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Making a hash of dash to ash

SCMP Laisee  4th Jan 2012

The trouble with taking on the government over its decisions is that the merits of the case get lost and it becomes an issue of face. Take the proposed monstrosity that the so-called Environmental Protection Department has planned for the scenic island of Shek Kwu Chau near Lantau. If all goes to plan, the scene of tranquility is to be transformed into a monster incinerator complete with a massive chimney stack. This site somehow received the green light in favour of an area near the landfill site near Tsuen Mun.

The other startling aspect of this scheme is the technology. The government is planning on using old moving-grate technology, which essentially moves the material over a grate and burns it. In the process it creates a noxious chemical cocktail that is either vented from the giant chimney or mixed in with powdery ash that will have to be transported by barge to a dumping ground providing further opportunities for polluting the air en route.

The various bodies involved in making decisions appear to know little about plasma arc technology. Instead of burning the waste, it is vapourised. The resulting gasses are captured instead of being vented and can be used to generate power or to create organic fuels such as ethanol or jet fuel. The solid residue can be broken up and used for making roads.

Not only is this technologically more environmentally friendly but is cheaper than the old technology. However, the government already appears to have decided against it, murmuring that the new technology is untested. But it has been used in Japan since 2002. The Tees Valley in Britain is set to build a substantial waste-to-energy plant using plasma arc technology, as is Ottawa, Canada. Other projects harnessing the technology can be found in Milwaukee, Shanghai and other cities around the world.

At the same time, a team from Imperial College London has been commissioned to carry out a survey on behalf of Britain’s Health Protection Agency after fears emerged about the health risks posed by incinerators, particularly for young children.

This survey was commissioned after alarming discoveries of the higher incidence of infant deaths among those living downwind of a number of incinerators in Britain. These incinerators are of the type being proposed for Hong Kong. Surely Asia’s world city can do better than this?

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