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SCMP Editorial: Decide quickly on waste charging

Waste charging has long been recognised as an effective way to tackle the mounting rubbish crisis in Hong Kong. Regrettably, it has been all talk and little action over the years. Meanwhile, our waste has grown by 80 per cent over the past three decades, even though the population expanded by just one-third during that period. With 9,000 tonnes of refuse dumped every day, our landfills are fast filling up. Unless decisive action is taken, and soon, the situation is not sustainable.

Yet another public consultation has been released by the government. The focus, thankfully, is no longer on yes or no, but how. The political will shown is to be welcomed, as are the details for discussion. They will pave the way for sustainable living for our future generations. It is in everyone’s long-term interest to study the proposals carefully and make the right choice today.

The suggestion of charging a family of three HK$30 to HK$74 per month does not seem unreasonable. Whatever the charge, it must be sufficient to bring about behavioural change yet be affordable to low-income earners. The idea of a waiver to reward the least wasteful households also is worth exploring.

The task goes beyond agreeing how much to charge. How to levy it is a bigger challenge. The options set out in the paper have their pros and cons. For instance, a household-based levy can provide a better incentive to reduce waste, though illegal dumping may be a problem. Charging on a per-building basis makes enforcement easier, but lessens the incentive to reduce waste. The community and the government will have to work together to make the right choice. The objective – encouraging less wasteful habits – must override administrative convenience, or the charge will merely be a levy to boost the public coffers.

No waste reduction strategy is complete without recycling. The consultation document acknowledges that separating recyclables is one of the ways to make a difference. The goal of reducing municipal solid waste by 40 per cent by 2022 hinges on recycling efforts starting now. It is essential that the government steps up efforts on this front.

No one likes to be charged for getting rid of what they don’t need. But a wasteful society like Hong Kong has no way out but along this road. The quicker we move, the better.


6 Oct 2013

Sludge Treatment in Hong Kong

In the late 90’s, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) began to conduct studies into improving sludge treatment in Hong Kong, and they sped up progress in 2009 when it became clear that landfill space for sludge was on the verge of exhaustion. The result was the approval of a project to build a sludge treatment plant in Tuen Mun, and it would involve incineration in order to reduce the volume of the waste. Despite suggestions for the recycling of incineration ash, it seems that the ash will still be returned to landfills.

The location plan for the sludge treatment plant in Tuen Mun

The 2009 proposal can be found here.

Officials’ comments on preliminary ICAO aircraft emissions agreement

SCMP, AFP (Montreal):

A first-ever global deal on curbing the airline industry’s rising carbon emissions was agreed on Friday, the International Civil Aviation Organization said, though hammering out the details could take years.

The full agreement is not scheduled to take effect until 2020 but the most contentious issues have been resolved, officials said, as the ICAO’s full assembly met behind closed doors in Montreal.

The deal “is an historic milestone for air transport and for the role of multilateralism in addressing global climate challenges,” ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez said in a statement.

Air transport “now becomes the only major industry sector to have a multilateral global market-based mechanism agreement in place to help govern future greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

Leading up to the vote, China and India had joined the United States and Russia in balking at a European Union push for a carbon levy on flights within three years.

But at midday, after some 1,400 delegates representing 170 member states voted on the executive committee’s resolution, officials said the plan had been passed and details of the accord would follow.

“The good news is (in) having concluded a general agreement that includes China and India,” said a diplomat involved in the negotiations.

Aviation accounts for around three per cent of global CO2 emissions but the ICAO forecasts that by 2050 emissions will have risen between four and six times the levels they were in 2010.

Last year, the EU suspended its CO2 Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for intercontinental flights, after facing a storm of criticism.

Under the EU’s ill-fated arrangement, airlines flying in EU airspace were required to buy pollution credits to cover 15 per cent of their CO2 emissions for the entire flight, wherever it originated.

Several nations rejected the scheme that threatened to tip into a trade war.

The ICAO resolution “is a strong message to Europe after it lost three votes on its proposals,” a negotiator said.

According to a draft text of the agreement submitted for consideration at the ICAO meeting, countries must agree by 2016 on a global market-based mechanism and reject all regional schemes, according to the negotiator.

The measure is to be accompanied by a series of technical and operational steps to reduce emissions, said a European Commission statement.

Specific proposals under consideration for curbing CO2 emissions include a carbon tax and a carbon trading system.

The European Union would thus have to abandon its more ambitious ETS and adhere to the new global system for curbing greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Even so, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas praised Friday’s outcome.

“I am very pleased that after long and hard negotiations we finally have a global deal on aviation emissions,” Kallas said in a statement.

“This is good news for the traveling public, good news for the aviation industry, but most importantly it is very good news for the planet,” he said.

Furthermore, he added, the deal averts a “damaging conflict among trading partners.”

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard meanwhile congratulated the ICAO members.

“After so many years of talks the ICAO has finally agreed to the first-ever global deal to curb aviation emissions,” she said.

In addition to the mechanism for curbing emissions, the accord also calls for promoting the use of better alternative aviation fuels and fuel-saving navigation.

There is also an exemption clause that provides a “fair and equitable solution” for a number of countries facing “special circumstances or with limited capabilities,” said the EU.

SCMP Editorial: Time for action in battle to clear roads of polluting vehicles

A revised government plan for improving air quality by getting the 84,000 dirtiest, or pre-Euro IV commercial diesel vehicles off our roads is going to take a year longer – until 2020 – despite an increase of HK$3 billion, or more than 33 per cent, in the cost to taxpayers. Lawmakers, understandably, put up a fight for the original deadline of 2019, but Legco’s environmental affairs panel was right in the end to unanimously endorse the revised scheme.

Devised to help meet tougher air-quality objectives to take effect next year, the plan is cash-incentive-based and therefore depends ultimately on the co-operation of fleet and vehicle owners. The transport trades criticised the original terms, asking for more money, more flexibility and more time, while green groups wanted early implementation. The industry may be seen to have prevailed in the revised plan. But if it works the community will be the real winner in a battle against air pollution in which we badly lag international benchmarks.

The government originally proposed ex gratia payments ranging from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of a vehicle’s replacement cost, with retirement deadlines beginning in 2016 and ending in 2019 for Euro III vehicles. Raising the subsidies to a range of 27 to 33 per cent and extending retirement deadlines by a year will, hopefully, meet the concerns of some in the trade that the terms were harsh on livelihoods. This will raise the estimated cost from HK$8.7 billion to HK$11.7 billion.

In addition, the new approach will limit the service life of newly registered vehicles to 15 years. Officials say these measures and the retrofitting of 1,400 franchised buses with diesel emission controls should significantly reduce roadside pollution, including tiny airborne particles most harmful to health, towards the end of the decade. Given that more than 3,000 people are estimated to die prematurely each year because of bad air, we trust the government has struck the right balance of carrot and stick. For the sake of our health it is time for action, not more talk.

5 Oct 2013


China and India unhappy with EU over Aircraft Emissions Taxes

The European Union has, for the past few years, pushed for capping aircraft carbon emissions and taxation, in an effort to reduce one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. The proposed plan, however, ran into an insurmountable obstacle: taxing aircrafts of foreign airlines flying to and from Europe. Taxation for emissions that take place outside of Europe (for instance, a large part of a journey between Shanghai and London will not be in EU airspace) is considered by non-EU countries to be extraterritorial and sovereignty-violating, and many threatened retaliatory tariffs on European airlines if the EU went ahead with the plan unilaterally. The US even passed a preemptive law banning US airlines from compliance, and China flashed warnings of a trade war with a moratorium on aircraft orders from Airbus that was only partially lifted recently.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) of the UN has stepped in with a plan to hash out a global agreement over aircraft carbon emissions. Brussels then agreed last November to a one-year suspension of emissions taxes for foreign airlines while the agreement is being worked out. As it turns out, the ICAO target for reaching full agreement is 2016, coming into force only in 2020. Non-EU countries, however, continue to voice their displeasure, fearing that the plan would severely impact their fast-growing aviation networks.

Some in the European transport industries do not consider airlines outside the EU and US as big players in global aviation. (Jimmy LWH/flickr)

It remains to be seen if this round of politicking will be resolved at all.

Click here for the most recent coverage by Charlotte So of SCMP:

Climate Change Forum to be held on 15 Oct 2013

The Hong Kong Observatory and World Green Organisation are jointly organising “Climate Change Forum: Overview of Latest Scientific Findings of IPCC AR5 Report” on 15th October, 2013 (Tuesday). This forum will present a number of highlights from the new report. Academicians and professionals will then exchange their ideas about the possible threats to our economy and human health, which will lead us to the discussions on community initiatives.

* IPCC : Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change

The forum will be presented in Cantonese. It is free of charge but registration is needed. Click here for more details.

KMB argues improving bus and road efficiency more impactful than changing out old fleet

In response to Ernest Kao’s article in SCMP on the benefits of replacing older buses in Hong Kong’s bus fleet, KMB’s representative Evan Auyang wrote in to SCMP, asking instead for help and support in bus route reorganisations and improvements in transport efficiency of roads. Which would of course, by his own admission, cost “nothing” (to KMB) and by extension increase their profitability.

Below is his letter, published in SCMP’s letters on 2 Oct 2013:

I refer to the report, (“Removing old buses saves lives, says study“, September 17).

We at KMB would say that it is not only realistic, but also desirable, to remove older buses from Hong Kong’s roads. This is not only good for the environment, but also good for our economy.

However, there is a more cost-effective way to do this: remove buses by improving efficiency. While replacing buses is financially costly, pushing efficiency costs nothing, with impact as large (if not larger) than technological upgrades.

The fact is that we have simply too many buses inefficiently serving several urban areas of Hong Kong. For example, in the five districts of Kowloon alone (Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City, Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin, Yau Tsim Mong), KMB has nearly 1,000 buses dedicated to serve these areas. Many routes are not only duplicated with the MTR, but also minibus routes and KMB’s own routes.

According to KMB, tackling route and road congestion should take priority over replacing old buses. (SCMP)

The government is currently working with bus operators to reorganise bus routes for greater efficiency, but the progress is far too slow. With only 5 per cent of the network reorganised after nine months of intense consultation and lobbying work with the districts, it would take over 10 years to complete this exercise if the decision-making after consultations could not be expedited.

Moreover, route reorganisation itself is insufficient to tackle the inefficiencies of road-based public transport.

While the government has shown great foresight in building up a world-class railway system as the backbone of Hong Kong’s public transport system, there is insufficient investment and policy support to ensure road-based mass transport is efficient to complement the railway system.

Our roads are increasingly congested with no signs of abatement.

For example, 99 per cent of KMB’s bus routes experienced an increase in journey times at an average of 16 per cent during the past five years. Average bus speeds could be increased by 25 per cent in our city, which would translate into a reduction of over 1,000 buses on our roads while keeping the same service frequencies and at faster journey times. Picking this “low-hanging fruit” means that we can simply remove these buses without needing to upgrade them.

In high-density international cities such as London, Singapore, Seoul and Taipei, there is policy focus on mass transport efficiency. Average bus speeds are always monitored and simple actions such as traffic enforcement at “black spots” have been effective.

Evan Auyang, deputy managing director, KMB

Enhanced Landfill Mining (ELFM) Symposium registration closing on Tues (8 Oct)

From Dr. Peter Tom Jones and Yves Tielemans, on behalf of the organisers:

The Second International Enhanced Landfill Mining Symposium will take place in less than a weeks from now.

We’re delighted to welcome in Greenville in Houthalen-Helchteren, Belgium, well over 150 participants. This well balanced audience represents the different actors from the quadruple helix model being the industry, academia and knowledge centres, civil society and government administrations.

A limited number of seats are still available; please contact Hilde Thevis to reserve your seat for the academic programme, the symposium dinner or both as we are finalizing the  logistics.

The deadline for registration is Tuesday, October 8th 2013.

Academic and evening programmes

Both the scientific and the evening programmes can be found here.

The closing panel debate on the future of Landfill Mining in Europe (Wed 16/10 pm) will feature Michel Sponar (EC DG Environment), Willem Kattenberg (Nederlandse Rijksoverheid), Robert Johnson (Advanced Plasma Power), Lieze Cloots (Bond Beter Leefmilieu), Joakim Krook (Linköping University) and Jef Roos (ELFM Consortium).

Furthermore, the evening programme of the official symposium dinner (Tue 15/10 evening @ De Barrier in Houthalen- Helchteren) is complete and will include speeches from Alain Yzermans (Mayor, Houthalen-Helchteren), Henny De Baets (Administrator-General, OVAM), Ingrid Lieten (Vice-Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Innovation) and Kurt Vandenberghe (Director Environment, EC DG Research & Innovation).

We look forward welcoming you at the Symposium in October 2013.

Los Angeles’ Zero Waste Plan

In 1989, California passed a waste management act (AB939) that “mandated local jurisdictions to meet solid waste diversion goals of 25 percent by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000.” And while Los Angeles lagged behind other cities in its waste reduction efforts, it also announced an ambitious plan to make Los Angeles a zero-waste city by 2030. The plan includes projects in increased recycling, elimination of landfill use, and the development of technologies to convert waste into renewable fuels and products. As of this July, the city is enforcing a blanket ban on the use of single-use plastic bags in supermarkets and retail stores.

The city addressed an open letter in 2008 about its Solid Waste Integrated Resourse Management Plan (SWIRP). You can read about it here.

Proposed incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau to take backwards step in waste disposal

The proposed incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau would need a guaranteed consistent supply of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) feedstocks. This would not only defeat the purpose of recycling; the incinerator would also produce hazards that cause cancer, birth defects and deaths with proximity to burner.

Here is a collection of reports on the inefficiencies, health and environmental hazards of incinerators around the world.