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August, 2013:

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Pollution Hits Very High Level

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Pollution Hits Very High Level

By Jasmine Wang & Stephanie TongAug 22, 2013 3:54 PM GMT+0800

Hong Kong’s air pollution index reached “very high” levels today as a tropical storm that passed through Taiwan trapped pollutants and blanketed the city in haze, triggering a government health warning.

The index was 153 at roadside-monitoring stations in the Central business district, nearing the highest in more than four months, as of 3:00 p.m. The reading was 159 in the commercial district Causeway Bay and 152 in Mong Kok. A reading of more than 100 triggers a government warning for people with heart or respiratory illness to avoid prolonged stays in heavy-traffic areas.

Enlarge image Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Haze surrounds the International Commerce Centre (ICC), center, as it stands in the West Kowloon district of Hong Kong on April 15, 2013.

Haze surrounds the International Commerce Centre (ICC), center, as it stands in the West Kowloon district of Hong Kong on April 15, 2013. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Enlarge image Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Haze Blankets Hong Kong as Air Pollution Hits Very High Level

Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Commuters wait at a bus stop in Hong Kong.

Commuters wait at a bus stop in Hong Kong. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Severe Tropical Storm Trami is heading toward southeastern China after unleashing rain in Taiwan, leading to still air in parts of the Pearl River region. Leung Chun-ying, who took over as Hong Kong’s leader last July, has made cleaning up the city’s skies a priority with air quality worsening since 2007.

“Because of the typhoon, we don’t have any wind, the air now is like static, pollutants accumulate and they can’t get out,” Kwong Sum-yin, chief executive officer at Clean Air Network, a non-profit advocacy group, said by phone today. “Central is pretty bad, exactly because we have so many skyscrapers.”

The former British colony, which will raise its air quality standards, has never met its targets since they were adopted 26 years ago, according to a government audit in November. Hong Kong relies on the wind to help sweep away choking emissions from Chinese factories and vehicles.

“The high air pollution incident is a result of the trapping of local pollutants, in particular nitrogen dioxide, in the territory under the light wind,” the Environmental Protection Department said in an e-mailed statement today. The air quality will improve gradually today as the wind picks up, it said, citing the city’s observatory.


The department also said most pollutants, except ozone and roadside nitrogen dioxide, have dropped in recent years. The government is seeking to further cut local emissions, especially those from vehicles, it said.

“We do consider it a challenge to Hong Kong’s competitiveness,” Richard Vuylsteke, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said by phone today. “People that the companies try to hire to come here – like people with asthma or their children with asthma problems – will finally find they would prefer to go to Singapore or some place else to work.”

The government said it will offer HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion) in subsidies to replace old diesel vehicles and limit their life-span to battle smog that’s responsible for more than 1,600 premature deaths in the first half of the year. The Chinese city is also seeking to enact legislation that will mandate ships berthing at its ports to switch to cleaner fuel over the next two years.

Still, the government needs to take more and faster action to eliminate buses and trucks that don’t meet environmental standard, said Jens-Erik Olsen, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

“The polluters are the trucks and the buses,” Olsen said today by phone. “We have asked the government to take immediate action on roadside pollution in Hong Kong for years. It is a disgrace.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jasmine Wang in Hong Kong at; Stephanie Tong in Hong Kong at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hwee Ann Tan at

Mine urban waste, not oceans, say campaigners

Flickr/Defence Images/Harland Quarrington

Speed read

· Deep-sea mining should be cast aside for ‘urban mining’, say campaigners

· E-waste could meet up to half the demand for metals used in electronics

· But recycling must be regulated to ensure its safe and efficient

Controversial plans to mine the floor of the Pacific Ocean should not go ahead before Earth’s ‘urban mines’ have been exploited, say campaigners.

They made the call following a conference in London this month (31 July-1 August) on deep-sea mining attended by industry leaders and global investors.

Each year silver and gold worth US$21 billion is used in personal computers, mobile phones, tablets and similar devices, creating precious metal ‘deposits’ that are up to 50 times richer than ore mined from the ground, says Natalie Lowrey, a campaigner with the US-based Ocean Foundation.

Recycling this metal, as well as that found in infrastructure like bridges and cables, is known as urban mining.

“If industrial nations took action and invested in urban mining, there would be less environmental impact, we could rid landfills of reusable materials, lower energy costs and conserve natural resources,” says Lowrey.

The Solwara 1 project, which was to be the world’s first deep-sea mine in Papua New Guinea, is currently on hold, but deep sea mining is a likely prospect for the near future. Projects have been planned in the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea, for example, and countries such as India are also surveying ocean floors for mineral riches.

The International Seabed Authority is set to grant the first deep-sea mining licences in 2016. Approximately 1.5 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean floor has already been approved for exploration, according to statistics from the Ocean Foundation.

But this nascent industry is encountering fierce opposition from environmental groups who argue that its consequences could be catastrophic.

Lowrey questions why an industry with unknown ramifications is being pursued when metals that have already been mined are sitting in landfills.

While the demand for rare-earth minerals and the specialty metals used to make electronic devices is one of the key factors driving up metal prices — and making deep-sea mining potentially profitable — it is precisely these products that lack infrastructure for recycling.

“The vast majority of these discarded electronics are shipped to Africaand Asia for low-tech recycling, which in effect is dumping e-waste forsmash-and-burn scavenging by impoverished populations,” says Lowrey.

According to a recent report from the UN Environment Programme, less than one per cent of the metals commonly used in electronics, such as gallium, tellurium and tantalum, are recycled. [1]

These metals are classed as “criticial raw material” by the European Union because of their importance to modern society.

Barbara Reck, an industrial ecologist at Yale University, says that devices are often not designed for recycling, with a typical mobile phone containing 30-40 different metals in such tiny quantities that they are difficult to extract, or in alloys that cannot be broken up.

But, she says, the main reason is that devices are tossed into landfills at the end of their productive life, rather than being collected for reprocessing. “They are being thrown away with the other waste from home.”

With proper infrastructure, Reck estimates that the urban mining of e-waste could meet up to 50 per cent of the demand for specialty metals, so ores would still be needed if current consumption rates continue or increase.

But Reck adds that urban mining is “in the short and medium term the more feasible solution” when compared with the costs of developing infrastructure for deep-sea mining.

Developing formal channels for recycling would also solve the problems associated with the informal mining of e-waste in countries such as China, India and Nigeria, says Deepali Sinha Khetriwal, an urban ecology researcher with the UN University.

She says that these unregulated practices often leave workers and communities exposed to dangerous toxins, and that the unrefined processes lose metal.
“It’s not scientific. It’s not safe. It’s not even efficient. They lose a lot of the material value in this way,” she adds.

But she says that e-waste could prove a valuable source of metals in developing countries if the dangerous smelting work is moved to regulated facilities, and the labour-intensive sorting of e-waste is done by trained workers.

“E-waste recycling can not only be a source of good jobs but could also reduce the environmental burden of getting raw material from primary sources,” Khetriwal concludes.

Link to UNEP report

All carrot, no stick for big business

Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am

CommentInsight & Opinion


The government doesn’t just pander to taxi and minibus operators with a massive subsidy to replace old catalytic converters, a wise reader has pointed out. It mollycoddles the entire transport trade.

Besides the HK$150 million for taxis and minibuses I wrote about [1], there is the HK$400 million earmarked to retrofit the old bus fleets with new emissions control devices under KMB, Citybus, New World First Bus and Long Win.

As an Environmental Protection Department official put it with a perfectly straight face: “We propose to fully fund the franchised bus companies for the capital costs of retrofitting for some 1,400 Euro 2 and 3 buses, including the buses selected for the pre-qualification trial.”

But all those hundreds of millions pale before the mind-boggling HK$10 billion the government has proposed to spend to phase out about 88,000 dirty diesel trucks by 2019 – that is, pre-Euro 4 diesel commercial vehicles.

The plan is still being worked out in discussions with trade leaders – who will no doubt demand their pound of flesh and get it – and then presented to the Legislative Council for funding.

So, the operators pollute our air, and we foot the bill for the clean-up. Another glorious example of our generous welfarism for big corporations and the rich. No wonder corporate types like Stanley Lau Chin-ho of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries denounces welfarism for the poor. Boys and girls, it’s truly a nasty class war out there.

No doubt the trade has argued, and they are probably not bluffing, that either they would do nothing if they had to pay for converting or replacing the polluting vehicles, or they would raise fares and charges to such a high level that the public would end up blaming the government for enforcing tough emissions standards.

I love this corporate welfarism – heads I win, tails you lose. It’s all carrot and no stick.

We all recognise the need to remove or at least lower sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other particulate emissions in our environment. But there must be new and greater penalties and enhanced monitoring to make all these massive subsidies worthwhile. Otherwise, we face an endless cycle of trade subsidy.

Alternatives to waste strategy are necessary

Online comments:

dynamco Aug 22nd 2013  8:51am

43% of HK daily MSW is 90% wet non-combustible food waste <3 MJ/kg calorific value
It contaminates dry MSW, stinks, emits methane & hinders recycling
It should be mandatorily separated, collected as Green bin waste, pulped & sent thru the sewage system to Stonecutters (SC) for treatment
By 2016 SC can handle 2.4 million m3 per day vs current load of 1.4m m3 so 3.300 m3 of pulped food waste per day is inconsequential loading
HK Govt includes foreign imported MSW in its opaque 40+% recycling figures which are now hit by ‘Operation Green Fence’ blocking its re-export (recycling)
California’s mandatory recycling rates R in excess of 70%. Remove our food waste as above & open local recycling centres here
We need no incinerator with killer toxic emissions & residue ash lagoons in the sea
Copy San Francisco’s plan for their current 77% recycling rate & consign ENB’s retrograde bury burn waste plan to the ‘bin’

Santa Monica 2010: 70+% recycling rate – Zero Waste initiative

Green-bin free collection

Flash dance

40 incinerators closed/Zero waste plan adopted

Meanwhile reverse-mine our landfills to create land for public housing

Why Santa Monica ? clean air, a proper recycling and  waste disposal system

see who chose a house there ……………

Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am


Alternatives to waste strategy are necessary

In his letter (“Cement plan not yet viable refuse solution [1]“, August 16), Elvis Au, assistant director of environmental protection, criticised a trial by Green Island Cement of a project to develop a waste incineration facility.

Mr Au is instead a staunch advocate of a waste incinerator he likes to describe as a “waste-to-energy” scheme. Yet while the government aims to build one of the world’s largest waste incinerators, he conveniently omits to mention that there have been no trials whatsoever of such a facility in Hong Kong – that’s unless you count Hong Kong’s former waste incinerators, which were shut down last century for being too filthy.

In Mr Au’s view, a “thorough environmental impact assessment study” is required for the Green Island Cement plan. Yet such a study is also lacking for the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator scheme. All that I am aware of is an assessment focusing on selecting an incinerator site. This was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Department, which, conveniently, was also responsible for passing the study.

Information in the impact assessment report is often scant. For instance, emissions including particulates are a major concern, yet what little data there is has evidently been plucked out of thin air, rather than from trials involving Hong Kong waste.

I noticed no mention of studies finding links between proximity to incinerators and increased risks of birth defects and cancer. When it comes to its own project, the department seems unperturbed by data that is lacking or muddled.

Previous letters have noted issues with figures on waste, which should be crucial to determining strategies. The picture is hazy, thanks to varying methods of estimation.

Mr Au says Hong Kong’s waste strategy needs “the joint efforts of the entire community”, yet the government remains fixated on an outmoded strategy centred on dumping and burning waste, whilst showing no interest in considering alternatives and holding meaningful, open discussions.

Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors


Markham shines as a model city for waste diversion

Toronto Star

News / GTA

Markham shines as a model city for waste diversion

By: Royson James City Columnist, Published on Thu Aug 15 2013

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Markham residents are diverting 81 per cent of their waste from the landfill — an astonishing achievement and a symbol of what can be accomplished with inspired leadership.

The world-class diversion rate is among the best in Canada and North America — a full 15 percentage points higher than the single-family home rate in Toronto, from whom Markham borrowed many ideas.

“We are the best of the best, but we are going for zero waste,” said Councillor Carolina Moretti at a news conference celebrating the news Wednesday.

Politicians, city staff, the private waste contractor and citizens gathered in Chestertown Square, a Ward 4 neighbourhood parkette in the old village of Markham. That ward, east of Kennedy, north of Highway 407, is one of Markham largest, with 53,000 residents. Yet it has an incredible participation rate of 100 per cent.

Toronto’s combined diversion rate was only 52 per cent last year. Single-family homes divert two-thirds of their waste in Toronto. Apartment and condo dwellers divert only one-quarter, and that’s the main drag on the city’s 70 per cent diversion target.

Markham was already at 70 per cent when it embarked on a new strategy last April to raise the bar even higher. The city didn’t use magic or special garbage vacs or new high-priced technology or huge fees and taxes.

In fact, the city’s “Best of the Best,” its road map to 80 per cent diversion, used the Toronto waste diversion plan and only tweaked it a bit.

“It’s smart what Geoff Rathbone (former waste czar) did in Toronto. We followed that first launch in Etobicoke. The key difference is the clear garbage bag,” says Claudia Marsales, a waste manager so dedicated to the cause she’s dubbed “Queen of the Heap.”

In Markham, one of Canada’s richest municipalities, you can put out an unlimited number of bags of waste on garbage day, so long as everyone can see what’s in them. That is proving enough of a deterrent.

You can’t stash your recyclables in green or black garbage bags, like they do in Vaughan. You can’t pay to dump food scraps in a big bin, as Toronto, in effect, allows. And because there are no bag limits, there’s no need for bag tags.

As in Toronto, organic waste is collected weekly in the green bin; residual garbage and yard waste is picked up every other week. But blue box recycling is weekly. Apart from more frequent blue box collection — reflecting the small blue box compared to large Toronto’s blue bins — the main difference is the clear bag for non-recyclables and non-compostables.

Suddenly, Marsales said, participation spiked as residents knew the transparent bags revealed all they were throwing out.

“You can’t hide it in a big cart. The neighbours see it. You can’t pay for more bags — besides, people do get used to user-pay (so it doesn’t necessarily change behaviour). It’s totally democratic. You can’t buy yourself out of it.”

The change, implemented in April, didn’t cost residents a penny more; garbage collection remained on the property tax bill; but the small change has reaped big benefits.

Stuck with a diversion rate in the 70s for eight years, the new approach has pushed Markham above the 80 per cent nirvana. To get to zero waste, says Deputy Mayor Jack Heath, municipalities will need federal packaging legislation.

Toronto developed an entirely new system, made waste management a utility, imposed fees, and introduced bins that have created problems for many homes not on traditional lots. Markham’s success suggests that a clear bag system might have been more productive for the diverse housing forms in the big city. Different strokes.

Markham is perplexing — in a good way.

It’s among the richest municipalities in Canada — a fact that conjures up images of exclusive enclaves of high-priced mansions and gated communities populated by blue-blood Canada. Yet, it’s here that new urbanism was given a boost with the developments in Cornell.

Nearly 30 years ago, the then-town was excoriated across Canada for being less than welcoming to Chinese residents. Now, Chinese are very much part of the Markham fabric. And Markham regularly boasts that it is the most diverse municipality in Canada.

And still rich. And very environmentally conscious.

This goes to show that the affluent can be just as socially responsible as the tree huggers and active do-gooders.

Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email:

Hong Kong faces quandary over plastics recycling

Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am

CommentInsight & Opinion


SCMP Editorial

Hong Kong’s three-coloured bin system for recycling seems simple enough: paper and cardboard goes into the blue, aluminium cans in the yellow and plastics in the brown. Of the first two there is no drama, with ready demand and profits to be made. But plastics pose a problem for recyclers in that there are many types, but only a few that are considered locally to be worth recycling. Invariably, about 85 per cent of the plastics we throw away end up not being turned into useful items, but into landfills.

With our landfills nearing capacity – they will be full by 2019 unless they can be enlarged – that is an absurd situation. It is being exacerbated by the mainland’s Operation Green Fence, an eight-month campaign that targets waste smuggling. Most plastic for recycling was being processed across the border, but it is either being stockpiled or dumped until the operation ends in November. Another curiosity is that it is cheaper for recyclers to bring in pre-sorted waste plastics from overseas.

Education would help, but it is also true that residential recycling of plastics is an unattractive proposition for companies because of the high costs of collecting, separating and processing. Making new plastics is more often than not less expensive. Hong Kong being a free market, and the government’s policy of ensuring a level playing field for business, mean that there are scant incentives on offer for recyclers. Unless a profit can be made, the majority of waste plastic ends up in landfills.

Recycling is a key part of the government’s new waste management strategy, but it will only be effective if there is a use for the material that is recycled. For that to happen, there have to be incentives to conserve, to create a society that is less disposable and an economy that is more reusable. It may be necessary to adopt the polluter-pays principle, whereby companies responsible for creating the waste should also take charge of cleaning up the mess. That would put the onus on manufacturers and retail distributors to ensure responsible packaging that is less wasteful and environmentally friendly.

But another part of the equation lies in subsidies for recyclers. Until they are able to turn a profit, they will need help for waste recovery and handling, especially if dealing in plastics. Consideration should be a priority for the steering committee led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that will meet this week to oversee the recycling sector.

Scheme will lead to illegal dumping

Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am


Scheme will lead to illegal dumping

I refer to the letter from the undersecretary for the environment Christine Loh Kung-wai (“Public acceptance of waste-charging scheme is essential [1]“, August 15) where she admits that the cogs of government are grinding rather slowly on the matter of a waste-charging scheme.

Loh cites the necessity of public consultation, though in Hong Kong this usually doesn’t amount to much more than going through the motions.

It appears certain that the logistics of introducing such a fee-charging scheme into this highly congested high-rise environment will be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Such charges will surely encourage illegal dumping and disposal, while not meaningfully reducing the volume of waste going to landfills.

I think the Environmental Protection Department’s time and effort would be better spent on how to maximise waste recycling.

Presently those three little bins that have been introduced are no more than a sorry joke. The undersecretary seems to take umbrage at Philip Bowring’s criticisms (“Land policy on shaky ground [2]“, August 11). but Loh has (pointedly) passed up the opportunity to address the more serious allegations that “officials here refuse to discuss options” to the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator – thus avoiding public consultation.

Loh should respond to Charlie Chan (“Come clean on waste disposal strategy [3]“, August 13) and the many other correspondents who have complained through these columns on the official choice of the Shek Kwu Chau site.

I agree with Bowring that “the public naturally suspects pecuniary interests, not the public interest, are again at play”.

It appears that the Environment Bureau has dug itself into an entrenched position, and those pecuniary interests will not become clear until after the contracts connected to this massive project have been signed off.

K. Y. Leung, Shouson Hill

Idling engine ban law is ineffective

The Hong Kong government could not care less about the quality of Hong Kong’s air.

This is evident in the laughable enforcement of illegally parked cars which spend their entire days idling, free of fear of prosecution.

On days when the very hot weather signal is in effect, these drivers can legally sit for hours on end idling away in air-conditioned comfort, adding to the city’s air pollution totally secure in the knowledge the law is on their side. How can this be the policy of a government concerned with the air we all have to breathe?

That the Environmental Protection Department and police enforcement of illegal parking and illegal idling is incompetently pursued is no longer news. That the government of Leung Chun-ying continues to look the other way and allow this illegal activity to continue unabated reflects his own nefarious neglect of Hong Kong people’s right to clean air.

Mark Peaker, The Peak


Glass recyclers race cleaners to reach empty bottles in Lan Kwai Fong and Soho

Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 12:00am

NewsHong Kong


Olivia Rosenman

Green workers strive to collect city’s mountain of waste glass for reuse

For many Hongkongers, a typhoon signal late in the week might cause concern over the weekend’s junk boat trip or long-awaited alfresco wedding. Others may be pleased that they can get a day off work.

But for April Lai, the head of Green Glass Green, one of Hong Kong’s few glass recycling groups, it provokes anxiety about bags of bottles on Soho’s streets.

One Thursday morning in 2011, a No 8 typhoon signal saw the city shut down – as it did last week. But Lai didn’t appreciate the time off work. She spent the morning glued to the radio, willing the storm to pass. It wasn’t the drunken revellers she feared, but the street cleaners, who were also waiting and would then take off the streets the bottles that Lai sought to recycle. When finally Typhoon Nesat blew over, Lai found none of her usual truck drivers had the time for her pick-up. Frantic phone calls finally yielded someone willing to make the trip, and she just managed to beat the street cleaners. But she is always alert of the risks to her work, and sometimes the odds are stacked up against her.

Every day, Hong Kong produces close to 9,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste in its homes, shops and businesses. That’s around 1.3kg per person each day. Waste glass makes up 3 per cent, the vast majority of it glass bottles, mostly containing alcoholic drinks. Waste glass is heavy, bulky and does not break down easily. It is also steadily flowing into Hong Kong’s brimming landfills. Around 100,000 tonnes of glass bottles are dumped in landfills every year.

At 7am on Saturday, just down from the doors of Hotel LKF on Wyndham Street, Avi, a businessman, surveys a mountain of rubbish on the footpath.

“Every weekend it’s like this,” he says. “They only stopped partying an hour ago.”

Lai and her crew are knee-deep in bags of rubbish, stinking and sodden from the overnight downpour. The street is quiet, except for the occasional roar of a passing truck and the tinkle of glass as Lai and her colleagues empty bags of it into a skip to be loaded onto her truck.

Green Glass Green collects glass three mornings a week, mostly in Wan Chai and Soho.

It’s back-breaking, smelly work and it only makes a small reduction in the mountain of glass waste generated by the city’s bar-hoppers.

Less than 5 per cent of Hong Kong’s waste glass is recycled. Around 250 tonnes of discarded glass bottles are sent to Hong Kong’s landfills every day. That is an equivalent in weight to 140 of the taxis that transport many of Soho’s revellers home after they’ve finished draining the contents of those same bottles.

As sweaty men in tight jeans stumble past, clutching kebabs, Lai tirelessly loads bottles into three-tonne trucks that transport them to recycler Tiostone Environmental in Tuen Mun.

She is full of remarkable strength and energy for someone so petite and it’s hard to keep up with her as she strides between collection points along Hollywood Road and Wyndham Street.

Along the way she picks up several stray bottles – each a “one for the road” that didn’t quite make it home.

From unwanted bottles to useful bricks

Online comments

dynamco Aug 18th 2013 9:19am

This Tiostone concept emanated from the HK Polytechnic where Dixon Chan & Chi Sun Poon wrote papers on incorporating waste materials into Eco-glass bricks

However they use flyash in the product & the jury Is still out on whether such can be encapsulated without leaching the toxic heavy metals found in flyash from coal combustion.

60 minutes video on coal ash

“Even the EPA has promoted the reuse of coal ash in manufacturing, but an inspector general’s report issued earlier this year found that in allowing the reuse of coal ash, the agency had not sufficiently assessed the environmental risk of a material which, in its second life as a wallboard or a road surface, still contains the original toxic compounds. (Care to re-do the baby’s room with sheet rock that contains dioxins, lead, mercury and cadmium?)”

“On November 2, 2009 the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced in a report that a formal investigation into the EPA’s “partnership” with the coal industry to market coal ash reuse in consumer, agricultural & industrial products was underway. The report also criticized the EPA for not releasing a report about cancer risks associated to the exposure of coal ash until March of 2009, a full seven years after the study was completed.”

South China Morning Post

Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > From unwanted bottles to useful bricks

From unwanted bottles to useful bricks

Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 12:00am

NewsHong Kong


Olivia Rosenman

When bottles arrive at Tiostone Environmental in Tuen Mun, they are crushed into glass sand which is mixed with fly ash from power plants and some other construction waste products to form bricks.

“There’s no heat or fire involved in the whole process,” says Dixon Chan, Tiostone’s director.

Some companies, including Coca-Cola and Kowloon Dairy, reuse their glass bottles several times before sending them to Tiostone for recycling.

Tiostone, which began operating in 2005, produces between 10,000 and 15,000 square metres of bricks a year, which are mostly used for paving. At present, the company’s biggest buyers are government contractors.

Tiostone ecobricks have been put to use in redeveloping Kai Tak, and are often used to pave emergency vehicle access roads.

“They can sustain the load of a fire truck,” he says.

As with most green products, ecobricks are more expensive than their non-recycled counterparts, especially those from the mainland.

“You have to compare apples to apples,” says Chan. “We are not on the same page as the Chinese bricks. They are low-strength, do not meet the standard and have very bad colour.”

Chan says Tiostone has the capacity to process more waste glass, but finding a market willing to pay for the product has proved difficult. He is urging the government to adopt a green procurement programme to ensure all new government developments use ecobricks and other green building materials.

Another challenge the company faces is high premiums for workers’ insurance. It’s a common issue in the recycling industry, as new technologies and processes make insurers wary.

“It’s a very big disadvantage to all recycling businesses in Hong Kong,” says Chan.

Even the EPA has promoted the reuse of coal ash in manufacturing, but an inspector general’s report issued earlier this year found that in allowing the reuse of coal ash, the agency had not sufficiently assessed the environmental risk of a material which, in its second life as a wallboard or a road surface, still contains the original toxic compounds. (Care to re-do the baby’s room with sheet rock that contains dioxins, lead, mercury and cadmium?)

Office of Inspector General Investigates EPA’s ‘Partnership’ with Coal Industry

On November 2, 2009 the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced in a report that a formal investigation into the EPA’s “partnership” with the coal industry to market coal ash reuse in consumer, agricultural and industrial products was underway. The report also criticized the EPA for not releasing a report about cancer risks associated to the exposure of coal ash until March of 2009, a full seven years after the study was completed. The OIG investigation is a result of CBS’s “60 Minutes” piece on coal ash in which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson admitted that her agency had not produced any studies indicating that the re-use of coal ash was safe

Recent USEPA reports indicate that coal waste leaches hazardous pollution in much greater quantities than had been recognized previously, contributing to over 100 documented contamination sites nationwide, several of which are in Illinois.

Groups sue EPA for coal ash regulation

In April 2012, eleven environmental organizations filed suit against the EPA to force it to better regulate toxic coal ash, citing recent groundwater contamination at 29 coal ash dump sites in 16 states, according to EPA data. Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit, said the EPA has not updated coal ash disposal and control regulations in more than 30 years, and continues to delay new rules despite recent evidence of “leaking waste ponds, poisoned groundwater supplies and threats to public health.”

On March 23, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general released a report stating that the federal government had promoted some uses of coal ash, including wallboard or filler in road embankments, without properly testing the environmental risks. The report said wallboard “may represent a large universe of inappropriate disposal applications with unknown potential for adverse environmental and human health impacts.”

Evaluation of municipal waste incinerator fly ash toxicity and the role of cadmium by two aquatic toxicity tests Abstract

“Fly ash from a municipal solid waste incinerator in Japan is regulated under the hazardous waste regulation “Waste under Special Control” according to the Amendment of the Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law, because it contains high concentrations of heavy metals which are available for leaching. To evaluate the toxicity of fly ash, a fly ash leachate was prepared according to the Japanese standard leaching procedure. The chemical analysis of the leachate showed that possibly one of the most toxic substances was cadmium. The toxicity of the leachate and the cadmium was determined by algal assay and a Daphnia acute toxicity test. The results showed that the leachate was about seven times more toxic to the growth of algae and 20 to 30 times more toxic to the survival of Daphnia than expected from its cadmium concentration”

‘March of the incinerators’ threatens drive to recycle more rubbish

‘March of the incinerators’ threatens drive to recycle more rubbish

Rise in number of plants burning waste may be disincentive to greener methods of disposal

Workers sort recycling at Greenstar Recycling

Workers sort recycling at Greenstar Recycling facility at Aldridge near Walsall. Building more incinerators could be a disincentive to such efforts. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

A rush to build incinerators to burn waste and break the UK’s reliance on landfill is threatening the country’s commitment to increase its recycling rates.

As new figures reveal that recycling rates have fallen for the first time in 30 years, experts warn that the UK is in danger of building far more incineration capacity than it needs. The controversial waste disposal systems are used to produce electricity and heat for homes and industry. But there are fears that the “march of the incinerators”, as some have called it, will act as a disincentive for councils to recycle waste.

Historically, the UK has used landfill as its preferred method for waste disposal and, as a result, has been slower to adopt incineration than other EU states. However, an obligation to meet EU directives has meant that in recent years the UK has been forced to find alternative means of disposal. The directives are yielding results. Just under 47 million tonnes of waste was sent to landfill last year, compared with just over 84 million tonnes in 2001.

This has given a significant fillip to the incineration industry both in the UK and abroad. Much of the UK’s waste that ends up being incinerated currently goes to Germany or the Netherlands, where it is burned and used to heat homes. The process is often cheaper than seeking landfill sites in the UK.

Experts said the use of incinerators had consequences for recycling as local authorities were forced to divert waste to feed the plants. “The choice to invest in thermal treatment can hold back recycling efforts,” Adam Baddeley, principal consultant at Eunomia, said. “At one level, the money invested in such plant simply isn’t available to put into building recycling plants or collection infrastructure. And once you’ve built an incinerator or gasifier, there’s a strong incentive to keep it fed with waste, even if that means keeping on collecting as ‘black bag’ rubbish, material that would be economically practicable to collect separately for recycling.”

Charmian Larke, technical adviser for Cornwall Waste Forum, which unsuccessfully opposed a large incinerator in the south-west, questioned the planning process that resulted in incinerators being approved. “Some of them [planning officers] have spent their entire careers trying to get this incinerator so they are wedded to the idea,” Larke said. “But if the council members understood how bad these contracts were, the officers would lose their jobs.”

Larke claimed that many of the incinerators were built in poorer areas. “There’s a feeling that people who are downtrodden have a harder time getting their act together to object, and hence it’s easier to place nasty things next to them.”

Julian Kirby, waste resources campaigner at Friends of the Earth, described incinerators as a 19th-century technology used to treat a 20th-century problem. “The growing success of recycling and food waste collections – and the potential to redesign products to cut waste and boost reuse and recycling even more – mean there are few things more pointlessly parasitic on cash-strapped councils than incinerators,” Kirby said.

There are now 39 incineration plants in the UK that have either been built are under construction or are at the planning stage, and there are concerns about overcapacity.

“The UK needs sufficient infrastructure to treat our residual waste and divert it from landfill,” said Baddeley. “However, with a recycling target of 50% by 2020 and a decline in waste arising, if the large number of planned [incineration] facilities become operational, there is a real risk of us building excess thermal treatment capacity, something we already see in various northern European countries. They over-invested in treatment facilities and are now importing a growing amount of waste, particularly from the UK and Ireland, to fill them.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said sending waste to landfill or incineration should be the last resort. “We have been clear with local authorities that incineration must not compete with recycling or ways of reducing the amount of waste we produce.”