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Ash from incinerator is hazardous

SCMP letter – June 7, 2012

I refer to the letter by Wolfgang Ehmann (“Residual waste cannot be eliminated”, May 23). Since 2007, through these columns, your correspondent has promoted the use of incineration.

In a submission to a Legco panel in March, Mr Ehmann, on behalf of the German Chamber of Commerce, said: “In 2007 our office led a delegation of senior [Environmental Protection Department] staff and stakeholders to Germany to attend the Waste to Energy Trade Fair and visit waste to energy plants in Hamburg and Frankfurt.” So he is doing his job to promote German incineration technology and point out the lack of local legislation to mandate recycling.

Germany, thanks to at-source recycling legislation, has a 70per cent recycling rate, so it now imports waste from around the world to keep its incinerators operational.

What he and the outgoing environment minister sidestep is that incineration thermally converts waste and leaves 23 per cent bottom ash and 6 per cent fly ash by weight, which are hazardous waste, with no landfills left here to take the ash. That means building mega islands to receive the ash.

Last month, a company called Solena Fuels was in town. It uses plasma gasification of waste to produce biofuel for jets and boats, bio-naphtha and biodiesel. Its partners are 15 world airlines and Maersk. There are no ash or emissions from a plasma plant, just a molten slag that can be used as road aggregate.

Incineration and its airborne/soil pollutants have long been associated with dioxins.

The only incinerator of the size proposed here is in Detroit, Michigan, in the US. According to one report, it has cost the city an estimated US$1.2 billion, and has caused increased pollution levels. It says that “asthma death rates in Detroit are two times that for the state”.

Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Department did not mention in a recent environmental impact assessment that three incinerators are planned in Shenzhen from 2015 (burning 6,300 tonnes of waste a day), with predominant northerly winds blowing into Hong Kong.

James Middleton, chairman, Clear the Air

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