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January 9th, 2012:

2011 Hong Kong Air Quality Review

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Incineration and human health

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Beautiful island should be developed for recreational use, not for incinerator

South China Morning Post – Jan 9, 2012

I agree with Craig Colbran’s letter (“Incinerator is a bad way to burn money”, December 30).

The Environmental Protection Department does almost nothing for the taxpaying public. My name for it has been, for some years, the Environmental Polluting Department and I think the title fits.

I recently wrote to the department to express my opposition to the plan to build an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

I first visited the island in 1968 to see the superintendent of the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers’ (Sarda), drug rehabilitation centre.

We agreed that what was most suitable was to develop the island for recreational use and for tourists, but that the Sarda centre would have to be relocated.

Building an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau would be irresponsible. It would lead to the destruction of an asset of great natural beauty. I gather that the estimated cost of the project would be far more than the cost of building the same facility at the Tsang Tsui ash lagoons in Tuen Mun. I have walked in the area where these lagoons are located and feel that if Hong Kong must have this type of incinerator, then Tsang Tsui would be a far better location and, as I understand it from the limited information available, a lot cheaper.

I visited a modern incinerator on the outskirts of Tokyo, only a few kilometres from Tokyo Disneyland, and was most impressed by its layout and the cleanliness. Hong Kong should consider adopting a similar design, although we would have to adopt a better system of separation of rubbish.

The rigorous system in operation throughout Japan is something that the Hong Kong government should introduce. In this regard the Environmental Protection Department can take a leading role.

Several years ago, I noted the clean way in which rubbish was separated in Japan for collection. I felt it was the only country in the world with what I would call gift-wrapped garbage.

I believe that achieving something similar when it comes to waste separation in the SAR is more important than building a super-incinerator.

Shek Kwu Chau is a pearl in the chain of precious islands to the south of Lantau. It must be saved from senseless and wanton destruction.

Gordon Andreassend, Tai Kok Tsui

Push for levy on rubbish disposal

South China Morning Post – 9 Jan 2012

Households would pay for what they throw away under government proposal to cope with waste

The government’s latest attempt to limit the immense amount of waste generated by Hongkongers is due to begin shortly, with a public consultation to gauge the public’s appetite for paying a rubbish disposal fee.

The consultation document, due to be released this week, will explain the purpose and methods of levying a fee for collecting and disposing of rubbish – although it’s probably too early to suggest an exact fee level, according to a person familiar with the situation. “The issue goes well beyond how much will be charged,” the person said. “It is also about overhauling the way people handle their household waste.”

The consultation document will highlight different ways of charging – including a fee based on the volume of rubbish discarded or a fixed fee like government rates. The latter, however, provides little incentive for people to cut back on their rubbish.

Taipei and South Korea, among other places, have cut their disposed waste by up to half by charging for garbage bags. In Taipei, a five-litre bag costs 58 HK cents.

A survey in 2009 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found Hongkongers were the most wasteful among 30 economies surveyed, producing twice as much rubbish per capita (921kg) as people in Japan (410kg) and South Korea (380kg).

Officials hope a dumping fee will give residents an incentive to separate their rubbish before disposal. There is no law in Hong Kong requiring people to do so.

One thorny issue to be tackled is how to prevent illegal waste dumping after a charge is introduced. Another question is whether streets should continue to have rubbish bins, where people might dump waste to avoid the charge. Any changes would also have to address whether waste collection officers should be authorised to refuse to handle rubbish that has not been dealt with in the right way.

The city disposes of an average of about 3.3 million tonnes of solid waste – excluding construction waste, for which charges are levied – in landfills every year. But the landfills will be full within this decade.

About one-third of the rubbish, or 3,000 tonnes a day, is kitchen and food waste.

Currently, the public does not pay directly for dumped rubbish; the expense, up to an estimated HK$1.8 billion per year, is borne largely by the government.

It costs the Environmental Protection Department HK$337 per tonne, or 33 cents per kilogram, to haul rubbish from waste transfer stations to landfills. The figure rises to HK$549 per tonne, or 55 cents per kilogram, if collection costs incurred by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department are included.

Michelle Au Wing-tze, the senior environmental affairs officer with Friends of the Earth (HK), said most places that charged for waste collection did not aim to recoup all costs. A fee need not create a heavy financial burden if the main goal was to get people to sort their rubbish, particularly kitchen waste, she said. Even so, the new system would probably encounter some difficulties, she said.

“It is too convenient for people to dump their rubbish now. It is all just steps away from homes. With a charge, that might have to be changed, too.”

In 2005, the Environmental Protection Department published a waste policy framework that aimed to introduce a rubbish fee by 2007. But that failed to happen as it said more studies were needed. Three years later, it launched an 18-month study on the ways of collecting the fee. But still, the department could not set out the way forward.

Instead, the government has pushed forward plans to incinerate waste and expand landfills. Last month, the government’s environmental advisory body approved of plans to build the world’s largest incinerator, at a cost of between HK$8 billion and HK$13 billion, on Shek Kwu Chau, an island south of Lantau.

Roadside pollution is worse than ever

South China Morning Post – 9 Jan 2012

Time to update 24-year-old air quality objectives, greens say; officials blame weather and old vehicles

Hong Kong’s roadside pollution levels were the worst ever last year, according to the Environmental  Protection Department.

Readings at the three roadside monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok showed that pollution levels were above the 100 mark more than 20 per cent of the time. This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 per cent of the time.

Exposure to bad air pollution can cause or aggravate respiratory problems or heart disease.

Environmentalists renewed their calls for the immediate introduction of new air quality objectives, claiming that the government had deliberately delayed their introduction to ease the way for major infrastructure projects.

The department blamed the figures on unfavourable weather conditions, worsening background pollution and the ageing vehicles on our streets.

It said a number of measures were in the pipeline to improve air quality, while the new air quality objectives would be tabled to the legislature as soon as possible.

At the roadside stations, hourly readings are taken throughout the year on major pollutants such as  respirable suspended particles and nitrogen oxides. A reading over 100 means at least one pollutant fails the air quality objectives.

The station in Central showed the worst figures, with excessive readings a quarter of the time, followed by Causeway Bay at 21 per cent, and Mong Kok at 17 per cent.

The total number of hours with excessive readings was even more than in 2010, when a sandstorm hit the city in March and pushed up the figures. In that year the three stations had an average excess API reading of 17 per cent.

Pollution readings at 11 general stations, which reflect more background and regional pollution, however, remained steady and similar to previous years.

The department said increased nitrogen dioxide levels at the roadside and poor weather conditions were behind the worsening air pollution readings. While other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide have fallen, the department said the nitrogen dioxide level by the roadside has reached the highest since 1999, at 123 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

It said the increase was related to the formation of photochemical smog, which was more active last year because there was 16 per cent more sunshine. The lack of rainfall, down by almost 40 per cent on 2010, was another unfavourable factor as it lessened the removal of pollutants from the air.

To combat the nitrogen dioxide pollution, a department spokeswoman said, catalytic reduction devices were being tested on older buses, while remote sensing technology would be used to strengthen the control of petrol and LPG vehicles.

James Middleton of Clear the Air said people did not need reminders from the department to tell them that air quality was getting worse, and officials were obviously turning a blind eye even at the health risk to themselves and their children.

“The government servants working for the EPD have children too – they share the filth in our air. The deliberate prevarication obviously comes from the very top,” Middleton said. “This is a complete disrespect and disregard of the duty of care the administration owes to the health of the people of Hong Kong.”

Middleton said he suspected the government’s failure to update air quality objectives enacted 24 years ago was deliberate so that infrastructure projects such as a third airport runway and waste incinerator could pass environmental impact studies.

In a separate set of monitoring  results, on the concentration of fine particles, those with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, the annual  average roadside reading at both Central and Mong Kok marginally failed the proposed new air quality standard of 35 micrograms.

The department has not published the data, but the figures were obtained recently by Clear the Air. Fine particles are not a statutory air pollutant at present. Scientists say these particles can infiltrate the blood vessels and lungs, causing more damage than larger particles.

The department said the average concentration of fine particles at monitored locations had declined by more than a quarter over the past five years. It also said at least 60 per cent of the fine particles were generated across the border.

Harry's view

Neath waste plant closed over emissions

24 December 2010 Last updated at 12:38 GMT

A waste incinerator has been voluntarily shut down after breaching its limit for emissions.

Environment Agency Wales said it was taking legal action against the council-owned plant at Crymlyn Burrows in Neath Port Talbot.

Officers said it had failed five out of 10 dioxin emissions tests since the summer although breaches were not at levels to cause health problems.

The plant’s operators said they were working to address the issue.

The plant, which opened in 2002, processes household waste for recycling and incineration from Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend.

It is operated by Neath Port Talbot (Recycling) Ltd – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the council.

The agency has issued an enforcement notice that will require the operators to take steps by a set date to improve emissions from the site.

The incinerator has been voluntarily shut down until mid January as investigations continue.

“Start Quote

We set the permit limits to protect people”

End Quote Steve Brown Environment Agency Wales

The agency said Public Health Wales had confirmed the breaches were not at a level to cause health problems to local people.

But the agency’s area manager Steve Brown said: “This situation has gone on too long.

“Out of the 10 dioxin results received since the summer, five of these have been over the permitted limit and this is unacceptable.

“Public Health Wales have reassured us that the levels of these breaches do not pose a risk for local people but are concerned if the situation was to continue.

“We set the permit limits to protect people and the environment and this is why we, as regulators of the site, have escalated our action.

“The company have done everything we have asked of them so far, but we will not stop our action until the site is back into compliance with its permit.”

Will Watson, a director of Neath Port Talbot (Recycling) Ltd, said: “We took a decision to temporarily close the plant for planned maintenance work two weeks early in light of the recent dioxin results.”

He said the plant was addressing the failed test results but they had to be put in context.

“The level of emissions which we have recorded are still well below the levels which are permitted for other industries by the Environment Agency for dioxin emissions,” he added.

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