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April 2nd, 2015:

Three-colour recycle bins are window dressing and a sham

I refer to the letter by Wong Hon-meng, assistant director, Environmental Protection Department (“Promoting recycling and waste reduction are top priorities”, March 23).

He claims that by 2022, Hong Kong will reduce its per capita waste generated by 40 per cent.

How has the department come up with this percentage? Most likely it has simply copied statistics from Taipei and Seoul where a 40 per cent reduction was achieved after waste charging took effect. But those cities developed comprehensive measures to sort and separate waste before they implemented waste charging, as pointed out in my letter (“Waste charge futile without separation of rubbish at source”, February 24).

The three-colour recycling bins are window dressing and a sham: only 700 tonnes of recyclables are collected every year, less than 0.02 per cent of the waste produced in Hong Kong. Operated by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, a clear accounting is yet to be published on how the collected waste is being disposed.

The department still does not have correct data as to how much waste is being recycled, having admitted previous figures were wrong, double counting recycled waste shipped to the mainland with that in transit through Hong Kong from overseas.

The HK$1 billion Recycling Fund Wong mentions is more window dressing. It is 3.5 per cent of the HK$29 billion budget for the incinerator and landfills expansion.

The proposed community education and recycling centres to be built in the 18 districts are handouts to pro-government environmental groups and subsidies to companies that collect recycled waste and ship it to the mainland, where 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s recycled waste ends up.

Despite talking about “policy” and “campaign”, the department has no intention of truly pursuing a recycling policy as many countries have.

There is no policy to develop a sustainable indigenous recycling industry, no statutory requirement nor public education on how to separate waste at source. Despite the many so-called inspection trips overseas by senior officials, paid for by taxpayers’ money, no insight and plan were presented on how other countries promote and implement effective recycling.

Given the above, it is ironic that Hong Kong will be hosting an international conference on solid waste management in May. Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing will be the keynote speaker. What is he going to say?

Tom Yam, Lantau

Source URL (modified on Apr 2nd 2015, 5:02pm):

Hong Kong struggling to breathe under weight of ‘maximum’ urban density, academic says

Hong Kong cannot cope with any more high-rise buildings, according to an academic, who says street-level airflow has become worryingly stagnant and unable to disperse heat and pollutants as urban density hits “maximum” level.

Though average wind speed levels measured at the Hong Kong Observatory’s remote Waglan Island weather station off the city’s southernmost island Po Toi have been stable over the last 50 years, average wind speed in the city has fallen as more tall buildings are built in higher density.

Wind measurements at the King’s Park urban weather station in Kowloon have dropped from 3.5 metres per second in 1965 to just 2 metres per second last year. The decrease in wind speed is in line with a 2 degrees Celsius rise in average air temperatures in the same period.

“I would say we are at maximum density, especially in built up areas … Future land reclamation may need to be more disciplined,” said Professor Li Yuguo, who heads the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Hong Kong.

Li said poor urban air ventilation could definitely be one of the factors behind days with very high air pollution readings.

Studies by Li’s team, which included wind tunnel and water channel modelling, have found that in the absence of wind, convective heat from individual buildings rises and forms a dome-shaped accumulation of warm air and pollutants above the city.

The phenomenon is called the “urban dome effect”.

“The worrying trend continues but there is no removal strategy for the urban dome,” said Li, adding that strong wind flows felt on some afternoons tend to be man-made “city winds” induced from the “urban heat island effect” rather than natural wind.

He urged secondary streets along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island to be kept “wide and short” to facilitate downslope wind flow from the hills.

More buildings could also provide basal openings of about 10 metres – such as the ground floor of HSBC headquarters in Central – to help improve low-level wind flow, he said.

“But of course, there are development challenges here,” he admitted. “The price to pay is not having a 7-Eleven on the ground floor of every building.”

Source URL (modified on Apr 2nd 2015, 9:04pm):