Costly incinerator will be a waste of money
The Environment Bureau recently unveiled the capital cost for the incinerator it plans to build close to Shek Kwu Chau - almost HK$15billion. Is it worth spending that much for a big burner to destroy our 'waste', which contains some 2,000 tonnes of paper, over 1,900 tonnes of plastic and about 3,200 tonnes of food waste a day that could yet be recycled?
The estimated cost in 2008 for an incinerator of the same capacity - handling 3,000 tonnes of waste a day - planned near Tuen Mun was HK$4billion. Only a few years later, the cost has increased by nearly fourfold. Legislators should surely demand that the government provide valid justification for such a huge increase.
At this stage, a breakdown of the new estimate is unavailable. We assume that the reclamation of 16 hectares of land accounts for the bulk of the cost increase (about HK$10 billion). That begs the question: why has the government selected this site, as it would involve throwing so much of taxpayers' money into the sea to 'float' an incinerator? The Advisory Council on the Environment reviewed the environmental impact assessment reports for locating the incinerator in Tuen Mun and in Shek Kwu Chau, and it endorsed both proposals. The council did not make a choice; it is the bureau that claims the offshore plant is more eco-friendly.
Why has the government not opted for the cheaper and faster Tuen Mun proposal? Without convincing reasons, surely our legislators would not blindly approve such huge funding for a Shek Kwu Chau plant.
Former environment minister Sarah Liao Sau-tung has identified the crux of our waste problem as early as 2005: our consumption-led lifestyle. She set out a comprehensive management plan that included measures such as waste charging, food-waste recycling, a ban on landfill and an incinerator to be commissioned by 2014. She also proposed a waste-generation reduction target of 1per cent per year. Her successor, Edward Yau Tang-wah, has never taken it seriously.
The incinerator will also cost HK$353million a year to run. If this money were to be used to enhance our recycling systems and provide incentives to encourage recycling for low-value recyclables, I am sure we could cut down our daily disposal amount by 3,000 tonnes or more - equivalent to the daily capacity of the incinerator. It would also help create jobs for the grass roots while extending the life of our landfills.
It's not rocket science: it only requires a stronger political will from top officials. To burn or not to burn - it is still in the hands of the current administration.
Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of general affairs at Friends of the Earth (HK)