formed when dirty air was not blowing from the north

Smoggy days are often blamed on regional pollution and weather, but at least one recent scientific study has shown that the city can, under the right conditions, “form its own smog”.

The study by Hong Kong and Macau air scientists argued that a rapid build-up of particulate matter in the air – a key component of smog – was possible even in the absence of northerly winds that can transport pollutants from afar.

The evidence boiled down to at least one particular sunny September day in Hong Kong in which a “land-sea breeze” pattern formed along with weak winds far below average speeds.

The scientists observed a rapid rise of photochemical activity during mid-afternoon, in which ozone and nitrogen dioxide skyrocketed along with increasing sunshine.

“It is clear that there was a rapid increase in particulate matter (PM) concentration on this day when we were not really affected by external meteorological conditions. It’s not easy to argue in this case that winds were blowing PM to Hong Kong from the region ,” said co-author Professor Chan Chak-keung, dean of City University’s school of energy and environment.

The culprits, he said, were most likely local sources such as vehicles or industrial emissions, which contain nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The latter pollutant is also found in products such as organic solvents, paints and printer inks.

Chan’s team investigated “episodes” – days with high PM concentrations – in one-month periods in each of the four seasons from 2011 to 2012 at the University of Science and Technology’s air quality research supersite.

Other episodes across the seasons were also observed with high local photochemical activity, but those days also came under the influence of transported air from the north, making it less clear what was actually local or regional.

The paper was published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in November.

“Of course, regional sources play a role but [this research] shows that under the right conditions, PM can build up and Hong Kong can form its own photochemical smog.”

Photochemical smog is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air under sunlight. It leads to the formation of ozone. This hazardous pollutant facilitates the formation of the tiny particles, small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

The particulate matter in the air lowers visibility, turning the sky smoggy and gives it a lurid orange tint at dusk.

The Environmental Protection Department usually points to meteorological influences such as northeast monsoons when the air quality health index hits “very high” health risk levels.

During a bout of high pollution last Thursday, it said: “Hong Kong is being affected by an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations. The light wind hinders effective dispersion of air pollutants.”

It added that the formation of ozone and fine particulates during the daytime resulted in high pollution in the region.

Chan said most smoggy days were doubtless a result of regional factors or pollution. But he said the study’s findings warranted more research on how PM was formed and pinpointing its sources.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2076236/hong-kong-can-create-its-own-smog-researchers-say

Drop in roadside air pollutants in Hong Kong thanks to government measures

I refer to Natalie Siu Hoi-tung’s letter on pollution in Hong Kong (“Air pollution impact can’t be ignored [1]”, January 27).

We can’t agree more that air pollution must not be ignored. The government has been taking action to improve air quality.

Locally, we have capped the emissions of power plants via statutory technical memorandums (TM) since 2008 and have been progressively tightening the caps. Since 2014, we have implemented an incentive-cum-regulatory scheme to progressively phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019.

We have also deployed remote sensors to strengthen emission control for petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles.

In July 2015, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to mandate ocean-going vessels at berth to switch to low-sulphur fuel. A new regulation was introduced in June 2015 requiring newly imported non-road mobile machinery to comply with statutory emission standards.

Regionally, we have been collaborating with the mainland authorities to reduce emissions in the whole Pearl River Delta region. Emission reduction targets have been set for key air pollutants for 2015 and 2020.

Joint efforts have been made in various scientific studies/programmes, for example, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Joint Regional PM2.5 Study, which will help provide a scientific base in formulating policies to alleviate regional air pollution.

The above measures have borne fruit. From 2012 to 2016, our roadside and ambient air pollutants have dropped by up to 30 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, while the ambient level of ozone has seen a slight decline of 3 per cent. However, amid the improvement trends, there are still episodes of high pollution when pollutants are transported from the delta region under unfavourable meteorological conditions. Hence, we have to continue our efforts to improve air quality.

We will continue to review the emission caps under the TM for power plants and we are preparing to tighten the emission standards for newly registered vehicles to Euro VI.

We will collaborate with the mainland authorities to set up a domestic emission control area in the Pearl River Delta waters in 2019, such that all vessels in the area will have to use low-sulphur fuel. Furthermore, we have embarked on a review of the air quality objectives (AQOs) to identify new practicable air quality improvement measures and assess the scope of tightening the AQOs made possible by their implementation. The review will be completed next year.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director (air policy), Environmental Protection Department
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2070763/drop-roadside-air-pollutants-hong-kong-thanks-government-measures

Waste management problems are getting worse in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2064988/waste-management-problems-are-getting-worse-hong-kong#add-comment

Rarely has an organisation performed as miserably, every year, as the Environmental Protection Department in its waste management programme.

Its failure was highlighted in reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee last year. Predictably, the department’s latest waste management report, for 2015, is no different.

Its two major targets have moved in the wrong direction five years in a row – the amount of waste per person disposed daily increased, while the waste recovery rate decreased. From 2014 to 2015, waste disposed went up (from 1.35 to 1.39kg), while waste recovered went down (from 36.5 to 35.4 per cent). That’s the worst performance in a decade.

In the Environment Bureau’s waste-management blueprint issued in 2013, the objective for the amount of waste per person disposed daily was set at 1kg by 2017 and 0.8kg by 2022. The recovery rate was to be 55 per cent by 2022.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has talked up the blueprint for the past two years. But at a January 17 press conference, he was mum about waste management performance, except for an 8 per cent decrease in food waste, which is just 30 per cent of total domestic waste.

I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable.

Wong and his department seem incapable of grasping the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered.

Imposing a waste-charging scheme cannot lower significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there’s a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered.

And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. He omitted the crucial factor in their success: waste separation at source is required by law.

Waste-recovery companies in Hong Kong have to sell paper, plastic and metal to the mainland at market prices, which cannot be controlled by the Environment Bureau.

This means the current 36 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent, which is the rate achieved by countries that successfully manage their waste.

At its 36 per cent waste recovery rate, Hong Kong needs to reduce waste generation by 40 per cent from the current level to achieve the 0.8kg average amount of waste per person disposed daily by 2022. In their dreams.

Tom Yam, Lantau

Hong Kong’s ‘producer pays’ e-waste levy to range from HK$15 to HK$165 per item

A long-awaited “producer pays” levy fee covering certain waste electrical and electronic equipment is likely to range between HK$15 and HK$165, according to a government paper.

Once fully implemented, manufacturers and importers will have to be registered and must bear the costs of properly recycling the items.

The proposed charges are HK$15 per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air-conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. They must be paid to the government on a quarterly basis.

Appliance sellers are also required to collect old appliances upon request from purchasers of new ones and deliver them to a licensed recycler for free.

Environmental Protection Department assistant director Samson Lai said the charges recovered the full costs of recycling and the scheme could be reviewed when appropriate. But he admitted that some retailers might try to pass some of the costs to consumers.

“The idea is based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle and creating a closed-loop recycling system in which e-waste is collected, processed and turned into resources via proper treatment,” he said. “It will also help reduce pressure on landfills.”

About 70,000 tonnes of e-waste is disposed of in the city each year, 80 per cent of which is exported and the rest usually landfilled locally – a situation the government says is unsustainable.

The government’s new treatment and recycling facility in Tuen Mun, scheduled for commissioning this year and operated by ALBA IWS, will have the capacity to handle 30,000 tonnes.

The latest updates will be discussed at the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel next week. Draft legislative amendments will be tabled to the council for scrutiny in the second quarter, with implementation expected in the third.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at the Green Earth, welcomed the updates but believed the levy rates were still quite low and would have minimal impact on producers.

Meanwhile, a report released on Sunday by United Nations University, the UN’s academic arm, found Hong Kong to have the highest e-waste per capita generation out of a dozen Asian countries, followed by Singapore and Taiwan.

The report attributed the average increase in e-waste generation over the region – 63 per cent from 2010 to 2015 – to more gadgets and consumers and devices being replaced more frequently.

Hong Kong and Singapore’s levels, it said, were particularly high because they did not yet have specific e-waste legislation. Both also had significant trans-boundary movements of e-waste generated domestically and in transit from other countries.

“Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” co-author Ruediger Kuehr said.

An investigation by environmental group ¬Basel Action Network last year found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the US [3].

Under the new scheme, a permit will be required for the importing and exporting of regulated e- waste. Regulated e-waste will also no longer be accepted at landfills.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2062599/hong-kongs-producer-pays-e-waste-levy-range-hk15

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Paul Stapleton warns that the Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index [2] scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index (aqicn.org) [3], which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities.

They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively. Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.

In defence of the Air Quality Health Index, many other pollutants, such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are included in its composite measure, and their levels may have been “low”. However, even if their levels are low and only the PM2.5 is high, that does not mean it is safe to be outdoors for extended periods, especially for young children whose lungs are particularly prone to damage [6] by pollutants in the air.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy I noticed this past week is not an isolated incident. Regularly, the index forecasts the level of air pollution in Hong Kong to be “low to moderate” on the following day when the PM2.5 reading turns out to be at levels much higher than that acceptable by international standards. Sadly, the government’s daily forecast lends a false sense of security about air quality. In the end, it may be best to look out of the window and judge for oneself.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong

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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2061239/hong-kongs-official-air-quality-index-failing-warn-deadly