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June 3rd, 2012:

Waste: balancing business and the environment

The international transport of rubbish is good business. Here, the Emma Maersk is the biggest container ship in the world

Image Caption: The international transport of rubbish is good business. Here, the Emma Maersk is the biggest container ship in the world (Ex-press)


by Jean-Michel Berthoud,

The cross border traffic of waste is today a global business and sometimes even makes ecological sense, according to experts. The important thing is for future problems to be dealt with efficiently and with international cooperation.

In Naples in January 2008, lack of waste collection meant some 110,000 tonnes of rubbish piled up in the streets. Fourteen Swiss waste incineration facilities held talks with the Neapolitan authorities about importing the rubbish.

The Swiss were not the only ones offering to help, however; foreign competitors were also interested.

The Federal Environment Office told at the time that importing other countries’ refuse made sense because Switzerland could make the most of the available capacity of its incineration plants.

It admitted that importing rubbish wasn’t a long-term solution, but in the short term it could prevent environmental pollution.

WWF Switzerland agreed that from a short-term point of view it was surely better to get rid of the rubbish in Swiss incinerators than burning it on Italian streets. The environmental group believed it would be wrong, however, to increase the capacity in Switzerland on economic grounds in order to burn foreign rubbish.


The deal with Naples never happened – the rubbish was disposed of in Italy – but the international trafficking of waste is today a lucrative business.

In the Bazenheid incinerator in canton St Gallen, getting rid of one tonne of household waste a few years ago cost SFr250 ($258). Burning 110,000 tonnes would therefore have brought in SFr27.5 million.

“Obviously it makes most sense to get rid of the rubbish in the place where it comes from,” Felix Meier from WWF

“But if this isn’t possible in an environmentally sound way, then it makes sense to export the rubbish – even big distances, as would have been the case with Naples. Especially when the clean Swiss incinerators have capacity.”

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal is also valid in Switzerland.

“This stipulates autonomy of disposal, which in Switzerland has been implemented, for exports among other areas,” André Hauser from the Federal Environment Office told

“For example, exports of municipal waste or of exports of waste to be disposed of in surface landfills are not permitted.”

The Basel Convention also covers imports, with the import of rubbish to be deposited in Swiss storage facilities also banned.

“As long as the capacity and the technology is available, it should be possible to import waste. What’s more, the latest technology means incinerating municipal waste is better for the environment that dumping it in a landfill.”

Safe trains

Switzerland exports around 500,000 tonnes of hazardous waste every year and imports just over 30,000 tonnes. How safe is transporting it?

“The dangerous goods law should guarantee safe transport on the roads or railways. If it’s also a question of waste, the regulations also cover packaging and other conditions,” Hauser said.

Meier from WWF said that for hazardous waste there had been an international accord for more than ten years, according to which the exporter has to take care of the disposal of the waste and bears responsibility should something go wrong.

“This is not an absolute guarantee, but exporters are very much aware of it,” he said.

Hauser said it basically made more sense to transport waste across borders using trains.

“There are no clauses in the waste law which demand that. We’re just checking whether disposal per se is ecologically compatible,” he said.

For Meier, trains “clearly have the lead” when it comes to the environment and safety.

“In this respect the state could support the railways more and also check the safety requirements for freight trains.”

Export of rubbish

Switzerland is considered a recycling world champion, yet the country still exports rubbish.

Hauser believes exporting rubbish can make sense, “above all when it concerns recycling”.

He said Switzerland had few possibilities to take care of rare or precious metals, for which there are only a few specialist plants around the world.

“Even if you consider the remediation of contaminated sites which is currently taking place in Switzerland, we don’t have enough capacity to treat the waste according to the state-of-the-art technology,” he said.

He added, however, that as a general principle waste should be disposed of within Switzerland.

“But municipal waste, sewage sludge and combustible construction waste should not be exported at all.”

Felix Meier said practically all Swiss household waste was disposed of in advanced incineration facilities.

He said it was often not worth building special disposal plants for refuse which accumulated in smaller quantities, such as hazardous waste. “There are just as good and better value options abroad.”

Waste as commodity

“Our massive consumption of goods means we use up three times as much as our planet can provide. Our resources are thus becoming increasingly scarce and more expensive,” Meier said.

He added that, as a result, using waste as a source for new resources was growing strongly.

“For example the amount of gold in [all] our mobile phones is greater than in most goldmines. Linked to that, waste is turning into a commodity – in other words, it’s becoming a goldmine,” he said.

“Today, there’s already a good market for relatively clean collected waste like paper, aluminium and batteries. This also benefits the environment.”

Jean-Michel Berthoud,
(Translated from French by Thomas Stephens)

BAA threatens to sue the Government over third runway at Heathrow

By Tom Mcghie

PUBLISHED: 20:07 GMT, 2 June 2012 | UPDATED: 08:10 GMT, 3 June 2012

Heathrow operator BAA is threatening to sue the Government if it continues to rule out considering a third runway as an option to expand airport capacity in Britain.

BAA believes that a point-blank refusal by the Government to look into building a new runway would be a breach of ‘proper process’, say company sources.

The firm has consulted lawyers and believes it has a good case to get the Government to consider the expansion.

Grounded: The Government has ruled a third runway at Heathrow

It believes there is a precedent for the Government to change its mind as two councils successfully mounted a judicial review in 2002 against Labour’s refusal to consider the case for expanding Gatwick airport.

David Cameron and Transport Secretary Justine Greening are insisting that all options – a new island airport in the Thames estuary and extra runways at Stansted and Gatwick – are legitimate subjects for discussion, but a third runway at Heathrow has been ruled out.


Downing Street insists that the objection to the Heathrow runway was part of the Coalition agreement.

Greening, whose Putney seat in south-west London is under the flight path, said a third runway would involve ‘unacceptable environmental policies’.

A policy document on a hub airport was due in spring, but was postponed until the early summer. However, it is not now expected to be published until the autumn.

Evidence suggests Heathrow is so overcrowded that major international airlines prefer to use Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Frankfurt Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol.

There is growing pressure from airline chiefs, business leaders and influential voices within the Conservative party for the Government to change its mind.

Expanding airport capacity in Britain is regarded as a crucial step to boosting the economy and keeping the country attractive for business, industry and tourism.

A report from the European Commission on the British economy, published last week, highlighted the lack of airport capacity in the South-East as a possible obstacle to recovery, although it made no suggestions about the best solution.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia, has refused to take part in any policy discussions while the Government continues its ban on any discussion of a third runway at Heathrow.

Chancellor George Osborne believes a £50billion Thames estuary airport would be far too expensive.

Read more:

Built-in refund can be good news for recycling in Hong Kong


Jun 03, 2012

I refer to the letter by Syed M. Sumayed (“HK cannot solve its serious waste problems with stopgap measures”, May 27). The idea, in principle, of a charge for polluters is good, but it could be better.

A charge added to a product’s sales price, which would be refunded upon return to the store, would be a much better solution. This way we would charge polluters but help recyclers.

Take, for example, batteries. Add, let’s say, HK$10 to the price, but give back HK$10 if the product gets returned to the store for recycling. With bottles, add, let’s say, HK$2 per bottle and offer a refund when it is returned to the shop.

The same could be done with plastic packaging (for example bottles of laundry detergent and softener), with HK$5 added and refunded when the packaging is returned.

This could be coupled with new government rules that plastic could no longer be used for packaging liquids, just glass, and that manufacturers have to take back their waste if they wish to sell products on the Hong Kong market. Trucks transporting produce to point-of-sale locations would no longer need to waste the empty return trip, but instead return full with empty packaging material to be reused.

This in turn would create extra jobs at manufacturing plants, as all this material would have to be prepared for reuse.

The commercial trade might cry foul and say this isn’t possible in crowded Hong Kong due to space limitations. My answer to that is to open the market; those who don’t want to listen can take the highway and make way for more willing companies which want to support Hong Kong and do things the right way.

Marco Veringa, Tsim Sha Tsui