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April 6th, 2012:

Roadside air pollution in Hong Kong: Why is it still so bad?

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Open minds could find more creative solutions for third airport runway

SCMP – 6 April 2012

I share Richard Fielding’s concern that “a third runway will do nothing to relieve crowding in the airspace over the Pearl River estuary”, which is but a side issue in his letter (“Third runway lobby ignoring serious environmental impact of growth”, March 29).

Indeed, by requiring an extension of Hong Kong’s airspace both north and west into the airspace over the Pearl River estuary to make the third runway workable, it will add much to the crowding and increase the complexity in airspace management there.

It will in turn add considerably to the workload and complexity of operations for Hong Kong’s airspace management. I refer to the near-collision between two aircraft on September 18, 2011 [waiting to land at the airport].

So far, the case presented to the public for adding a third runway to Chek Lap Kok has addressed only the simplistic number-crunching side of it but not the above problem, which is not so simple to quantify.

Even then, it begs the question of how soon a fourth runway will be required and where there is physical room for it.

If there is no room for it, and the third runway will not be operational until at least 2023 anyway, why not build an all-new three-runway airport elsewhere, with the room for straightforward growth to a fourth or even a fifth runway?

The third runway does not have to be at the Shenzhen airport (linked to Chek Lap Kok by fast rail) although it does seem like a more viable option than building one at Hong Kong airport, if all factors are taken into consideration. And it has been reported that London is considering connecting Heathrow with Gatwick by fast rail to make them function like one airport.

The section in Chapter 2 of the Airport Authority’s Master Plan 2030 technical report, titled “Relying on Neighbouring Airports is Not an Option”, dismisses it so feebly that it reads like thinking inside a self-created political box.

The air-services-agreement implication it is premised on would surely fall away if Beijing would simply deem such an already existing “third Hong Kong runway” at Shenzhen airport a part of Hong Kong. It is, after all, “one country”.

I am so glad the Executive Council is unlikely to make a final decision until 2015.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

In Hong Kong, a Precipice of Waste

Published: February 6, 2011

HONG KONG — Retailers, manufacturers and economists love it: the annual consumption splurge that accompanies the Lunar New Year across vast parts of Asia.


A blog about energy and the environment.

Judging by the frenzied activity in Hong Kong’s gleaming shopping centers and in its less-gleaming street markets, the start of the Year of the Rabbit last week produced yet another spend-fest.

Environmentalists, however, are less happy.

Take “lai see” envelopes, for instance. Small and garishly red, they are used to give gifts of cash to family members and employees to mark the New Year in Chinese and other East Asian societies. Sounds innocuous enough.

But if estimates by the Hong Kong campaign group Greeners Action are to be believed, more than 9,200 trees’ worth of paper is being handed out in the form of 180 million of these “red packets” this year in Hong Kong alone. Considering that Hong Kong has a population of seven million, that is more than 25 envelopes per person.

Last month, Greeners Action called on Hong Kong residents to recycle their lai see envelopes.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong office of Friends of the Earth estimated in December that one-fifth of the food at traditional Chinese banquets in Hong Kong is thrown away. Company and wedding banquets are traditionally opulent affairs spanning as many as 12 courses, and they are designed to display generosity and wealth. Friends of the Earth is now urging residents to cut their banquet orders by two courses in a bid to reduce waste.

Don’t get me wrong; Western societies are wasteful, too, and the annual mountains of Christmas wrapping paper undoubtedly dwarf the piles of lai see envelopes that are thrown away in this part of the world each year. But Hong Kong, it seems, is an especially wasteful society.

Take a look, for instance, at data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and published in its 2010 Factbook . It showed that two of the wealthiest societies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, produced 410 kilograms and 380 kilograms, respectively, of municipal waste per person each year. That is equivalent to just more than 900 pounds for Japan and 835 pounds for South Korea.

The figure for China, meanwhile, was 115 kilograms. The United States generates an average of 760 kilograms of trash per person annually, while the average in the European Union was 520 kilograms.

The O.E.C.D. statistics do not list separate figures for Hong Kong. But based on calculations I did on the back of a napkin using Hong Kong government data, the city easily outdid the world’s most developed societies in terms of per capita garbage generation: 928 kilograms, or 78 percent more than the E.U. average.

City administrators have warned for years that Hong Kong will run out of landfill space around the middle of this decade.

A “policy framework” written by the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department in 2005 called for more waste recovery and recycling, with the aim of ensuring that 50 percent of solid waste was recycled by 2014. To encourage households and businesses to reduce trash, it recommended using alternatives like incinerators for organic waste and charging for garbage disposal.

Still, waste generation has continued to rise. Hong Kong generated 6.5 million tons of trash in 2009, compared with 5.7 million tons five years earlier.

It is no wonder; recycling habits are far from engrained in Hong Kong. Collection points for paper, plastics and metals may have become more plentiful, for example, but their contents are routinely mixed up with other types of waste. Glass recycling of the sort that is standard in Europe does not exist in Hong Kong.

More important, the main cause of all this waste — consumption growth — shows no sign of ebbing. Hong Kong is an economic powerhouse with a well-off society that loves to display its wealth.

Energy-saving habits also have yet to take root. Shopping centers, offices and movie theaters, for example, are air-conditioned to the point that Hong Kong residents take an extra layer of clothing wherever they go, even during the sweltering summer. And while there are new building regulations to encourage “green” construction, older buildings are generally poorly insulated and energy-inefficient.

A worrying question, then, is whether societies that are less well-off today, but becoming wealthier, will become as wasteful as Hong Kong is.

Imagine what would happen if mainland China, for example, with a population of 1.3 billion and 115 kilograms of trash per person, moved closer to the trash levels of Hong Kong — or even of the United States, Europe or Japan. While we cannot begrudge the increased consumption that comes with soaring growth, we would have a serious problem on our hands.

The environmental group WWF, for one, has extrapolated an interesting estimate from Hong Kong’s lifestyle. “Hong Kong people are living beyond the Earth’s limits,” it wrote in a report last month.

“If everyone in the world lived a similar lifestyle to that of Hong Kong people, we would need the equivalent resources of 2.2 earths.”

The recent calls by Greeners Action and Friends of the Earth to waste less and to recycle more are, at least, a sign that attitudes in Hong Kong have begun to shift. But judging by the trash statistics alone, much, much more is needed from residents, businesses and the Hong Kong government.

How about less packaging, far bigger public-awareness drives, and less fierce air-conditioning, for a start?

Shenzhen plans world’s largest incinerator

Choi Chi-yuk and Cheung Chi-fai
Sep 15, 2011

Shenzhen plans to build the “world’s largest” rubbish incinerator, capable of processing 5,000 tonnes a day, in an effort to cope with the almost five million tonnes of domestic waste produced by the city each year.

Lu Ruifeng, the city’s executive vice-mayor, told a group of Guangdong provincial People’s Congress delegates on Tuesday that because its landfills could no longer cope with the growing trash pile produced by its 13 million residents, the city was planning to build the world’s largest incinerator, the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily reported yesterday.

Lu said public consultations had been held on site selection. He admitted that where to put the incinerator was one of the most challenging problems for the project.

The Nanfang Daily said Shenzhen planned to build three waste incinerators by 2015 to burn 80 per cent of the city’s rubbish. It said two of the plants would be in Laohukeng and Nanshandistrict, both in the west of the city, with the third to be built at an unspecified site in the city’s east.

A report in the Guangzhou Daily said Shenzhen had three waste incineration plants in the pipeline, capable of processing a total of 6,300 tonnes of rubbish a day.

Lu said that in order to meet environmental protection standards for the incinerator’s emissions – smell, liquid, ash residue and airborne ash particles – it would make use of mechanical grate technology to improve combustion. It would also adopt advanced management and stick to the highest global air quality standards, the Nanfang Daily reported.

It said Shenzhen was dealing with 4.8 million tonnes of trash a year.

Michelle Au Wing-tze, senior environmental affairs officer at Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong), said Shenzhen was taking a wrong path in waste management.

“Guangzhou has just started to ask people to separate and recycle waste, but Shenzhen is heading in the opposite direction,” she said.

“It is definitely not an image boost to tell others the incinerator will be the world’s largest.”

Au said that if the incinerator had any adverse environmental impacts, like dioxin pollution, it would not just hit Shenzhen and Hong Kong but could spread far beyond the region.

Last year, the daily per capita waste disposal rate in Shenzhen was 1.26kg, compared to 1.28kgin Hong Kong and 0.77kg in Guangzhou.

Hong Kong is also planning to build a large incinerator, with a capacity of 3,000 tonnes a day, on a reclaimed site at Shek Kwu Chau, south of Lantau Island. Environment officials have not ruled out the need to build an extra incinerator to cope with mounting waste.

Waste incineration projects are a sensitive issue in Guangdong, with proposals for new plants often met by fierce local demonstrations, forcing plans to be put on hold. In January, more than 1,000 residents from two districts of Guangzhou staged separate protests against incinerator projects near their neighbourhoods.

Growing environmental awareness among mainlanders as living standards have improved in recent years have fuelled more protests over environmental concerns.

Copyright (c) 2011. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.