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May 12th, 2015:

How Hong Kong’s waste problem has grown with its wealth

May 2nd 2015

The problem of what to do with refuse is a relatively recent one; when most Hongkongers were poor, they found a use for everything – including bodily waste – writes Jason Wordie

Waste disposal remains a hot topic in Hong Kong, especially since the controversial incinerator project for Shek Kwu Chau, off southern Lantau, was – against all logic – finally approved.

Everything about this project is wrong: a remote location with high scenic amenity; exorbitant projected costs; outdated incineration technology; prevailing summer winds that will blow noxious fumes back towards the city’s most built-up areas, where air pollution is already a critical problem; and the cost of transporting solid waste there and removing the resultant ash.

Nothing makes sense except that the whole exercise provides a profitable boondoggle for those in the powerful construction sector, who will directly benefit.

Brownfield sites around Tuen Mun, where the ash will eventually be transported for concrete making purposes, are by far the best locations for such a facility.

But all were rejected for the flimsiest reasons.

None of the relevant officials were prepared to admit publicly that – as ever – powerful northwest New Territories vested interest groups simply wouldn’t accept an incinerator in their own backyards. Because what passes for government these days has no meaningful control in that part of Hong Kong – as recent parallel trading protests have demonstrated – sensible options were rendered politically and practically impossible. Our hapless Environmental Protection Department officials knew it. And that was the end of the matter.

But how was Hong Kong’s urban waste disposed of in the past? Until relatively recent times, there wasn’t that much. Large quantities of rubbish indicate generally affluent societies that can afford to throw things away.

The truly poor never dump items that might have further use; they simply cannot afford to do so. And until recently, Hong Kong and a large number of its people were overwhelmingly poor.

Metal cans and glass bottles were collected for their scrap value. Old newspapers were gathered, sold and reused for market wrappings before non biodegradable plastic bags made an appearance. Other paper scraps became kindling for solid-fuel cooking fires.

Faeces and urine were highly prized as agricultural fertiliser in traditional China. Collection and resale of nightsoil – yeh heung, or “midnight fragrance”, as human waste was euphemistically called – ensured that more than a few local fortunes owe their beginnings to the recycled contents of a crockful of You-Know-What.

These days, waste separation in Hong Kong is – for the most part – a done-for-show middle-class gesture towards greater environmental awareness. Most domestic waste remains unseparated and – in the absence of any meaningful glass recycling or municipal composting services, for example – why wouldn’t it be? All that waste that is meticulously divided by well meaning families goes into the same overflowing landfills.

Widespread cardboard scavenging and paper recycling, sadly, doesn’t signal the growth of greater environmental consciousness; it merely demonstrates that Hong Kong’s already catastrophic wealth chasm continues to widen.

Legions of old people with no meaningful government retirement protection (despite billions of dollars deployed on “white elephant” infrastructure projects, such as the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator) gather up flattened cardboard boxes late into the night all over Hong Kong.

The very sight of them is an ethical reproach to a society with Hong Kong’s trillion-dollar fiscal reserves. Some form of basic-but livable old-age pension scheme would barely dent this colossal hoard – and most recipients will be dead within a decade anyway.

Recycling the unrecyclable


Ming Yeung

As Hong Kong is lagging behind its neighbors in ridding its mounting waste, a Recycling Fund established to thwart an imminent waste crisis, stakeholders say, wouldn’t serve its purpose unless it’s put to good use. Ming Yeung writes.

The Hong Kong government has long realized that the city’s waste will soon have no final resting place, forcing it to kick start a Recycling Fund with a planned HK$1 billion injection to make it tick.

The government’s prolonged bid to expand the three existing landfills — at Tseung Kwan O, Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun — and to build an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, north of Lantau Island at whatever costs has become snarled though, running into acrimonious public protests and debate.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said the SAR recycled only 2.16 million tonnes of waste in 2012 — 860,000 tonnes less than the year before.

Of the total recycled figure, about 60 percent of the decline was said to be the result of a drastic drop in the trading of plastic waste, of which 320,000 tonnes were recycled in 2012, compared to 840,000 tonnes in 2011 and 1.58 million tonnes in 2010.


Hong Kong recycling rate ‘drastically overstated’

February 10, 2014

China′s Environmental Protection Department (MEP) reported a significantly lower recycling rate of 39% for 2012, well down on the 48% of the previous year and a far cry from the claimed 52% for 2010.

Hong Kong recycled ′just 2.16 million tonnes of waste in 2012′, which is 860 000 tonnes less than 2011, according to MEP. About 60% of the decline was the result of a severe drop in the trade of plastic waste, of which reportedly 320 000 tonnes was recycled last year compared to 840 000 tonnes in 2011 and 1.58 million tonnes in 2010.

Recycling figures for Hong Kong were ′distorted by external factors′ beyond their control, MEP officials note. They cite fluctuations in the waste trade and irregularities in export declarations as the main issues in establishing an accurate recycling rate.

The system for calculating Hong Kong’s recycling performance will be overhauled, with data collection to be improved by the implementation of measures recommended by a yet-to-be-commissioned consultant. But according to MEP, it is unlikely that the ‘distortion’ will influence policy-making or the achievement of targets as detailed in the last year’s waste management blueprint.

Some industry parties such as the World Green Organisation are wary of the ‘inflation of the recycling rate’. Its chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping argues that MEP should convene an ‘expert group’ to review the system. The government would also benefit from setting up a registration system for recyclers in order to get first-hand recycling data, it has been suggested.

Hong Kong’s first e-waste plant to be built by German recycling firm under multimillion-dollar deal

Shirley Zhao

May 9th 2015

A German recycling company has won a multimillion-dollar contract to build and operate Hong Kong’s first electronic waste recycling facility in Tuen Mun.

Alba Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong, a joint-venture subsidiary of the Alba Group, signed a 12-year contract with the government yesterday. It will spend two years building the plant and then operate the collection and recycling system in the city for the next 10 years.

In February, the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee approved the government’s request for HK$548.6 million to construct the system. The government will also fund the operation costs, which are based on the volume of e-waste collected and treated at the plant. Officials expect the bill will run to HK$200 million a year.

Axel Schweitzer, chief executive of Alba, said if the price of the recyclables did not fall during the 10-year period, the company would expect a turnover of about HK$2.5 billion over the decade. The recyclables would be mainly sold to mainland buyers.

“As a world-beating international metropolis, Hong Kong is responding proactively to the challenges of waste management and recycling,” said Schweitzer.

“We are confident that the project will make a substantial contribution to the city’s environmental management system and open a new chapter on its sustainable economic development.”

Schweitzer said the plant would be capable of processing 30,000 tonnes of waste a year but the capability could be extended to a maximum of 56,000 tonnes by arranging additional shifts as needed.

The company will also set up eight collection points and three recycling centres across the city. Schweitzer said residents could go to the centres and the plant to learn more about e-waste recycling.

The city produces about 70,000 tonnes of electronic waste a year.

The system will be in line with the government’s proposed “polluter pays” scheme, where importers or distributors of five categories of appliances – televisions, fridges, washing machines, computer products and air-conditioners – will have to pay a “recycling fee” to help fund disposal of the city’s electrical goods.

Customers who buy a new television, for example, will be able to request the retailer to arrange free removal of the old set.

The government says the level of the fees will be submitted to Legco for approval “in due course”.

Alba Integrated Waste Solutions comprises Alba Asia, Germany-based Erdwich Vertriebs and Hong Kong-based IWS Environmental Technologies.

CTA says: What chance the Environment with so many rubber stampers?

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Having green features in Hong Kong buildings should not be mandatory

I refer to the articles (“Green certification fees rise sharply”, April 27), (“Developers laugh all the way to the bank”, April 28), and (“Monitor green building scheme”, May 4).

The building sector accounts for 90 per cent of electricity consumption and over 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Green Building Council was established to foster green building development and preserve the planet for future generations. One aspect of our work is to develop and manage BEAM Plus, a green building assessment and certification system tailor-made for Hong Kong.

The Buildings Department’s policy of offering gross floor area (GFA) concessions existed long before BEAM Plus was launched. The GFA concession provides developers with the resources to incorporate green features in buildings, benefiting occupants and the environment. If, for example, a developer chooses to install solar hot water panels, it needs a larger tank to store hot water.

Extra space is required, and the GFA concession encourages developers to incorporate such green features without decreasing the saleable area of the property.

The government applied a cap of 10 per cent on the GFA concession in 2011, while adding BEAM Plus certification to the list of criteria that developers must satisfy to qualify for the concession.

However, BEAM Plus certification is just one of a number of criteria. Developers were never granted a GFA concession simply by achieving certification.

Some may think that incorporating green features in buildings should be mandatory, but this would obstruct the green building movement. Building designs take into account the surrounding environment and other variables, so decisions must be made on a project-by-project basis. It’s also important to remember that the green building industry is a fast-moving sector. New ideas constantly emerge, and BEAM Plus has the flexibility to adapt to rapid advances in technology and changing market needs, whereas mandatory regulations would not.

The BEAM Plus registration fee is set fairly, according to project scale. It represents a very small portion of the construction cost. The fee is also used to fund the development of BEAM Plus, other research and development, and green building training, education and promotion. The Hong Kong Green Building Council is non-profit making and our income is invested back into the green building movement.

I hope that we, with the government, the industry and the public, can continue to build a greener Hong Kong.

Conrad Wong Tin-cheung, chairman, Hong Kong Green Building Council Limited

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Sweden Piles Up Toxic Ash on Norway Island

Sweden dumped over half a million tons of toxic ash from waste incinerators on a small island just outside Oslo, local media reported Tuesday.

The news of the highly toxic fly ash which has for the past five years been sent to Langøya Island, just outside Oslo, for treatment, caused an angry outcry among Norwegian environmentalists who demanded that the Swedes take care of their own toxic waste.

They also warned that heavy metals could leak into the Oslofjord, The Local reported.

“I doubt anyone wants to live there,” he told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri. ”There are reports of explosions on the island, something that may happen due to the activities that take place there,” said Per-Erik Schulze, a marine biologist with Friends of the Earth Norway environmentalist group.

Fly ash, which must be filtered from incinerator smoke before it can be released into the environment, contains dangerous dioxins and furans, as well as high levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and zinc.

Despite Sweden’s heavy reliance on incineration, there is nowhere in the country where municipalities and environmental contractors can dispose of the most toxic ash.

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