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Hong Kong incineration plans blasted by Prof Paul Connett

A mother’s battle against China’s polluting incinerators that ‘caused son’s health problems’

Housewife educates herself on environmental law in bid to shut waste plants

Ren Rui used to read only cookbooks, but the housewife in Wuhan, Hubei province, taught herself environmental law after she began a fight to close two local incinerators – one burning domestic rubbish and the other, medical waste.

Her six-year-old son has undergone nine operations on his respiratory system after he started coughing blood when he was three – when the medical waste incinerator went into operation without official approval.

“I am only a housewife, but I had to learn all the policies on incinerators by myself, for my son,” Ren, 36, said.

She was later joined by her neighbours in repeatedly filing lawsuits against the two incinerators for damaging the environment and public health. Constantly faced with a pungent odour in the air, they fear the emissions are toxic.

About 30 people in the neighbourhood have fallen ill since 2012, some getting cancer while others develop severe respiratory diseases. There is no official word on whether the pollution and the illnesses are linked.

The group applied to the municipal government for information on the incinerators – including emissions data – but their requests went unheeded. It was not until this year, after a revised environmental law took effect, that their case was accepted by a local court.

But they had to lower their compensation demand from 700,000 yuan (HK$885,000) to just seven yuan as they could not afford the litigation fee for the higher claim. The case has yet to be heard.

The environmental authorities – at both national and provincial levels – have admitted the medical waste incinerator did not undergo an environmental impact assessment.

It suspended operations in 2013 but resumed burning waste after receiving all the approvals last year. Authorities have said the other incinerator failed to treat its sewage properly.

“Does this mean … all their law-breaking practices no longer matter? What about my son’s health problems,” Ren asked.

Plans to build incinerators in cities have been met with strong public opposition across the country, although authorities still consider them a key way to deal with a worsening rubbish crisis as urbanisation intensifies.

Recent research has found most of the mainland’s 160 incinerators failed to give the public adequate pollution information.

Environmental authorities in 103 cities offered emission data for only 65 incinerators, and officials from only 39 incinerators responded to questions on how they handle fly ash – the residue from burning. Only 13 incinerators gave the green groups data on their dioxin emissions.

Dioxin is a known carcinogen, while fly ash is classified as a “hazardous chemical” as it may contain toxic substances. They therefore require special treatment by licensed firms.

But only eight incinerators sent fly ash for proper treatment. These posed health risks to the public, the green groups said.

Some city governments refused to share pollution data with green groups as they were suspicious of their motives, said Yue Caixuan, of Wuhu Ecology Centre, an NGO that has helped seek information from governments.

“They even thought we were spies … But I am just a citizen wanting to know whether incinerators are safe,” Yue said.

Public trust in incinerators was determined by the degree of transparency about their operations, said Chen Liwen, of green group Nature University.

“Information boards at many incinerators … are usually left blank, even those that governments praise as ‘model’ ones.”

We Dont Want Incineration! – the Shek Kwu Chau Choir featuring Paul Connett

121 waste incinerators refuse to disclose data on fly ash

(ECNS) – A non-governmental organization (NGO) report has revealed that 121 waste incineration plants in China have refused to disclose data on their pollution emissions, especially the whereabouts of fly ash, according to on Wednesday.

The report suggests that fly ash, which originates from the burning of household rubbish, is not fully understood and could be more damaging than was previously thought.

In addition, pollution such as dioxin levels has been under-publicized, and the burning of household rubbish is also causing severe air pollution in China.

The report was coordinated by the Wuhu Ecology Center and Friends of Nature, both NGOs concerned with the protection of the environment.

In 2014, the two NGOs asked 103 environment bureaus to press 160 waste incineration plants to disclose pollution information.

Little dioxin or fly ash information was provided. Plants from major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou failed to return adequate reports. They also refused to disclose any dioxin information.

Fly ash has been severely mishandled in China, and has even been used as a construction material, or put in “temporary storage” for years.

Nearly a quarter (39 out of 160 plants) provided fly ash information. Of these, 26 dumped fly ash into landfills and five used it directly as a construction material, though both contravene environmental policies. Only eight plants followed guidelines and sent fly ash to qualified waste management companies.

Functioning waste incineration plants have been breaking rules by over-releasing pollutants into the air, including smoke (30.8 percent above legal limits), sulfur dioxide (25.94 percent), oxynitride (21.53 percent) and carbon monoxide (11.28 percent).

The largest Chinese cities are facing pressing problems of “waste besiegement,” according to a report conducted by Renmin University of China. Local governments prefer to burn rubbish because of its effectiveness in reducing waste volumes. A large number of waste incineration plants are under construction, with the total number potentially exceeding 300 by the end of 2015.

Why China’s waste pickers are a better alternative to incineration

The informal recycling sector is helping tackle the country’s growing levels of rubbish, but people making a living out of sorting waste need support

 Informal recycling is widespread in Shanghai, but where the incentive of profit falls, so too do recycling rates. Photograph: Grainne Quinlan

Informal recycling is widespread in Shanghai, but where the incentive of profit falls, so too do recycling rates. Photograph: Grainne Quinlan

Zhang Jinling is picking cardboard boxes from a trash can on the side of the road in a downtown area of Shanghai. She empties the boxes, folds them and puts them on a trailer hitched to a bicycle. She also buys cardboard from residents in the houses on the same street, purchasing it for 2.5 mao (less than 3p) for a pile. When her trailer is full, she takes the load to a recycling market on the outskirts of the city where she sells each pile for a 1p profit. Markets like these sort waste into different materials and sell it to bigger markets where it ends up at big industrial recycling plants for individual materials.

Jinling is one of hundreds of thousands of waste pickers working in cities acrossChina sorting through other people’s rubbish, removing and sorting anything that can be recycled and selling it for a meagre profit. Most people working in this sector are migrant workers from the countryside who come to big cities to try to make a living.

Further down the street, Guan (who didn’t wish to give his full name) is buying cardboard from a small fruit shop. He has been doing this job for almost eight years and makes a daily profit of £10.

Guan and Jinling are collecting recyclables in one of Shanghai’s most desirable and expensive neighbourhoods but their living standards are very different from the people who live there.

Jinling lives with her husband in a 6 metre square apartment in a compound where thousands of other migrant workers live. “I would prefer not to do this work,” she says. “I would rather work for a factory or company.”

Unpredictable nature of informal recycling
The government has little or no involvement in recycling in cities, says Chen Liwen, a researcher for the environmental NGO Green Beagle. “China’s recycling is market orientated, there is no government control from the collection to the disposal of materials,” she says.

As China has developed rapidly and its citizens become more affluent, increasing amounts of rubbish are being generated. Shanghai, a city of around 24 million people, currently produces 22,000 tons of rubbish a day and the city is running out of landfill space. Liwen says that more and more waste is being generated and an increasing amount of materials that could be recycled are ending up in landfill.

Workers like Guan and Jinling ensure not all materials end up in landfill, but price fluctuations can make the informal recycling unpredictable. If it becomes less profitable for waste pickers to collect and sell a particular material, it’s unlikely to be recycled. For example, the price waste pickers get for glass bottles has recently fallen, so without an incentive of profit, glass is increasingly ending up in landfill.

Because of falling prices, the numbers of waste pickers are starting to dwindle. Guan says: “The price is going down and more people are going to work in factory and construction work.”

Government involvement

As China’s levels of rubbish grows, the government has looked to incineration. . According to local news reports, four new incineration plants are to be opened in Shanghai and city officials estimate that by 2016, 70% of the city’s household waste will be incinerated. However, incineration is becoming controversial among the public in China due to environmental concerns and there have been protests against proposed plants. In April, plans for an incinerator in Guangdong province in southern China were scrapped by the local authorities after a mass protest.

Environmental campaigners also say that incineration doesn’t deal with the root causes of China’s waste problem. “Because you are building more and more incinerators people don’t care about waste, they just throw away,” says Liwen.

The government in Shanghai and other cities have made some efforts to introduce centralised recycling systems. Last year, Shanghai set a rubbish sorting target of 95% as part of a three year initiative . But despite efforts public awareness of recycling and waste reduction remains low.

Liwen says that the informal recycling system is so widespread and efficient that instead of trying to get rid of it or replace it the government should work with it to improve recycling levels. “I don’t think they should destroy the current informal recycling system. What they need to do is to give them more space, to give them support because the current system is very good,” she said.

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Sweden Piles Up Toxic Ash on Norway Island

Sweden dumped over half a million tons of toxic ash from waste incinerators on a small island just outside Oslo, local media reported Tuesday.

The news of the highly toxic fly ash which has for the past five years been sent to Langøya Island, just outside Oslo, for treatment, caused an angry outcry among Norwegian environmentalists who demanded that the Swedes take care of their own toxic waste.

They also warned that heavy metals could leak into the Oslofjord, The Local reported.

“I doubt anyone wants to live there,” he told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri. ”There are reports of explosions on the island, something that may happen due to the activities that take place there,” said Per-Erik Schulze, a marine biologist with Friends of the Earth Norway environmentalist group.

Fly ash, which must be filtered from incinerator smoke before it can be released into the environment, contains dangerous dioxins and furans, as well as high levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and zinc.

Despite Sweden’s heavy reliance on incineration, there is nowhere in the country where municipalities and environmental contractors can dispose of the most toxic ash.

Read more:

Incineration won’t destroy pollutants

As noted in previous letters to the editor, Elvis Au, assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department, has shown great bias in pushing plans for the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Yet during an RTHK radio show on April 25, his comments were even more skewed.

Asked about heavy metals in the ash, he said the technology would enable the complete destruction of these toxic materials.

This is a preposterous falsehood. As many a schoolchild will know, it took the energy of supernovas to create elements heavier than iron, which include toxic metals of concern with waste incinerators, such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Hence, they cannot be destroyed by incineration.

Instead, incinerators emit these along with particulates and a veritable cocktail of organic toxins – leading to serious health concerns, and documented cases of elevated levels of disease and deaths near incinerators.

Not only does Mr Au avoid mention of such research, but he also seems intent on rebranding the incinerator by calling it a waste-to-energy facility.

On the face of it, turning waste to energy seems a good idea, and Mr Au asserts the incinerator will power 100,000 households.

But much of Hong Kong’s waste is soggy rice and other food slops, which will not readily burn. So the incinerator will surely require fuel such as coal, or drying with electrical power.

Hong Kong deserves a far better waste policy, with real efforts in waste reduction and recycling, and trustworthy technology.

And Hong Kong deserves officials who have the willpower, passion and acumen to work with the community in protecting the environment.

Dr Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

Source URL (modified on May 1st 2015, 4:30pm):


To most, Denmark brings to mind popular TV dramas, sweet pastries and Lego. But there is one part of the nation’s identity that those in Borgen (the real-life seat of government, that is) are keen to eradicate. For some decades now, Danish waste management has been dominated by municipal incinerators. Plants were common in the small dormitory towns that popped up in the 1960s, but it was the energy crises of the 1970s that persuaded the Danish government to promote district heating, reducing dependency on oil and increasing supply reliability. This district heating, created by waste- burning plants, now provides around 20 per cent of energy to Danish homes, and up to 98 per cent of households in Copenhagen.

It is perhaps this reliance on incineration that is behind the staggering amount of household waste produced: it’s currently hovering around the 2.5 million tonnes per year mark (as of 2011), after exceeding 3.5 million in 2008. In a nation of 5.7 million inhabitants, that’s around 450 kilogrammes (kg) per person. Indeed, according to Eurostat, Denmark’s municipal waste generation per capita is the highest in Europe, 747kg per person in 2013 (compared to a Europe-wide average of 481kg). Around 80 per cent of this household waste, including high-calorific organic waste, is sent straight to the nearest incinerator (only three per cent is sent to landfill nationwide), with seemingly little appetite or need to develop more efficient processes.

Although the Danish brand of incinerator might not be the ozone clogger that you envision – high filtration and cleaning standards see to that – it was this vicious circle of generating waste for energy that former Environment Minister Ida Auken aimed to cut off when her department introduced the ‘Denmark Without Waste’ plan in November 2013. The plan signals a move away from incineration and towards a more recycling-oriented system.

With the plan comes a relatively bold target: to double household recycling – from a paltry 22 per cent in 2011 to 50 per cent by 2022 (although, strangely, the European Commission’s revised Waste Framework Directive requires this target to be met two years earlier).

Auken admits that in trying to solve a problem by building the country’s network of 26 incinerators in the second half of the 20th century, Denmark created a new one for its future: “I think the true story of Denmark is that we were on the wrong track, basically. We’ve been on the right track in so many other areas, but in this one we were solving a previous problem and trying to find renewable energy – but we could see the plastic streams coming up and up. Calling waste a renewable fuel source is wrong, and it’s becoming more and more wrong.”

The plan’s focus is on getting more out of waste. Measures include separate collection of organic waste for biogas and other biomass uses, higher quality recycling of construction waste, and an increased focus on developing recycling technology. It aims to reduce the amount of waste sent to incinerators from over 2.5 million tonnes in 2011 to just 820,000 tonnes by 2022.

With household waste making up such a large proportion of incineration feedstock, however, the change must start at home. “There’s been a paradigm shift and it’s been important for us to really explain the story”, says Auken. “That’s why we changed from saying we make waste plans to saying we make resource plans. We’ve really tried explaining to the people why we ask them to separate their waste now.

“We’ve focused a lot on resource scarcity and how the prices have come up in the last 15 years more than they went down in the previous hundred. We’re trying to show that there are jobs and new technologies combined with this change.

Denmark without waste
The front cover of Denmark’s new resource plan makes clear the government’s intention to move away from incineration in favour of more recycling

“[Residents are] used to getting paper, glass, batteries and electronics out, but besides that, they would [previously] put everything in the trash, basically. So it has been a big paradigm shift.”

Changing the mindset of the people is just the first step in initiating change, and Auken is confident that Denmark is ready for a new way of operating centred around creating a circular economy. New business models are popping up all over Denmark and are, she says, “very appealing to people”.

But creating a collection system and the infrastructure to put these materials to best use is another issue altogether. Auken’s ministry suggested a focus on more waste streams – for example, better collection and separation of WEEE and higher quality recycling of construction waste – but for the time being municipalities have the freedom to develop their own methods, as long as they’re working towards the government’s targets. “Setting a recycling goal that’s twice as high [as current levels], it was important municipalities didn’t just point to the government and say: ‘They said it.’ They really have to take responsibility, so we gave them the freedom to implement the way they start”, Auken explains.

What happens to the waste once it’s been collected, though? Auken acknowledges that creating waste streams that are valuable enough to create a market is a challenge that requires everyone to chip in. “You need government’s priorities, you need private companies with the technologies, you need private buyers of the recycled materials, you need to bring all these interests together.” But Denmark is ready, and the response from businesses has been positive, according to Auken; already, some municipalities have created biogas plants to treat organic waste, and the government hopes that their success will encourage more to follow suit.

So now that Denmark is seemingly on its way to kicking its incineration habit, how does government ensure that it doesn’t make a similar error and commit to new practices that seem wonderful now but are obsolete or burdensome in a few years? Flexibility, Auken insists, is key: “You can never ensure that you don’t create a new problem when you solve an old one. You need to solve several at a time – that is normally the best way to go around. That, and being a politician in a leadership that is not afraid of changing tools on the way. If we have a goal that is Denmark without waste in 2050, we should not predict the extent of available technologies” – a lesson learned from the past few decades.

Denmark’s waste management landscape is changing enormously, now that government has decided to drastically cut back on incineration. As Auken says: “Until you change the rules, you cannot ask somebody to play by other rules.”

This evolution is already evident. The Ministry of the Environment, now headed by Kirsten Brosbøl after a change of cabinet last February, plans to follow up 2013’s waste plan with ‘Denmark Without Waste II’ this year. The sequel takes a step up the waste hierarchy, addressing the prevention of waste.

Auken is looking forward to a proactive future: “We should try to say this is the goal and make sure that tools at all times are as good as possible and that political regulation is as good as possible to get there, changing things whenever we see problems. That’s my philosophy.”

Vietnamese incinerators create deadly dioxin gases

Many incinerators in Viet Nam are discharging high amount of dioxins into the environment, according to a new research.

The research was carried out by the project titled Environmental Remediation in Dioxin Contaminated Hotspots in Viet Nam organised by the Office of National Steering Committee 33, the body in charge of handling the consequences of toxic chemicals used by the United States during the war in Viet Nam and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE).

The research results were extracted in a report on the dioxin contamination in the environment of Viet Nam issued in November last year.

“In this report, Viet Nam admits for the first time that there’s dioxin discharged from industrial activities besides dioxin left from the war,” Le Ke Son, director of the project and former deputy head of Environment Agency under the MONRE, was quoted by Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper as saying.

Incinerators that burn industrial and medical waste generate most dioxin. This is shown by examination of dioxin and dioxin related compounds (DRCs) in their emission and sewage, the report said.

According to the World Health Organisation, dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

Dioxin influences people’s health, mainly through breathing toxic air and eating polluted food. The emission of dioxin into the environment can directly affect people and animals, while the discharge of dioxin-contaminated sewage poses risk to land, water, sediment and animals.

The researchers took 18 emissions samples from medical, industrial and urban incinerators. All contained DRCs. Seven exceeding the safe limit from several to dozens of times.

Safety issue
Three out of seven samples taken from Ha Noi’s incinerators exceeded the safe limit with the one sample 16 times over the allowed level of 600 picograms toxic equivalent (TEQ) of dioxin per normal cubic metre.

Hai Duong Province had two samples of industrial waste treatment with TEQ of dioxin up to 46,800 picograms, or 81 times over the allowed level. HCM City had one sample that exceeded the permissible level by five times.

Viet Nam does not set a dioxin limit for sewage, but based on the Japanese standard of 10 picograms per normal cubic metre, HCM City has the worst dioxin pollution with three out of five samples polluted with one exceeding the limit by 5,000 times.

Two samples in Ha Noi were five and 23 times over the limit while four samples in Hai Duong Province were between three and 129 times above the permited level.

Son blamed backward technology for generating dioxin at incineration plants.

Most incinerators in Viet Nam had low capacity and few could reach the temperature needed to break down dioxin, he said. Besides, the emissions in a number of incinerators were treated by cooling, which raise concern over discharging dioxin emission into the atmosphere.

According Nguyen Huy Nga, former director of the Health Environment Management Agency under the Ministry of Health, incinerators have been banned in developed countries for many years as it pollutes the environment and poses threat to people’s health. In Viet Nam, the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment also recommend not using incinerators.

The country now has about 400 incinerators for treating medical waste. Most have been in operation since 2000, he said.

“In 2012, MONRE set a standard for industrial incinerators. However, none of the incinerators for medical waste meet the standard,” Nga told the newspaper.

He expressed deep concern about dioxin pollution as many of the incinerators were near residential areas.

Incinerator plan cancelled after thousands join violent protests in Chinese town

Three police cars were vandalised and flipped during the protest against the Langtang incinerator. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Three police cars were vandalised and flipped during the protest against the Langtang incinerator. Photo: SCMP Pictures

A western Guangdong city has cancelled a plan to build an incinerator that prompted a protest – of up to 10,000 people on some accounts – during which three police cars were flipped and a duty office vandalised.

Luoding city government posted two letters on its website on Wednesday announcing the decision. One informed the Langtang township government that it had decided to cancel the project, which Langtang had brokered with China Resources Cement Holdings. The second urged residents to stop blocking roads, vandalising property or disturbing public order.

The decision came after residents of the town engaged in a defiant stand-off with police on Tuesday, in protest against what they said was the violent handling of a peaceful sit-in against the incinerator on Monday.

Chinese police face off against protesters in Langtang. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Chinese police face off against protesters in Langtang. Photo: SCMP Pictures

“People are angry with the site selection of the incinerator as it is within a 1km radius of people’s homes,” said one young resident. “The cement factory is producing enough pollution, we don’t need another polluter.”

Residents said about 1,000 locals turned up to Monday’s sit-in, which took place outside a cement factory owned by China Resources. They claim demonstrators were beaten by more than 100 men dressed in black and armed with batons, helmets and shields. They say the men were a mix of policemen and security guards.

“My nephew is only 14 and is suffering from concussion after he was beaten by the men with batons,” said one resident.

“It was very brutal and totally unnecessary to use such force against unarmed civilians during a peaceful and rational demonstration, especially as they attacked children too.”

The clash at Monday’s sit-in protest triggered the larger protest on Tuesday, which residents say involved about 10,000 locals.

Langtang villagers face off against police in a protest over an incinerator. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Langtang villagers face off against police in a protest over an incinerator. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Luoding city government claimed only 400 residents had taken part in Tuesday’s standoff and denied any had been injured.

It said on Monday “a small number of troublemakers instigated the crowd” to block roads and throw rocks at factory staff.

Police arrested the “troublemakers” but 400 others gathered the next day, with some throwing rocks and glass bottles and vandalising police cars and the duty office, it said.