Incineration row smoulders on
Environmentalists, business groups and professional bodies disagreed yesterday over how Hong Kong should deal with its mounting waste crisis - especially whether, and when, incineration should be employed.
More than 120 groups and individuals presented their views at a legislature hearing on the waste strategy outlined by the Environmental Protection Department. It includes building a HK$14.9 billion waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau capable of handling 3,000 tonnes of waste a day, and HK$8 billion to build more landfill dumps.
Most participants supported charging households and businesses for waste disposal, which is currently the subject of a public consultation, but were divided over incineration.
The prospect of a landfill dump close to their homes raised opposition from dozens of Tseung Kwan O residents.
Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah defended incineration, calling it indispensable to the city's strategy for dealing with rubbish, since landfills alone would not be sustainable.
Hong Kong had raised its recycling rate to 52 per cent, which was better than London, he noted.
But green groups argued against incineration, asking lawmakers not to approve funding for an incinerator until a volume-based charging scheme for waste was in place.
'Once waste burning is given the go-ahead, all waste reduction and recycling efforts will go down the drain,' said Michelle Au Wing-tze, from Friends of the Earth.
Greener Action's Angus Ho Hon-wai described incineration as a 'path of no return'. It was 'putting the cart before the horse', he said, since recycling had still received too little effort.
Clive Noffke, from Green Lantau Association, said officials had a misplaced focus on getting rid of waste as fast as possible. They had neither the determination nor policies in place to reverse the undesirable consumption pattern that generated the waste.
Residents of Cheung Chau - just five kilometres from the proposed incinerator - opposed it on the basis of technology concerns, environmental impacts and even bad fung shui.
Wolfgang Ehmann, executive director with the German Industry and Commerce delegation, supported a combination of waste management approaches - including incineration and charging - because it would take Hong Kong 20 years to raise the recycling rate to more than 70 per cent, the level in Germany.
Philip Fan Yan-hok, a standing committee member of Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and a director of China Everbright - the largest incinerator operator on the mainland - supported waste charging. However, the incinerator's nearly HK$15 billion price tag seemed very high, he said.
The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce said 60 per cent of its members backed incineration in a poll last year. Daniel Cheng Man-chung, from the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said the city could not wait any longer for incineration. 'Whoever can complete the incinerator the quickest should be allowed to do it,' he said.
Engineering groups also backed incineration. The Hong Kong Institute of Engineers said it was a 'sustainable' alternative, but should be the last option considered.
The Association of Engineers in Society proposed creating an artificial island using rubbish, south of Cheung Chau, and using it for landfill and an incinerator.
The Institute of Architects also backed incineration.
Waste produced in Hong Kong grew by this much in eight years, from 5.3 million tonnes in 2001 to 6.4 million tonnes in 2009