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“Invasion of flies” highlight HK landfill problem; government blames opposition to incineration and household waste production

A shocking incident occurred in Tuen Mun recently, where swamps of flies ‘invaded’ the town, causing serious disturbance for the residents; all manners of food attracted flies as magnets attract iron. Residents observe that the numbers of flies and other pests have increased in the past years as the nearby landfill in Nim Wan increased in size, and they claim that none of the pest control measures in the municipality has worked so far.

In 25 minutes, a new piece of A4-size flytrap paper is covered with flies. (Singtao/So)

It seems obvious that the source of the flies problem lies in the landfill, but government officials made two ridiculous observations in response to this. First, that “there were no swarms of flies to be seen” when lawmakers inspected the landfill, and that there was “no evidence that the flies had come from the landfill”. Shirking direct responsibility to tackle the situation, officials are now simply evading the question as to the source of the flies.

The second government response makes even harder reading. While admitting that the current practice of landfills is itself a problem, officials are blaming the opposition to incineration as the reason that the city has to continue landfilling a large percentage of its waste; with alternative solutions in plasma technology, it is difficult to understand why the government only understands ‘opposition to incineration’ in such a narrow context.

Do government officials think only in the two dimensions of landfills and incinerators? (Westinghouse)

Officials continue to harp on household waste production and push for measures to punish its citizens for it, when it has been pointed out that commercial production of unnecessary waste far outstrips household waste production; here again, the refusal to acknowledge the true state of affairs can only hamper efforts to resolve the problem of waste disposal.

from Ernest Kao of SCMP:

Invasion of the flies: Hong Kong village swamped by swarms from landfill site

Locals believe the swarms of flies are coming from the nearby landfill – and it’s getting worse

What sounds like a scene from a B-grade horror movie has become a frustrating reality for many Tuen Mun residents over the last few days.

Since the start of last week, parts of the town have been swamped by large flies that locals speculate may have come from the nearby landfill at Nim Wan.

At Ha Pak Nai village, just a stone’s throw from the city’s biggest dump, the South China Morning Post saw swarms of flies yesterday afternoon.

“We’ve always had pests, but in the last 10 days, it’s become very serious. Every time we eat, we have to put out fly traps,” said storekeeper Cheng Mei-shing, holding up two sheets of sticky flypaper coated with the dead insects. “Just 25 minutes ago, this piece of paper was all white … It’s like we’re competing with them for food now.” Cheng said officials carried out pest-control measures there last week, but “none of it has worked”.

Village representative Cheng Wai-kwan said the community had seen an increase in pests of all types – including flies, gnats and fleas – in the past few years, and the growing landfill, which lies just across a small river from the village, was to blame. “From just one storey high, the landfill is now more than 10 storeys high. The stench is so bad sometimes, you get a headache,” he said, adding there was an invasion of flies 20 years ago due to rotting animal carcasses in the landfill.

The Environmental Protection Department drew fire last month for covering up the scale of effluent leaks from the nearby Ta Kwu Ling landfill, which polluted water in several villages in the area including Ha Pak Nai.

Plans to extend the Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling dumps were deferred in July, after the Tseung Kwan O extension plan was withdrawn amid strong opposition. At Tuen Mun’s Butterfly Estate yesterday, there were markedly fewer flies buzzing around compared to the previous week.

Local resident Mrs Chan said she was shocked when she walked into a bakery on Thursday and saw a loaf of bread covered in flies. “It’s obvious they have come from the landfill. I hope they build an incinerator and get rid of this dump as soon as possible,” she said.

Fishmonger Mrs Leung said there were so many flies in the wet market on Friday, she had to cover her produce with plastic. She added that there were fewer flies in the area since the department sprayed there last week.

Lawmakers were invited to inspect the landfill yesterday, but there were no swarms of flies to be seen there. A department official said it was hard to pinpoint the source of the flies, but no evidence showed they had come from the landfill. But, acting on the department’s advice, the contractor said it was conducting pest control at the landfill in stronger doses and more often.

Lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan said he was concerned any expansion of the landfill could bring similar and more frequent fly problems to the area.

14 Oct 2013

from Bernard Chan of the Executive Council, published in SCMP’s Insight & Opinion:

No time to waste to save Hong Kong from drowning in its own rubbish

One of the most shocking statistics I know is the amount of waste Hong Kong dumps into its landfills every day: 13,400 tonnes. That’s enough to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools – every day. Talk about unsustainable. At this rate, our landfills will be full within eight years or so. What will we do with four swimming pools full of rubbish every day?

What do our neighbours do? We put 52 per cent of our waste into landfills (and recycle the rest). Singapore, Taiwan and Japan all put in less than 3 per cent. They recycle about as much as we do (less in Japan’s case); the difference is that they incinerate most of the rest. However, if we have a motto, it is “Not in my backyard”. Even plans for an incinerator on an artificial island face stiff opposition.

Logically, some incineration will be unavoidable. But if we take another look at our neighbours, we see that they also tackle the problem in an obvious and basic way: produce less waste in the first place.

The government has asked the Council for Sustainable Development, which I chair, to lead a public engagement exercise on how Hong Kong can use waste charging to reduce the thousands of tonnes of stuff we throw out every day.

This means making households pay in line with the volume of waste they throw out. We have looked at regional and other cities to see how they make it work. There are various mechanisms; typically they involve the compulsory use of specially purchased plastic bags, or some other way of disposal. In Hong Kong, we need to consider whether different built environments – single blocks, villages and big estates – will need different systems.

I will not go through the technical details here. I would like to outline some principles.

First, this is about changing people’s behaviour and attitudes. Hong Kong has achieved this in the past, with campaigns on littering and spitting. It takes time, and perhaps the younger generation and maybe some other parts of the community will accept change more easily than others.

Second, this is about everybody. Usually, government measures affect some groups of the community more than others, or they affect everyone but some are winners and some complain they are losers. With waste charging, there are no vested interests trying to protect privileges. Old or young, rich or poor, graduate or uneducated, public housing or private housing, urban or rural – everyone is affected. Everyone has to accept a bit of change in some way, and everybody will benefit, and equally.

Third, this is not about paying money. Throw out a certain volume (or more than a given volume) of rubbish and you will pay a bit. But the point is to encourage alternatives, just as people use cloth shopping bags now rather than plastic ones.

Talk of waste charging is already raising complaints that manufacturers and retailers force us to buy things with too much packaging. That’s good. If suppliers hear such complaints, they will listen. If shoppers leave excess packaging behind in the supermarket, the companies will get the message.

The key alternative is, of course, recycling. The more you recycle, the less you would pay in waste charges. There are various ways to improve incentives for people to recycle more; for example, we need to move ahead with “producer responsibility schemes” to get industries to take back things like glass drinks bottles and electronic equipment. Most important of all, we must make sure that recycling is so convenient that there is no excuse for people not to do it. We are not there yet.

If you agree that we cannot carry on trying to find somewhere to put 13,400 tonnes of rubbish day after day, please read the Invitation for Response Document at [1]

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

17 Oct 2013

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