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Waste data shows incinerator plan should not be a burning issue

An artist's impression of the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Waste data raises questions over the need for the project. Photo: SCMP Pictures

An artist’s impression of the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Waste data raises questions over the need for the project. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The Audit Commission’s report on the Environmental Protection Department’s management of Hong Kong’s waste casts serious doubt on the entire premise for the decision to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau and three landfill expansions.

The Environmental Protection Department missed targets, mangled statistics, mismanaged capital assets, underestimated costs, undertook trifling projects, and underperformed in a critical task year after year. Key performance indicators for waste management have all deteriorated. Per capita waste disposed daily increased from 1.27kg in 2011 to 1.35kg in 2014. Waste recovered and recycled dropped from 49 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2014. Food waste increased from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013.

In particular, the data used to justify the incinerator and expanded landfills was shown by the commission to be seriously flawed.

The department presented a picture of a fast-accumulating mountain of waste looming over Hong Kong. However, we learn now that the inclusion of imported recovered waste vastly inflated the amount of waste that was generated and recovered, exaggerating the need for more waste disposal facilities.

Adding to the urgency, the department claimed that the capacity of the existing three landfills will be exhausted by 2018. However, as the commission noted, the department can produce no quantifiable data to explain its constantly changing assumptions about the serviceable life of the landfills.

The commission believes that the landfills have a lifetime beyond 2018. A simple calculation based on the department’s record of the utilisation of the three landfills since their inception in 1995 shows that their capacity will not be exhausted until around 2022. The planned and funded expansion of those landfills will add another 20 years of waste disposal capacity.

During this week’s hearing by Legco’s Public Accounts Committee, legislators were sharply critical of the department’s errors in crucial data, noting Legco had approved the incinerator and landfill expansion based on wrong information.

Given the capacity of the landfills currently available and to be available in the next 27 years, why does the department want to spend HK$19 billion in taxpayer money to build the incinerator? Who does it benefit? The obvious beneficiaries are the consultants engaged by the department, the companies who will do the reclamation and build the infrastructure on Shek Kwu Chau, and the vendor who will operate the incinerator.

The incinerator project should stop, pending a full audit and thorough review.

Tom Yam, Lantau

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CTA Letter on managing municipal solid waste and Reduction and recycling of food waste

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Riot Police Fire Tear Gas at Incinerator Protesters in Guangdong

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have fired tear gas at protesters angry over plans to build a waste incinerator plant near their homes amid violent clashes that continued on Monday, local residents said.

Around 1,000 police in full riot gear were dispatched on Sunday to Jinzao township near the coastal city of Shantou in the east of Guangdong after residents of several dozen villages began a mass protest at the planned plant.

“There were protests again today,” a local resident surnamed Cai told RFA on Monday. “We went to the government offices in Jinzao [township], starting at 7.00 or 8.00 a.m.”

“Everyone is against this; there isn’t a single person here who agrees with the plan to build a waste plant, otherwise we wouldn’t be causing trouble,” she said.

“Things got pretty serious in Village No. 11, which is in the mountains … right where they were planning to build the waste incinerator plant,” Cai said.

Protesters on Monday threw rocks and stones at riot police, smashing police vehicles, a second local resident told RFA.

“There were a lot of people here in the morning, throwing stones and suchlike,” the resident, who gave only a surname, Liu, said.

“Yesterday there were a lot of police vehicles here, and they drove into the mountains, police and riot police,” she said. “They had buses and everything.”

Dozens injured

Photos of the protest posted to social media showed a dark-green police truck with a cannon-like object on its roof, as well as spent canisters picked up by local residents with the markings “CS-1 gas.”

Local residents tweeted that the police had fired tear gas canisters in an “offensive” on the villages near the planned site.

Dozens of people were injured and an unknown number detained, according to tweets from the scene.

“All the businesses in our village have closed, and nobody is working in the fields or on the mountains,” one tweet said. “It’s the mulberry harvest, but there are no trucks here to buy it.”

“Some people can’t get out of their homes, and there are drones in the sky above shooting footage of people’s movements,” the tweet said.

“The students have been boycotting class for a week already now.”

‘Nobody agreed’

Local officials moved ahead with the planned project without the consent of local people, in a dispute that has dragged on for nearly two years, villagers said.

“They said it was all signed and agreed [with us] but nobody agreed to anything at all,” a third resident told RFA. “They are making it up … nobody agreed to their building this.”

An official who answered the phone at the Jinzao township government offices on Monday said all was now quiet in the area.

“The situation has calmed down now; it’s all quiet,” the official said. “The police dealt with the situation, so you should talk to them.”

Some 20,000 local residents, who staged a mass demonstration last January, remain totally opposed to the project, which they fear will damage their health and pollute local soil and water supplies.

A growing movement

More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left Guangdong with a seriously degraded environment, causing a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region’s middle classes and farming communities alike.

Previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits linked to waste disposal projects.

Last year, authorities in Guangdong’s Puzhai township said they would cancel plans to build a waste-incineration plant there following angry protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Reported by Ka Pa and Wei Ling for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Proposal to build an incinerator in Hong Kong shows up the flaws of government self-regulation

The Court of Final Appeal on November 26 will hear arguments on whether the director of the Environmental Protection Department can approve an environmental impact assessment report on an incinerator project that the department itself conducted. And having approved its own report, whether it can then issue to itself the permit for incinerator construction.

Should a government department regulate itself – proposing, evaluating and approving a project? A simple analogy: should you be allowed to set your own exam question, mark your own exam paper, and give yourself a passing grade?

Regardless of the court’s decision, the debate over the incinerator has exposed the deep flaws in government self-regulation. The department, negating its regulatory role, became chief lobbyist for the incinerator. Its officials, in their zeal to promote the project, presented selective, misleading and outright false information on numerous occasions.

To justify locating the incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau island, the department claimed that building it in Tuen Mun, a far more cost-effective site, would unacceptably worsen the air quality there, contradicting its own report. Its officials misrepresented the incinerator’s cost in legislative hearings.

Their incinerator obsession blinded them to the waste-management policy of countries where waste recovery and recycling are as important as incineration. They visited Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, which have such successful programmes, yet they reported no lessons learned on waste recovery and recycling, only incineration.

The department claims it conducted 120 consultations, yet the specifics of the project remained identical throughout the six years of “public consultation”.

The pitfalls of government self-regulation were raised by Christine Loh Kung-wai in 1997 when she was a legislator. At the second reading of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance, she expressed concern “about the difficult task of self-regulation that the bill imposes on the administration”, given that in many important projects, “the project proponent sitting across the table from the director of the Environmental Protection Department will be another senior government officer representing some other aspect of the public interest”.

“We know there will be internal conflicts within the administration over how stringently to apply the bill in such cases,” she said then.

What does Ms Loh, currently undersecretary of the environment, think of the case at the Court of Final Appeal now?

Tom Yam, Lantau

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Air Pollution from Waste Disposal: Not for Public Breath

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China detains 11 after trash incinerator protest sparks riot

BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters rioted in southern China after weekend demonstrations against a project to build a trash incinerator turned violent, with city government officials saying they had to detain 11 people to restore order.

Decades of breakneck economic growth have led to severe environmental damage in many parts of China, where choking smog often angers increasingly educated and affluent city-dwellers.

Protesters said the demonstrations, which began on Saturday in Yangchun, a city with a population of about a million located in the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, drew hundreds of people agitated over the risk of pollution from the project.

“How will we survive breathing in noxious smoke?” an employee of a small Internet firm told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday.

“Yesterday night, the police have already beaten a lot of people, and arrested more,” added the woman, who gave only her surname, Mo, for fear of reprisals from the authorities.

Photographs posted online, some on the website of the official Xinhua news agency, showed protesters pinning a police officer to the ground, and flames engulfing an overturned car. Three vehicles were damaged, the government said.

In an online statement on Sunday, the city government said 11 lawbreakers had been detained, but no one was injured. Police could not be reached for comment.

Tension persisted on Tuesday, with protesters saying hundreds of people were still gathered near the gates of a cement plant that is cooperating with the trash incinerator project.

Every year, China experiences tens of thousands of “mass incidents”, the usual euphemism for protests, triggered by grievances over corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs.

The events are unnerving to the ruling Communist Party, which is obsessed with the need to maintain stability.

A rash of health scares and accidents has also fueled public scepticism about the safety of industries ranging from food to energy.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Incineration of Municipal Waste in MSW Incinerators

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Durkan explains Hightown incinerator rejection

The No-Arc21 group was set up to oppose plans for an incinerator at Hightown Quarry. INLT 40-650-CON

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has explained why he rejected planners’ recommendation to approve a waste incinerator at Mallusk. Mr Durkan said he made the decision to refuse planning permission for the Hightown quarry incinerator proposal after assessing the details presented to him, and addressing the opposition from the community. “I have carefully considered all the information before me. I have listened to the concerns of local people and their public representatives. To date there have been 3526 objections and one petition of objection with 836 signatures,” he stated. The minister believed the incinerator may have been detrimental to recycling if it had been allowed to go ahead.

“I am committed to a policy of zero waste and have worked hard with councils to increase recycling rates. I want this to continue. This development could result in an increased market for waste disposal and to maintain a facility such as this, in addition to the other approved waste facilities, could discourage recycling. In that context I do not consider there to be any need for this proposal,” Mr Durkan added.

NoArc21 campaigned strongly against the plans to construct the incinerator, and have welcomed the news that planning permission has not been approved.

Chairman of the group, Colin Buick said: “Over a number of years we have continuously highlighted the facts that arc21’s proposed incinerator is not needed, and, given its inappropriate location, would have a hugely negative impact on surrounding families. Today’s decision justifies our concerns and those of the 3500 people who have objected to the application.”

“We now call on arc21 to accept the Minister’s decision and to respect the views and concerns of thousands of local people in the Mallusk area and beyond,” Mr Buick added.

Alderman Mark Cosgrove was pleased with the decision to reject the planning permission and praised the efforts made by NoArc21.

“The people of Glengormley and Mallusk will be relieved at this announcement, but I believe that it was of vital strategic importance for the waste management sector in the whole of Northern Ireland. I want to pay a particular tribute to Colin Buick and his team from right across the Greater Mallusk and Glengormley area who led the community objections in such a professional and coherent manner,” the Ulster Unionist representative said.

DUP Councillor Matthew Magill praised the efforts made by NoArc21.

“I want to pay tribute to those from the local community who established the NoArc21 opposition campaign and who have spearheaded the fight against this proposal. Their campaign has received cross party and community support since its inception and as both a Mallusk resident and an elected representative for the area, I thank them for all their efforts. This decision has been a victory for local people,” he said.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness said the announcement reflected the strong campaign mounted by local residents and was a testament to those who have opposed the proposed £240m development.

He said: “This is a very welcome decision from the Environment Minister. Local residents have campaigned passionately against locating an incinerator here and Mark H Durkan listened.

“To propose an incinerator plant so close to several large residential developments, schools and an area of high scenic value like the Belfast Hills was fatally misguided. The response of local people has been impressive, proportionate and entirely justified. The SDLP will continue to support them.

“It’s important now that the arc21 councils take due regard of this decision and the views of those who have campaigned for so long. Waste management should be based on green, environmentally friendly alternatives to incineration. Their entire approach requires a fundamental rethink.

“Today’s decision is a testament to the fortitude of local people in the Hightown and Mallusk area and to the willingness of the Minister to seriously take account of the needs and circumstances of this community. I want to again congratulate them and thank the Minister for diligently listening to their case.”

Antrim and Newtownabbey Councillor Noreen McClelland added: “I’m delighted with this decision. I’ve been working closely with residents since the campaign began and their hard work has now paid off. This is good news for local people, the local community and our environment.”

South Antrim DUP MLA, Pam Cameron has also warmly welcomed confirmation that planning permission is not being granted to the arc21 proposal.

She said: “The site is located in a heavily populated area and there has been a huge amount of opposition from people living in the local area.

“The proposed incinerator at the site of the old Hightown Quarry was highly controversial for host of reasons and was opposed by over 3000 local residents.

“The need to reduce landfill waste is of paramount importance and for that reason I found it difficult to comprehend that the focus was on developing a plant to incinerate that waste rather than encouraging further recycling, reusing and repurposing initiatives.

“Whilst no one can argue with the need to reduce the amount of domestic and commercial waste we send to landfill; particularly given the European Directives and penalties for non-compliance, the entire proposal was quite simply was not safe, not sustainable and not wanted and confirmation that planning approval will not be granted should mean the search for alternative ways to deal with waste begins.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the work of the No-Arc21 group for their tireless efforts to ensure that this issue has remained to the forefront in the area and thank them for their diligent determination to ensure that awareness was raised.”

VICTORY! Covanta Contract Stopped in U.S. Capitol City

We just stopped Washington, DC from approving a $36-78 million contract that was awarded to Covanta to burn the city’s waste for the next 5-11 years. In a rigged bidding process, the city allowed just three incinerators in communities of color (no landfills) to bid to take 200,000 tons of waste a year. The contract was awarded to Covanta’s incinerator in Lorton, Virginia — 4th largest in the nation and one of the largest polluters in the DC metro region. Lorton is the 12th most diverse community of color in the nation, and is also home to a sewage sludge incinerator and three landfills.

This is the first time we led a campaign to stop a major waste contract, and we’re excited to show that EJ allies in a major city can take responsibility and stop their waste from being burned in EJ communities. I hope to repeat this in Philadelphia as the contracts come up in the next few years for burning in Covanta’s incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania (the nation’s largest, and a huge environmental racism travesty). Philadelphia is second only to New York in dumping on Chester.

Energy Justice Network was joined by 20 other organizations in calling on City Council not to move the contract to final approval, and ultimately, our new mayor withdrew it from consideration, killing it. The city will now have to cut a 1-year contract (hopefully not with any incinerator, if we can help it). This buys us time to convince city leaders that incinerators are indeed worse than landfills and that we need to resort to landfilling as we get the city’s zero waste goals implemented, including digestion of residuals prior to landfilling.

Last summer, we helped pass a law that bans Styrofoam and other food service-ware that isn’t recyclable or compostable, gets e-waste and composting going, and requires the city to come up with a zero waste plan (and I got it amended to ensure that incineration is not considered “diversion,” but “disposal”). We’re at a good crossroads in DC, where we can get the nation’s capitol setting good examples. The long-standing head of the Department of Public Works is stepping down, giving the city a chance to replace him and others anti-recycling incinerator zealots in the agency with real zero waste leaders. Any good candidates are encouraged to apply here.

Special thanks to Chris Weiss, Jim Schulman, Jen Dickman, Neil Seldman, Ruthie Mundell, Matt Gravatt, Erin Buchanan, Kevin Stewart, Brent Bolin, and the following groups who all joined forces to make this victory possible: 350 DC, American Lung Association, Breathe DC, Inc., Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, Clean Water Action, Community Forklift, Community Wellness Alliance, DC Climate Action, DC Environmental Network, Empower DC, Food & Water Watch, Global Green USA, Green Cross International, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, NAACP DC Branch, Moms Clean Air Force – DC Chapter, Save America’s Forests, SCRAP DC, and Sierra Club – DC Chapter.

Controversial hazardous-waste incinerator to pay fine for ash cloud

Days after an eastern Ohio hazardous-waste incinerator malfunctioned and sent an ash cloud over surrounding neighborhoods, tests showed high levels of arsenic and lead on a nearby backyard play slide and a pickup truck.

The findings were “problematic,” according to an email sent by an Ohio Department of Health program administrator to colleagues after the July 2013 incident.

The email said the amount could have been harmful in the short-term to a child.

The levels of lead on the backyard slide in East Liverpool were more than twice the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s soil standard. Levels of arsenic and lead on the truck were even higher.

But when the Ohio EPA announced this week that it had reached a settlement with Heritage Thermal Services concerning the malfunction, the state said that any “impacts were determined to be minimal” by the health department.

Under the settlement, Heritage will pay the Ohio EPA $34,000 for the 761 pounds of ash that spewed into the surrounding area. The company also is required to make changes to prevent future problems at the facility, located about 175 miles east of Columbus along the Ohio River.

Heritage said in a statement that it has invested in “enhanced procedures that further ensure safety and compliance.”

One person who lives near the incinerator called the settlement “a joke.”

“It’s a disgrace, it’s an absolute insult,” said Mike Walton, an East Liverpool resident who has fought the incinerator for years. “What about the people (here)? What do they get? Do they get money to help them five years down the road when there’s suddenly a spark of cancer in their lungs?”

The east end neighborhood of East Liverpool caught the brunt of the ash cloud. About 14 percent of the residents there are unemployed and 12 percent earn less than $10,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Heritage hired a contractor to perform tests after the incident and sent the results to state health officials along with risk assessments.

The email from the Ohio Department of Health program administrator suggests he was not impressed.

“I thought the description of arsenic toxicity was rather benign — I especially liked the part implying some exposure is good for general health,” Bob Frey, the administrator, wrote in August 2013.

“Arsenic is an acute and chronic poison and a known human carcinogen,” he said.

On Thursday, Frey said the Ohio Department of Health relied on tests from both the Ohio EPA and Heritage’s contractor to determine health risks associated with the ash release.

He said both the EPA and the contractor tested soil in neighborhoods around the incinerator at the end of July 2013 and found slightly elevated levels of arsenic.

Those levels were low enough, though, that state health officials believed they presented no long-term health threats, Frey said.

Arsenic poses a bigger health threat when it is ingested, Frey said, so health officials were most worried about children who might have been exposed.

After the ash release, Heritage washed houses, vehicles and yards to get rid of any residue. Rains also hit East Liverpool shortly after the ash release, he said. “We were pretty confident that most of this stuff was washed away.”

However, Frey said that health officials wanted the plastic slide tested “as soon as possible.” He said he didn’t know whether those follow-up tests were performed.

The Ohio EPA could not answer that question and others on Thursday.

The settlement comes as the U.S. EPA is conducting its own investigation into the incinerator. The feds released a report in March that said Heritage repeatedly contaminated the air around the incinerator from November 2010 through December 2014.

Heritage is fighting those findings; the business and agency were scheduled to meet sometime this month to discuss the investigation.

The incinerator burns about 60,000 tons of waste too toxic for landfills each year. It employs about 180 people.

Heritage drew international attention in the 1990s when residents and environmental groups protested its construction. The incinerator overlooks the Ohio River, about 30 miles downstream from Pittsburgh and at the time was within 1,100 feet of an elementary school. The school has since closed.

The Ohio EPA will put $6,800 of the Heritage fine into its Clean Diesel School Bus Fund. The rest, $27,200, will be equally split between the EPA’s air pollution control program and the agency’s Environmental Education Fund.