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August 22nd, 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