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Food Waste

Next frontier in recycling: food

As Americans generate unprecedented volumes of garbage, much of it food and yard scraps, large-scale composting is slowly gaining traction.

At the end of a long, rural road 22 miles east of Washington, Prince George’s County’s composting facility is chewing through thousands of tons of leaves and tree branches that are trucked in daily from across the region.

In the past three years, the county has added a new ingredient to its compost: food scraps. Pizza boxes, coffee grinds, and vegetable peels from 25 commercial customers lie in neatly piled rows on this 55-acre, open-air site. They are working through a natural digestion process boosted by hungry microorganisms and freely available oxygen from the air.

On a frigid winter day, fresh from the decomposing routine, a rich-brown, almost clay-like humus was still steaming.

“We can’t grow fast enough,” says Adam Ortiz, director the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment. The facility will double its food-processing capacity next year to accommodate 30 more customers on the waiting list, including a university and an airport, and it could grow 10-fold in the long run. “We knew that there would be interest, but we didn’t realize the amount.”

This Prince George’s facility offers a peek into the next frontier of recycling. Food and yard trimmings account for a bigger share of America’s trash than anything else – about 28 percent – slightly ahead of paper and cardboard and twice the level of plastic. And while the US recycles more than half of its yard trimmings, food composting is in its early and costly stages.

But a dearth of landfill space, friendly public policies, social pressures, and other factors are beginning to spur industrial-scale efforts to turn trashed food into something useful. For example: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island have banned some large food producers and other large businesses, such as convention centers and supermarkets, from throwing away food, making composting a popular alternative.

Cities including San Francisco, where composting food waste has been mandatory since 2009; New York City; Austin, Texas; Cambridge, Mass.; and Milwaukee are piloting residential food composting programs. In all, more than 180 communities now collect residential food scraps up from only a handful a decade ago, according to a 2014 report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

From an environmental point of view, composting is a much better option than the alternative: overstuffed landfills, often located in poor neighborhoods, where rotting food spews greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The third largest source of United States emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more potent than carbon dioxide, are landfills, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. If diverted from trash, compost produced from leaves, branches, and food scraps can help fertilize soil on gardens, farms, gold courses, and elsewhere.

But barriers remain to making food composting widespread.

The chicken-and-egg problem

One challenge is the chicken-and-egg problem, says Samantha MacBride, Director of Research and Operations at New York City’s Department of Sanitation. “Firms are not going to invest in plants unless there’s a guaranteed supply, but cities won’t start [composting] until they know there’s a processor” to handle the waste.

Composting food – which, if not treated properly, attracts rodents and stinks up the neighborhood – is expensive and complicated.

“It’s not like it’s a massively profitable enterprise that a lot of people are jumping into,” points out Eric Myers, Director of Organic Recycling at Houston-based Waste Management, which runs about 40 organics recycling facilities around the country.

His company also turns food waste into a sludge that municipal wastewater treatment plants, huge energy hogs, use to create electricity by harvesting the the methane that naturally comes from rotting food. This is another popular solution for discarded food.

Making compost or energy out of food scraps is still more expensive than sending trash to landfill in many regions, even in Prince George’s County. Mr. Ortiz says his composting facility is operating at a loss now, though he hopes to turn a small profit from selling compost as the facility grows.

In some places sending trash to landfill costs as little as $25 a ton, according to Mr. Myers, compared with a national average $36 a ton for composting. “That makes it a lot harder to invest time and resources” in recycling food, he says.

Cities look to flip the script

But in cities like Cambridge, which piloted in 2014 a small food recycling program that now includes 5,200 households, composting food is cheaper than trash disposal, which in New England can run up to $85 per ton.

The expensive part is hauling, says Michael Orr, recycling director for Cambridge. If enough residents divert their food from trash – right now half of the pilot households send their food scraps for composting – the city could use freed trash trucks to collect food scraps.

Milwaukee also is trying to make the composting numbers work. Its one-month-old, 500-household food-composting pilot is the latest attempt in a multiyear effort to divert recyclables from trash to meet the city’s goal of reducing garbage by 40 percent by 2020.

The city is struggling to meet the goal, in part because Milwaukee charges a flat fee for trash collection, says the city’s sanitation services manager, Rick Meyers. “If you’re paying a flat fee … there’s no incentive for people to think more critically about the materials they generate and discard,” he says. The city council has been reluctant to approve a fee structure that ties the trash cost to the amount that residents generate, though, arguing that it would burden the large population of low-income residents and exacerbate the city’s illegal dumping problem.

Despite the challenges facing food recycling, Ms. MacBride urges patience. Food composting today is where curbside recycling of glass and paper was in the 1970s when it was first introduced, she points out. “Recycling programs didn’t start up overnight; they slowly ramped up,” she says. “Give it time is really the takeaway.”

Average Hongkonger sent 1.39kg per day of solid waste to landfills, up 3pc on last year

Authorities attribute surge to more commercial and industrial waste being dumped in wake of ‘relatively buoyant local economy’

The average Hongkonger sent 1.39kg of municipal solid waste into landfills per day last year, marking a 3 per cent rise from the year before and the highest level in 10 years, though notable reductions in food and special waste were recorded, new official data revealed.

The Environmental Protection Department attributed the increase to more commercial and industrial waste being dumped, which in turn was partly attributable to a “relatively buoyant local economy” last year.

The average volume of municipal solid waste sent to the tips in 2014 was 1.35kg per capita per day.

Recycling rates for municipal solid waste also fell – from 37 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent last year – driven by significant declines in recovery rates for waste paper and plastics, which fell by 52,000 and 5,000 tonnes respectively.

Every day last year, the city disposed of some 2,257 tonnes of waste paper and 2,183 tonnes of waste plastic in landfills – 17.5 and 8.3 per cent more than the previous year.

The two categories each account for about one fifth of the municipal solid waste mix.

Meanwhile, the volume of plastic PET bottles (made of polyethylene terephthalate) disposed of alone grew 3 per cent last year as recycling rates nearly slumped in half from 14 per cent to just 7.6 per cent.

The low waste recovery rates were blamed on a dismal international market for recyclables in the past few years, resulting in a “dampening effect” on demand as well as on the prices of local recyclables.

However, the amount of landfilled food waste – comprising one third of municipal waste – saw a surprise retreat of 7.1 per cent last year to 3,382 tonnes, or about 0.46kg per person daily. The change was largely driven by households’ kitchen waste.

The department claimed the drop could “well be a result of efforts made by many sectors of the community” in response to various government initiatives intended to “nurture a culture of reducing food waste at source and to donate surplus food to the needy”.

Environmental group The Green Earth said the sustained high disposal rates stemmed from a variety of factors: a lack of volume-based waste charging, the delayed commissioning of an organic waste treatment facility for food waste, and a downturn in the recycling trade.

It urged the government to speed up legislation for municipal solid waste-charging to curb the growth of industrial and commercial waste. It also advocated implementing more producer responsibility laws and regulations for items such as plastic bottles and beverage containers.

A department spokesman said it would continue to “vigorously implement policies on waste avoidance and reduction, including municipal solid waste charging and producer responsibility schemes”.

It is understood the Environment Bureau hopes to prepare corresponding legislative proposals within the current legislative term.

Of the 5.5 million tonnes of solid waste discarded last year, two-thirds, or 3.7 million tonnes, was municipal solid waste: that is, rubbish generated domestically from homes, and commercial or industrial activities. Most of it comprised food, paper and plastics.

The remaining 1.8 million tonnes primarily consisted of waste from the construction sector, or special waste, which includes livestock, radioactive, grease trap waste and sewage sludge.

The amount of special waste discarded in landfills fell by 34.5 per cent last year due to the commissioning of a new treatment facility in Tuen Mun, which incinerates sewage sludge into residue and ash.
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Grand Hyatt Singapore’s effort in reducing waste production in Singapore

Grand Hyatt Singapore implements organic food waste management system, reducing waste production of the hotel and converts the waste into useable fertiliser.

The hotel received a grant of S$250,000 through the 3R (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle) Fund for the installation and implementation of the system. The grant is calculated based on key outcomes such as the actual quantity of waste reduced or recycled.

The 3R Fund, created by the National Environmental Agency, is a co-funding scheme to encourage organisations to undertake waste minimisation and recycling projects.

This new organic food waste management system touches on the first and the third of the three focus points in Hyatt’s 2020 sustainability plans.

The installation and implementation system uses two individual systems that operate in sequence:

• an integrated food waste disposal system which extracts water, grinds and compacts food waste from the restaurants and event kitchens
• a ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ which then converts compacted food waste into pathogen-free organic fertiliser.

The ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ subsequently recycles the compacted food waste into organic fertiliser and this will be used only for the hotel’s landscaping purposes.

This innovative system enables the hotel to keep 100% of its organic food waste out of the city’s landfills – drastically reducing the property’s overall waste production and will be good for environment of the city.

The hotel said that this will also boost productivity and hygiene levels, as food waste will be transferred into the integrated in-feed stations located at various dishwashing and food preparation areas, and transported via the vacuum system into the centralised grinder and dewatering unit.

As a result, manpower is no longer required to physically move food waste into the waste compacters. About 55,000 trash bags will be saved each year, and this further contributes to the green efforts of this project which has an estimated payback period of less than 3 years.

This new waste recycling infrastructure saves Grand Hyatt Singapore approximately S$100,000 a year in food waste haulage fees and operational expenses. By eliminating the need for food waste haulage, the hotel will further reduce its carbon footprint.

Spearheaded by Executive Chef Lucas Glanville, this milestone achievement would also not have been possible without the dedication of Grand Hyatt Singapore’s Business Analyst Darrell Tan, Director of Engineering Ivan Leong, Stewarding Manager Vijay Sivarajah and the secretarial support of Anita Lukman.

Food waste is created in Singapore every single day from our food cycle – production, distribution, retail to consumption – and the wastage is huge and still looming to become a problem for the country.

According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore wasted approximately 790,000 tonnes of food in 2014 and it’s still looming to become a problem to the country.

Typically, food waste would go to a landfill where it would decompose, or it would go to an incinerator.

“The issue with landfills obviously is the emissions of landfill gas, which is basically methane. This is a very bad greenhouse gas – it is 23 times worse than carbon dioxide,” said Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Association of Sustainable Energy (SEAS)

At the present, burning food waste is Singapore’s primary method of waste disposal which uses enormous amounts of energy to do.

Singapore has only one landfill left – Semakau Landfill – and it is expected to run out of space if habits do not change.

It has been reported that Singapore’s landfill will run out of space between 2035 and 2045, if the nation continues to dispose of more than three million tonnes of rubbish a year.

Why is Singapore’s household recycling rate stagnant?

SINGAPORE: For two years, Hougang resident Padmarani Srivatsan has been collecting raw food scraps – like vegetable and fruit peel – that she throws out from her kitchen, turning it into soil nutrients for her plants.

“It’s black gold,” she said, picking up a handful from her composting bucket and taking a sniff. “And it doesn’t smell at all. It smells… wholesome.”

Besides composting raw food waste, the 52-year-old kindergarten teacher has been recycling other waste that her household generates, including plastics, glass bottles, paper and tin cans. Doing all this requires a conscientious effort, said Mrs Srivatsan, acknowledging that it may be a challenge for many Singaporeans, who generate some of the most waste globally on a per capita basis, to follow her example.

A 2012 World Bank report put the amount of Singapore’s per capita municipal waste generated at 1.49kg a day – on par with Hong Kong, but higher than South Korea. At the same time, the household recycling rate remained at around 20 per cent between 2005 and 2015 – and this is “quite low”, despite more than 15 years of the National Recycling Programme (NRP), according to Mr Eugene Tay, director of sustainability consulting company Green Future Solutions.

When asked for an update on the NRP in Parliament this April, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor pledged that the Government will continue its efforts on public education, as “30 to 50 per cent of materials deposited into the recycling bins are not suitable for recycling”.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore’s domestic recycling rate was 19 per cent in 2015, and the target is to bring this to 30 per cent by 2030. This is below other developed economies like the United Kingdom and Taiwan, where the household recycling rates in 2013 were 44.2 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.

While the rate is comparatively low, it is tricky to benchmark Singapore – a city-state – against other countries for two reasons. Firstly, different countries have different methodologies. Secondly, countries with significant agricultural sectors could have an outsized contribution to the domestic recycling rate through composting and anaerobic digestion. But the NEA does acknowledge multiple challenges to raising the domestic recycling rate.

A key issue is the ubiquity of in-home refuse chutes, which public high-rise apartment blocks built before the late 1980s are fitted with. The convenience of the refuse chute poses a challenge to studies that attempts to find ways to increase the domestic recycling rate, said the NEA.

Take a usage-based pricing scheme for example, where households pay according to the amount of waste they throw away and enjoy savings when they reduce their waste. According to the NEA, “a key challenge in its implementation” would be the use of refuse chutes in high-rise buildings, where more than 90 per cent of the population reside.

Although HDB blocks built after 1989 are installed with a centralised refuse chute on each floor, and blocks built after 2014 will have an additional centralised recycling chute, it will take decades before in-home refuse chutes are entirely phased out and for the majority of HDB dwellers to have access to recycling chutes.

In the meantime, environmental experts say more public engagement is needed to get people to segregate recyclables from their waste, and to put them in the blue recycling bins allotted to each public housing block. But even if residents put in the effort, the use of the blue recycling bins comes with its own set of problems.

A challenge to boosting the domestic recycling rate has to do with the fact that some people are not sure of how and what to recycle, and there is confusion over where recyclables end up, said Mr Tay of Green Future Solutions, adding that some think that the recyclables end up in the incineration plants.

A straw poll among five households who recycle shows that best practices are unclear even among those who make use of the blue bins.

“Empty paper cups from McDonald’s – can these be recycled or are they considered contaminated? I’m confused over what can and cannot be recycled,” said Ms Chan Yen Sen, 38, who has been recycling for the last eight years.

The consultant and part-time lecturer, who is a resident of Bukit Batok, added: “Empty soft-drink plastic bottles – do they need to be washed? If I don’t wash them, they may attract pests. If I do wash them, it’s a waste of water – and that’s counterproductive to being eco-conscious.”

Ms Angie Woo, a home-maker from Newton who has been recycling for more than a decade, also noted that the recycling guidelines can be clearer.

“When I travel and stay at AirBnb apartments in Australia or France, I notice the hosts would have very detailed and easy-to-follow guides on how to recycle – what to do, what not to do. We’re lacking this in Singapore,” said Ms Woo, who is in her early fifties.

Confusion over the use of the recycling bins has led to their misuse as a general waste bin. According to the NEA, materials that have been deposited into the recycling bins include non-recyclables, like “pillows, soft toys and footwear” and unfinished food and drinks which contaminate the rest of the recyclables.


While household recycling rates remain comparatively low, environmental experts say that legislation and punitive measures to change that trend may not be necessary.

“Before we consider punitive measures, there is still room for improving our current education and engagement efforts. More effective and targeted outreach and communications are needed… to change mindsets and behaviours,” said Mr Tay, who also runs Zero Waste SG, an NGO which aims to increase waste minimisation and recycling in Singapore.

Ms Rachel See, an environmental engineer with the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) agreed, adding that the effectiveness of legislation depends on ensuring that there are adequate resources in place.

“Instilling knowledge and good habits such as recycling and proper waste segregation are essential, and a multi-pronged approach should be adopted to reinforce the importance of recycling in sustaining a healthy environment,” she said, adding that community involvement is key to making recycling a social norm.

Beyond outreach efforts that appeal to people’s green impulses, the Government has also sought to change mindsets by appealing to people’s pragmatism.

For example, the NEA has worked with public waste collectors to implement 90 “Cash for Trash” collection points, where residents can exchange recyclables for cash. It also jointly organises a “Green Homes” programme with the SEC and the North West Community Development Council to hand out awards to households that recycle and use energy-efficient electrical appliances.

Green Home award recipient Mrs Rowena Artiaga, who lives in a four-room HDB flat in Segar, said the utility bill for her family of five comes up to just below S$100 a month. In comparison, data from Singapore Power show the average utility bill for a four-room HDB flat is around S$144.

Besides recycling the usual materials – paper, plastic, metal, and glass – Mrs Artiago also makes the effort to reuse water. Water used to wash fruits and vegetables for example, can be collected and used to water plants. The family also rarely uses air-conditioning.

“It’s proof that it’s not just for the environment. When you lead an eco-conscious lifestyle, it’s also cost saving,” said the 51-year-old home-maker.

Hong Kong Government’s efforts in managing municipal solid waste & Reduction and recycling of food waste

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2 hawker centres to pilot food waste recycling systems

SINGAPORE: A two-year on-site food waste recycling pilot at two hawker centres, Ang Mo Kio Blk 628 Market and Tiong Bahru Market, was launched on Thursday (Jan 21).

The National Environment Agency (NEA) estimated that each market generates two to three tonnes of food waste daily, with the majority from stalls in the wet market and table cleaning operations. If the pilot is successful, food waste recycling could reduce the total waste generated from both hawker centres by up to 80 per cent, the agency said.

For instance, the machine at Ang Mo Kio Blk 628 Market, operated by Eco-Wiz, is able to convert one tonne of food waste into water within 24 hours. Customised microbes would break down food waste to convert it into water, and the water is then used for cleaning the bin centre.

Eco-Wiz took about a week to train the cleaners and hawkers to sort the waste collected at the market.

“They told us what we cannot put in and what we need to separate. For example, the prawn shells and egg shells cannot be thrown in,” said Ms Cindy Tan, a cleaner at the market. “It was more troublesome initially because we have to separate used tissues and food, but it’s okay after we got used to it.”

The Eco-Wiz food waste recycling machine. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

The Eco-Wiz food waste recycling machine. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

The machine at Tiong Bahru Market, under VRM Operations, grinds up food waste and mixes it with micro-organisms. The resulting mixture is stored on the premise in 15 1,000-litre tanks. When the tanks are full, they are transported off-site to be converted into bio-fertiliser for agricultural purposes.

Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources and Health Amy Khor participating in a demonstration of the food waste recycling system at Tiong Bahru Market. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources and Health Amy Khor participating in a demonstration of the food waste recycling system at Tiong Bahru Market. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

(From left): Mr Ken Bellamy, founder and director of VRM Operations, with Senior Ministers of State Indranee Rajah and Ms Khor. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

(From left): Mr Ken Bellamy, founder and director of VRM Operations, with Senior Ministers of State Indranee Rajah and Ms Khor. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)

Vendors at both markets install and maintain the food waste recycling machines, as well as train cleaners and stall holders to segregate waste.

VRM Operations said that getting cleaners and hawkers on board to separate the organic waste from other materials was not difficult after they addressed concerns raised by them.

NEA and VRM Operations have been engaging the hawkers since May last year. Efforts were intensified in the November and December period when they went from stall to stall to speak to hawkers and taught cleaners how to segregate the waste.

“This is an open situation where birds can fly in, so there are rules as to how to store materials that can go rotten so that the birds and rats don’t get attracted,” said VRM Operations’ founder and director Ken Bellamy. “We had to devise a type of bucket that was easy for them to see in quickly and then close after. We had to make sure that they could easily lift it so it wasn’t a big bin that two people could carry.”

When the winning bids were announced in October last year, NEA had said that the markets were selected based on the number and mix of their stalls. There are a total of 218 stalls and 342 stalls at Ang Mo Kio Blk 628 Market and Tiong Bahru Market, respectively.

The pilot, which is expected to conclude in December 2017, is part of Singapore’s efforts to become a zero-waste nation under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015.

Speaking at the launch, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor said that apart from building up capability to recycle food waste, consumers have a part to play as well.

“We are not just looking at recycling food waste but actually the best way to reduce food waste is not to create it in the first place,” she said.

To that end, Dr Khor said that NEA has started outreach efforts to encourage members of the public to reduce food wastage at home. She added that the agency is also partnering with food retail businesses to redistribute excess or unsold food.

Food waste accounts for 10 per cent of total waste generated in Singapore. In 2014, 788,600 tonnes of food waste was generated of which 101,400 tonnes was recycled. The remaining food waste was disposed of at incineration plants, according to NEA.

Lack of accountability stinks

Letters to the editor, January 11, 2016

As if the report by the [1] Audit Commission [2] on the Environmental Protection Department is not embarrassing enough (“Hong Kong’s waste problem: a stinking trail of missed targets, data errors and misdirected efforts [3]”, December 1), the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee’s two hearings last month on food waste reduction and recycling will enshrine the department in perpetuity in the Hall of Shame in Mismanagement.

We learned that the department handled the growing problem of food waste, which accounts for 38 per cent of municipal solid waste in Hong Kong, in a piecemeal, disjointed manner. We learned that the department has no idea on how each programme quantitatively contributes to the reduction of food waste, which has increased by 13 per cent from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013. We learned that targets are either non-existent or not met if they’d been posted. We learned that officials are not accountable for their mistake, and the same consultant who partnered with the department in the mistake continues to advise the department on a bigger project.

After spending HK$150 million and HK$50 million to reduce food waste in schools and private housing estates respectively, the department cannot explain how much food waste was reduced as a result of those programmes. The same goes for the HK$18.7 million spent during 2013 and 2015 in advertising, marketing, and education programmes to promote the department’s signature Food Wise campaign.

Only 26 out of 1,027 business entities provided data on their efforts to reduce food waste on a voluntary basis. No data was provided by the 294 schools who signed onto the Green Lunch Charter on the result of their effort.

Phase one of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities that was priced at HK$489 million in 2010, with the help of a consultant company which earned HK$8.8 million for its advice, turned out to cost HK$1.53 billion. The Audit Commission pointed out that essential components were underestimated in the initial estimate.

Despite clear evidence in the commission’s report showing mistake in professional judgment, Mr Elvis Au, assistant director of the department, insisted that rising cost and lack of reference price of the facilities were the causes of the cost overrun. Mr Au and the same consulting company have since moved on to manage one of the most expensive project in the department’s history – building an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

Is there accountability in Hong Kong?

Tom Yam, Lantau

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New collection targets in row over food waste

Environmental authorities have set a new target for the collection of food waste after they were criticized for overstating their achievements in the latest audit report.

The Environmental Protection Department had targeted a daily collection of 86 tonnes of food waste from more than 70 wet markets, managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

But the audit report reviewing the reduction and recycling of food waste found the FEHD supplied only a daily total of 11.5 tonnes.

After conferring with various parties, officials from both departments told the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Council yesterday that efforts will be intensified to send 40 tonnes of food waste daily to organic waste treatment facilities now being put in place.

Responding to criticism that the government is not fully utilizing expensive facilities that should handle more than 200 tonnes of food waste daily upon their completion in 2017, EPD officials said they are steadily stepping up their collection of food waste.

Assistant director of environmental protection Elvis Au Wai-kwong said a new contractor has been commissioned to also improve the collection of food waste from financial and commercial companies, apart from collections at wet markets.

The department will also look into expanding collections at public housing estates.

However, Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said it would take some time before relevant schemes are launched.

“If collection points are not convenient for households, they will be reluctant to dispose of their food waste in bins separate from those for normal rubbish. Some people may also dislike having food waste collected very close to where they live,” Ying said.

Committee member Alan Leong Kah-kit said the EPD and the Environment Bureau have been “relaxed, indifferent and unprofessional” in reducing food waste.

Hong Kong government can’t meet food waste target at new plant

Officials say costs were underestimated as project was first of its kind

Officials admitted that the government could provide a waste treatment plant in North Lantau with only half the amount of food waste they had earlier estimated.

At a public hearing by the Legislative Council’s public accounts committee today, officials also explained that they underestimated the construction costs of the first phase of the Siu Hoo Wan waste treatment facility by over 200 per cent due to the lack of reference prices for similar projects.

Lawmakers were questioning the officials about an earlier Audit Commission report, which criticised the Environment Bureau for underestimating the construction costs of the plant, ultimately leading to a four-year delay in tendering and commissioning.

The report also questioned whether the government could meet its estimated target of providing the plant with about 86 tonnes of food waste every day.

During the hearing, Vivian Lau Lee-kwan, director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, said her department would be able to provide only about 40 tonnes of food waste from 36 wet markets every day to the plant due to limited resources. “Sorting, collecting and transferring the food waste all involve new resources,” she said.

Facing criticism for the underestimation of the project’s construction costs, assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department Elvis Au Wai-kwong explained that the project was the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

As there was no price reference, the bureau decided to get a tender offer first to obtain a market price before asking the Legco for funding approval, despite the bureau having already estimated in 2010 that the project might cost HK$489 million.

The first offer received in 2011 was “unreasonably high”, said Au, so the bureau cancelled the tender and put out a new one in 2013, which resulted in a “reasonable” offer. In 2014, The Legco’s finance committee approved the bureau’s application for funding of about HK$1.6 billion.

Au said it was difficult to correctly estimate the costs because there were no similar projects in the city and no standard prices across the world for reference.

Regarding doubts over whether the government could meet its target of reducing municipal solid waste per capita by 40 per cent by 2022, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing admitted that the target was “ambitious and progressive”, but said he believed that the Environment Bureau could meet the target with multiple policies and cooperation among different departments.
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Hong Kong OWTF phase 1 – Design Build Operate tender cost per tonne of treated food waste almost HK$ 2,400

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