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Hong Kong government can’t meet food waste target at new plant

Officials say costs were underestimated as project was first of its kind

Officials admitted that the government could provide a waste treatment plant in North Lantau with only half the amount of food waste they had earlier estimated.

At a public hearing by the Legislative Council’s public accounts committee today, officials also explained that they underestimated the construction costs of the first phase of the Siu Hoo Wan waste treatment facility by over 200 per cent due to the lack of reference prices for similar projects.

Lawmakers were questioning the officials about an earlier Audit Commission report, which criticised the Environment Bureau for underestimating the construction costs of the plant, ultimately leading to a four-year delay in tendering and commissioning.

The report also questioned whether the government could meet its estimated target of providing the plant with about 86 tonnes of food waste every day.

During the hearing, Vivian Lau Lee-kwan, director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, said her department would be able to provide only about 40 tonnes of food waste from 36 wet markets every day to the plant due to limited resources. “Sorting, collecting and transferring the food waste all involve new resources,” she said.

Facing criticism for the underestimation of the project’s construction costs, assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department Elvis Au Wai-kwong explained that the project was the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

As there was no price reference, the bureau decided to get a tender offer first to obtain a market price before asking the Legco for funding approval, despite the bureau having already estimated in 2010 that the project might cost HK$489 million.

The first offer received in 2011 was “unreasonably high”, said Au, so the bureau cancelled the tender and put out a new one in 2013, which resulted in a “reasonable” offer. In 2014, The Legco’s finance committee approved the bureau’s application for funding of about HK$1.6 billion.

Au said it was difficult to correctly estimate the costs because there were no similar projects in the city and no standard prices across the world for reference.

Regarding doubts over whether the government could meet its target of reducing municipal solid waste per capita by 40 per cent by 2022, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing admitted that the target was “ambitious and progressive”, but said he believed that the Environment Bureau could meet the target with multiple policies and cooperation among different departments.
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