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It is possible to wage war on waste without killing porpoises

Martin Williams

Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary for the environment, writes that she and her colleagues see no conflicts between plans to build a “waste-to-energy project”, that is, a massive trash incinerator, and Hong Kong’s contribution to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (“Vital project for waste management”, February 18).

Well, perhaps I can add to the explanation of Paul Melsom in his letter (“Environmental officers should seek to protect, not ruin”, February 4). I anticipate that while invisible to Ms Loh, the conflicts will be crystal clear to most people.

Essentially, the conflicts arise from waters just west of Shek Kwu Chau being a key habitat for finless porpoise, which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes as globally vulnerable to extinction, so should merit strong government protection efforts; yet this is the very site where the government plans to build an artificial island for one of the world’s largest waste incinerators.

As any conservationist would tell you, the best way to protect an endangered species is to safeguard its habitat. Yet the government plans to destroy a key place for the porpoise, and make a currently tranquil area busy with boat traffic plus round-the-clock work on feeding the incinerator.

Ms Loh writes of mitigation measures, such as designating nearby waters as marine park, and releasing fish fry. These may appeal to bureaucrats and engineers seeking to railroad the incinerator project through, but fail to impress conservationists such as Mr Melsom. The increasingly dire situation of the Chinese white dolphin shows that such efforts cannot compensate for the devastating effects of reclamation schemes.

Then, along with producing fumes too poisonous for it to be sited in the city, the incinerator will create highly toxic ash, and there are notions for dumping this in a landfill island to be built south of nearby Cheung Chau. So as well as severely impacting porpoises, the incinerator island will harm other wildlife and threaten human health.

Of course, Hong Kong does need to tackle its waste crisis, but should also protect biodiversity. Though officials are blinkered, there are more options than the government’s burn or bury strategy. From reducing ridiculous packaging, through increased reuse and recycling, to adopting less harmful and more advanced treatment technologies, it is possible to wage war on waste without killing porpoises.

Dr Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

Source URL (modified on Mar 2nd 2015, 12:01am):

Five new treatment plants needed to achieve food waste reduction target

New food treatment centres aimed at helping cut organic trash by 40 per cent in nine years could save company’s rubbish disposal fees

Businesses may be able to save on rubbish disposal fees from 2016 when the first of two food-waste treatment centres dedicated for their use opens as part of a nine-year war on food waste.

The plan of action will also target food waste at source and sets the “aggressive” goal of reducing the amount of food thrown away by 40 per cent – more than 1,440 tonnes per day – by 2022 compared with 2011, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing announced yesterday.

But the plan will not eliminate the need for bigger landfills or incinerators. “This infrastructure is necessary and is like our daily necessities, similar to other facilities such as power plants,” he said.

Wong’s 2014-22 food-waste plan sets out the urgency of tackling the city’s shrinking landfills, where food waste accounts for more than a third of the rubbish.

Each Hongkonger dumps 130kg of food waste every year, double those of people in Seoul and Taipei, the plan says.

The goal will be partially met by a network of organic-waste treatment centres – Siu Ho Wan on northern Lantau, Sha Ling in North District and a third one in Shek Kong, scheduled to start operations in 2016, 2017 and 2021, respectively.

When that happens, businesses may achieve savings by separating their food waste from other rubbish, for which a collection and disposal fee is payable.

The three plants will offer a combined daily capacity of treating 800 tonnes of food waste, or about 22 per cent of the 3,600 tonnes dumped daily in 2011 – the base year used for official comparison.

On top of those facilities, rubbish disposal charges, tentatively to be introduced in 2016 across the board, are aimed at cutting food waste by 320 tonnes or so, while voluntary programmes to reduce waste at source will shave off another 360 tonnes.

Wong said he hoped to build two more treatment centres beyond 2022, possibly in urban areas. Suitable sites were being identified, he said.

The Siu Ho Wan and Sha Ling centres will cater to the business sector initially. Officials are undecided if the plants should charge any gate fees.

Celia Fung Sze-lai, from Friends of the Earth, said the arrangement favoured businesses at the expense of households, which would be exposed to the full impact of the looming rubbish disposal charge.

“I don’t understand why domestic households, which produce the bulk of the food waste, will have no access to the centres after the rubbish disposal charge comes into force by 2016. The centres should cater for all.”

Fung said incentives should be offered to support privately run treatment centres in order to help households or housing estates that were willing to separate food waste.

Initial consultation findings indicate businesses will probably face “weight-based” fees.

Wong said there was a principle to make polluters pay.

He urged people to change their lifestyles. “Many cities improve their waste infrastructure only after waste charging is introduced,” he said.

Wong said they would run a study next year on how best to collect and transport food waste.

Elvis Au Wai-kwong, assistant director of environmental protection, said businesses tended to separate their rubbish better. The Shek Kong plant would cater for households when it came on stream in 2021, he said.

World Green Organisation’s William Yu Yuen-ping suggested developing more district-based centres to minimise the need for long-distance rubbish transfer.

‘Cover up’ claim as incinerator study postponed

Research into effects of waste incineration on human health will be postponed after data had to be ‘manually’ entered

A study aiming to establish whether there is a link between modern municipal waste incinerator emissions and health defects has been postponed until 2015, in what the Breathe Clean Air Group has labelled a government ‘cover-up’.

The research, which was due to be published in March 2014, was approved by the Health Protection Agency in January last year to extend the evidence base and provide further information to the public.

The study involves examining areas of up to 15km around 22 incinerators across England, including Grundon’s Lakeside energy-from-waste facility, the SELCHP plant in Lewisham, the London Waste Edmonton incinerator and SITA UK’s Tees Valley plant in Billingham.

Scientists hope to determine if there is a potential link between incinerator emissions and health outcomes, such as low birth weight, still births and infant deaths.

In addition, a Dundee-based incinerator has also been included in the study, with working relating to the plant funded by a grant from the Scottish Government.

But Public Health England, which is funding King’s College London and Imperial College London to carry out the study, today revealed the preliminary results would not be available until 2015 due to the ‘unanticipated complexity in gathering data’ – caused by having to enter emissions data into an electronic format manually before statistical analysis could begin.

Commenting on the postponement, Pete Kilvert, chairman of the anti-incinerator Breathe Clean Air Group – said he feared the government would instruct the research teams to take ‘an average’ sample around each incinerator rather than look at the consequences on people living ‘downwind’ of each facility.

He said: “The Government is hell bent on burning the country’s waste and telling us that it won’t do us any harm. When waste such as plastics, metals and organic material are burnt at low temperatures, then new chemicals such as dioxins and heavy metals will settle out into our community.”

Public Health England today said it continues to stand by its position that well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.

Commenting on the delay, Dr Simon Bouffler, deputy director of Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “It was originally envisaged that preliminary results for this study would be available by March 2014 but because of the unanticipated complexity in gathering data this has been delayed.

“A paper with preliminary results is now expected to be prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed journal around the end of 2014, with publication in 2015.”

He added: “Some of the data on emissions from MWIs were unexpectedly held in paper format rather than in electronic files, and had to be entered manually onto computer before the statistical analysis could begin. There was a delay while this process took place.”

Comparative Assessment of Particulate Air Pollution Exposure from Municipal Solid Waste Incinerator Emissions

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After Incineration The Toxic Ash Problem

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