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July 23rd, 2013:

Plan B for Hong Kong waste strategy Ming Pao

Plan B for Hong Kong’s Waste Problems

By Martin Williams

I’m among the opponents to the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. At first, this was because it was near Cheung Chau, where I live. It seemed wrong to me to build an industrial site complete with 150-metre chimney in this beautiful part of Hong Kong. But as I learned more about incineration, and alternatives, I came to believe it would be the wrong approach no matter which location is chosen.

I have also come to believe that relying on landfills is outdated. So I am glad that legislators recently rejected the expansion of the Tseung Kwan O landfill – even though our environment secretary, KS Wong, has said that if landfills can’t be expanded and no incinerator is built, the government has no Plan B. Isn’t this because it has been lacking in vision and bold out-of-the-box thinking?

The current government strategy on waste dates from 2005, when there was a modest aim for a 1% per year reduction in Hong Kong’s domestic waste [municipal solid waste] until 2014. Yet actual quantities of waste have increased. In 2011, domestic waste reached almost 9,000 tonnes per day, a third more than in 2005.

In May this year, the government introduced a blueprint on sustainable use of resources, with the environment secretary acknowledging that “we have only taken some of the steps” for tackling waste.

Steps that have not been implemented on account of political opposition include charging for domestic waste, which was to be introduced in 2007. Waste charging in Taiwan has produced impressive results.

Political opposition is also thwarting plans to expand Hong Kong’s three landfills, especially at Tseung Kwan O. Plans for huge incinerators to handle much of the waste that was not recycled have also run into problems.

The government’s claims about incineration had seemed good, such as assertions it would employ technologies to “completely destroy” organic pollutants. But other information shows incinerators create significant air pollution, and several recent studies from countries including Spain, Belgium and Japan link incinerators to higher risk of cancers and birth defects. In addition, laboratory rats breathing air contaminated with incinerator ash have suffered tissue, blood and DNA damage.

So, what do we do? As I see it, the government must first end its fixation with incinerators. If we don’t build an incinerator, Hong Kong won’t suddenly become covered in waste; though businesses expecting to benefit from billions of dollars in spending might be very disappointed.

Next, the government needs to refocus: develop a strategy that will energise Hong Kong by aiming for zero waste to landfills. Our officials tell us Hong Kong cannot do this, even as cities such as San Francisco are well on the way towards achieving it through waste reduction and recycling. Hong Kong is timid by comparison.

A zero waste strategy would cost money. But Hong Kong already plans to spend well over HK$20 billion on extending landfills and building just one incinerator. This would be better spent on reducing waste and recycling efforts, which are currently haphazard and woefully underfunded. Recycling are too often left to small companies, some green groups, and an unofficial army of elderly scavengers who work for a pittance. If the government can push for costly incineration, surely it can do much more regarding recycling.

Given the resistance to waste charging, the government should consider incentives for throwing away less. Deposits on bottles would encourage people bring them to collection points for reuse and recycling. In addition, as much of the domestic waste is unwanted food, both education and encouragement is needed to reduce this.

But food waste can be treated to create gas for energy or biofuel as well as compost. The government plans two puny food treatment plants. Why not much bigger plants, or several smaller plants at or near waste transfer stations?

Plasma arc technology could provide a further solution for organic waste and excess compost from food treatment. It involves heating waste streams to several thousand degrees Celsius, and blasting molecules apart to produce gas that can even be used as jet fuel. If there’s insufficient waste to treat, we could mine landfills to extract valuable metals. This would help restore landscapes, which should benefit nearby residents.

Plasma arc companies could build plants here at little or no cost to the taxpayer, by striking deals with airlines that would buy the fuel. Indeed, estimates by Peter Reid of the newly established Hong Kong Smart City Waste Resources Association show this technology would provide a far less expensive solution than the government’s plan to expand landfills and build an incinerator.

Plus it can be implemented more quickly and would give Hong Kong expertise in new waste technologies, while also generating jobs, and delivering a wider range of benefits.

Well, then. What are we waiting for?!


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Being an Official Means (Almost) Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

  • July 23, 2013, 5:32 PM

Being an Official Means (Almost) Never Having to Say You’re Sorry



Protesters demand an apology outside the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong on May 14, 2013 after a Taiwanese fisherman died in a fatal shooting by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Dolce & Gabbanna has said sorry. Hong Kong’s former leader has said sorry.

And if the city’s ombudsman has its way, a lot more people will be sounding penitent in Hong Kong in the years to come.

In recent months, the city has seen public apologies issued for everything from prohibitions on photography (in the case of Dolce & Gabbanna) to taking luxury trips with local tycoons (in the case of Donald Tsang, the city’s former chief executive). Now, the city’s ombudsman, which investigates complaints about public agencies, is pushing the government to consider legislation that would allow officials to say “I’m sorry” without fear of being sued.

Last year, the city’s ombudsman pursued 2,285 complaints made about public agencies’ conduct, ranging from disputes over the handling of noise ordinances to waste management. Apologies were issued in response to only 15% of the cases. And even when apologies were issued, the agency said, 85% came only after officials were pressed by the ombudsman.

Nadja Alexander, who directs an institute focusing on conflict resolution at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, said apology legislation was an important step for the city.

“We live in a litigious society, not only in Hong Kong, but also in places such as Europe, Australia and the U.S.,” she said. “People are often nervous about apologizing for fear a lawsuit’s going to be slapped on them and someone’s going to say, ‘You said it was your fault.’”

To help combat that fear, at least 36 states in the U.S., numerous Canadian provinces and all of Australia’s states and territories have passed apology legislation. Ms. Alexander said this type of legislation helps make it clear that apologies don’t necessarily constitute an admission of liability and can help reduce legal costs associated with medical mistakes and car accidents.

“When an apology is received as authentic, as really sincere, people who were wronged are less likely to seek revenge. They’re more likely to be able to feel they can forgive and less likely to litigate,” Ms. Alexander said.

Hong Kong knows firsthand about how upsetting it can be to miss out on an apology. Hong Kong’s government has asked more than 20 times for an apology from authorities in the Philippines over the 2010 bus hijacking that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead. Earlier this year, the city’s marine department director was slammed over his refusal to apologize for his department’s oversights, following last fall’s boat crash off of Lamma Island that left dozens dead. More recently, the outgoing American envoy in Hong Kong said the U.S. doesn’t an owe an apology to Hong Kong, or anyone, for allegations made last month by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

On Monday, Hong Kong’s department of justice said it has already set up a task force that’s considering the need for apology legislation.

In the meantime, the ombudsman said it would keep pushing to make apologies part of the city’s official toolkit. “My office will continue to make recommendations that public officials apologize as appropriate,” said ombudsman Alan Lai.

– Te-Ping Chen. Follow her on Twitter @tepingchen.

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Hong Kong journalist resigns in controversy over interview

Hong Kong journalist resigns in controversy over interview

A Hong Kong journalist has resigned in a controversy over her interview with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group.

The journalist, Liu Yi, quit after claiming that the interview published by her newspaper, the South China Morning Post, was different from the one she wrote.

Before her resignation, she re-edited the online version of her article to “set the record straight.” The paper later restored the former piece.

She issued a statement on Facebook saying: “Ma never intended to make any comments about politics. I solemnly apologise to Mr Ma Yun [Jack Ma’s Chinese name] and resign from the South China Morning Post.”

The disputed passage in the interview, published on 13 July, concerned remarks Ma is supposed to have made in support of Beijing’s crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.

Ma denies having done so. However, he did describe the Chinese government as “terrific” and downplayed the significance of internet censorship. But his comments on Tiananmen Square provoked public criticism of Ma in Hong Kong.

The Post said in a statement that the reporter had accessed its system and replaced the editor-approved article with an altered version in which Ma’s reference to Tiananmen was removed.

Its statement said that the editor-approved version was restored and that Liu Yi had been suspended. She chose to resign on 19 July before an investigation had been completed.

It added that it stood behind the original published article, in which Ma appeared to endorse Deng Xiaoping in using force to crush the 1989 protests. (See here).

Florence Shih, a spokeswoman for Alibaba, said in an email to Reuters: “This is, at best, rookie journalism and, at worst, is malicious.”

Sources: Reuters/Wall Street Journal

Plan to make it easier to say sorry

Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am

NewsHong Kong


Emily Tsang and Patsy Moy

It may seem the hardest word to say for some officials, but government reveals it is looking at how to apologise without fear of being sued

The government may introduce a new law enabling public agencies to apologise without fear of legal liability.

The Department of Justice said last night that a steering committee, chaired by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, had been formed last year to study the need for such legislation.

The department was responding to a suggestion yesterday by Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin that a law might be required to overcome official reluctance to say sorry.

“Government officials may not apologise lightly to avoid losing face and out of fear of the legal responsibility that may follow,” Lai said.

“When key officials refuse to apologise, their junior staff are likely to follow suit. But sometimes a heartfelt apology could give a victim comfort.”

When key officials refuse to apologise, their junior staff are likely to follow suit. But sometimes a heartfelt apology could give a victim comfort

Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin

Director of Marine Francis Liu Hon-por came under fire for not apologising for the Lamma ferry disaster that claimed 39 lives on October 1 last year until nearly eight months later – in late May.

Liu said he had needed to seek legal advice first to avoid “possible problems” that could be raised by an official apology.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said a subcommittee of its panel established to study the issue would decide whether to recommend the introduction of relevant legislation, and whether it should be part of the Mediation Ordinance, which came into effect this year, or separate legislation.

A report would be released for consultation as soon as the study was complete.

Similar laws have been in force in many jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada and Australia for about 10 years, according to the chairman of the Joint Mediation Helpline Office, Chan Bing-woon.

He said a law would prevent an apology from being regarded as an admission of legal liability, which would put people at risk of legal action through the civil courts.

“Such legislation would help boost the success of mediation if a party is willing to make an apology to another side without the fear of being treated as admitting liability if the case is eventually heard in court,” Chan said.

Former Medical Association president Dr Choi Kin said the new law could change the culture within the medical world, where doctors and consultants can be reluctant to apologise over “unhappy incidents”.

“Refusing to say sorry is an old convention, and such an outdated notion should not be retained in society,” Choi said.

“Doctors are taught to feel for their patients and should be able to express sorrow over unhappy incidents,” he said.

“The gesture could lessen the pain suffered by the patients and relatives – but it should not be seen as accepting blame over the matter.”

Speaking at a joint press conference with RTHK yesterday to launch the drama series Ombudsman Special, Lai said the government had apologised in only about 300 out of 2,200 cases of complaints against different departments.

More than 80 per cent of the apologies had come only after intervention by the watchdog, he added.

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