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Waste data shows incinerator plan should not be a burning issue

An artist's impression of the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Waste data raises questions over the need for the project. Photo: SCMP Pictures

An artist’s impression of the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Waste data raises questions over the need for the project. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The Audit Commission’s report on the Environmental Protection Department’s management of Hong Kong’s waste casts serious doubt on the entire premise for the decision to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau and three landfill expansions.

The Environmental Protection Department missed targets, mangled statistics, mismanaged capital assets, underestimated costs, undertook trifling projects, and underperformed in a critical task year after year. Key performance indicators for waste management have all deteriorated. Per capita waste disposed daily increased from 1.27kg in 2011 to 1.35kg in 2014. Waste recovered and recycled dropped from 49 per cent in 2009 to 37 per cent in 2014. Food waste increased from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013.

In particular, the data used to justify the incinerator and expanded landfills was shown by the commission to be seriously flawed.

The department presented a picture of a fast-accumulating mountain of waste looming over Hong Kong. However, we learn now that the inclusion of imported recovered waste vastly inflated the amount of waste that was generated and recovered, exaggerating the need for more waste disposal facilities.

Adding to the urgency, the department claimed that the capacity of the existing three landfills will be exhausted by 2018. However, as the commission noted, the department can produce no quantifiable data to explain its constantly changing assumptions about the serviceable life of the landfills.

The commission believes that the landfills have a lifetime beyond 2018. A simple calculation based on the department’s record of the utilisation of the three landfills since their inception in 1995 shows that their capacity will not be exhausted until around 2022. The planned and funded expansion of those landfills will add another 20 years of waste disposal capacity.

During this week’s hearing by Legco’s Public Accounts Committee, legislators were sharply critical of the department’s errors in crucial data, noting Legco had approved the incinerator and landfill expansion based on wrong information.

Given the capacity of the landfills currently available and to be available in the next 27 years, why does the department want to spend HK$19 billion in taxpayer money to build the incinerator? Who does it benefit? The obvious beneficiaries are the consultants engaged by the department, the companies who will do the reclamation and build the infrastructure on Shek Kwu Chau, and the vendor who will operate the incinerator.

The incinerator project should stop, pending a full audit and thorough review.

Tom Yam, Lantau

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