• Thu
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:48am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 4:48am

Does the government need to rethink its incinerator project?


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

The government's plans for dealing with waste are beginning to look awry. It recently had to withdraw its proposal to extend landfills in the face of popular opposition. Its decision to build a big incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau looks as if it will be tied up in the courts for some time. Maybe it is time for the government to rethink some aspects of its plan.

The incinerator project has aroused opposition on account of its proposed location and because of the technology. Many people think it is in the wrong place. As for the technology, it produces a large amount of ash, which has to be treated because of its toxicity and then has to be dumped somewhere. The ash can amount to as much as 20 per cent of the weight of the municipal solid waste (MSW) burned. The present plan involves elaborate arrangements for loading the ash on to barges and shipping it to the ash lagoons in the Northwest New Territories until they are filled up.

The other concern is the public health aspects of incinerators. In the 1990s and 1980s, they spewed out high levels of toxic emissions that have damaged the environment and had a deleterious effect on people's health. It is true that modern incinerators produce a fraction of the emissions of earlier generations. The impact on public health is harder to gauge. In Germany, which has the highest number of incinerators in Europe, and in some other countries, incineration is not seen to be a problem, but in Spain and Britain it is. So, is incineration the best technology for dealing with MSW in Hong Kong?

One technology that is increasingly being employed by municipal authorities around the world is plasma gasification. The EPD says it has looked at the technology but doesn't think it is suitable for handling 3,000 tonnes a day. This view is not shared by the suppliers of the equipment, who say the units are modular and can be combined to deal with this level of waste. A paper by Mousad Pourali, a senior member of the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, written in 2009, says a typical plasma gasification with a feedstock of 3,000 tonnes of MSW a day is estimated to cost more than US$400 million (HK$3.1 billion) and generate about 120 megawatts of electricity. Even if the price doubles, this is a lot less than the HK$28 billion envisaged for the Shek Kwu Chau project. Emissions would be a fraction of the proposed incinerator, and the slag is inert and can be used for building roads, and there is, therefore, no need for barging toxic waste.

Indeed, instead of one large unit, a number of smaller units could be built - one for each of the landfills, which could gradually munch their way through the waste with the aims of emptying them. This seems a far less controversial path to pursue than the one proposed by the government. It's cleaner, it appears to cost less, and it could eventually empty the landfills. For these reasons, the government may stand a better chance of getting such a plan through the Legislative Council.


HSBC's top five coup

Goldman Sachs is maintaining last year's form, topping the Global M&A rankings in the first half of the year. In doing so it accounted for 25 per cent of the market, or US$249 billion. It was followed by JP Morgan with an improvement on last year's third place at this stage of the year, according to Thomson Reuters. Morgan Stanley dropped a place to third. Bank of America Merrill Lynch moved from eighth to fourth place. Our own HSBC held steady in 18th place, the same as last year. However, it did make it into the top five for M&A in Asia ex-Japan for the first time, in a leap which took it from ninth place last year to third place. Well done!


Madoff's 'strange habits'

You would have thought we knew everything there was to know about Bernard Madoff . He is currently cooling his heels in prison after the collapse of his Ponzi scheme. But The Daily Telegraph reports that the High Court litigation against Madoff's London operations gives intriguing insights into his "strange habits". He apparently couldn't bear clutter and whenever he paid a visit to the London office he headed straight for the directors' room to straighten up every chair, before ensuring that every blind was level, every computer screen at the same height and every desk free of papers - problems he doesn't need to worry about in his present accommodation.


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This article is now closed to comments

If you are in the property business you know that only three considerations really matter; Position, Position and Position.
Concerning waste generation and disposal. ... Its 'Reduce and Recycle', 'Reduce & Recycle', 'Reduce and Recycle'. The EPA, however still doesn't get this
In their latest announced "concessions" there was some minor waffling from the Secretary about "possible additional subsidies for the recycling industry".
Not good enough. FAILED ! Retirn to 'GO' and begin again. We need a big stick,
Cut the huge volume of waste in the first place by punitive taxes on non-household garbage. Punitive taxes on importers and distributors for wasteful and excessive packaging of goods. Punative taxes on building contractors and interior decorators who rip out perfectly good and serviceable flat fittings just because new owners want to change the colour of their toilets.
Hope you did not forget to bring your garbage bag to the big container downstairs this morning.
To all of you incinerator 'experts'; you are about 50 percent right - and 50 percent WRONG. Unfortunatley for you, it is the 50 percent WRONG that really matters!
When the government adopted the incinerator plan the technology was already 10 years out of date yet they refused to consider alternatives such as gas plasma. woop hits the nail on the head; corrupt vested interests rule our government policy now. The last environment minister was totally incompetent, kowtowed to big business interests. EPD is universally discredited and despised by environmental organisations for its weakness and dishonesty over this and other environmental issues.
How much longer can irresponsible journalists harp on about garbage 'plasma gasification', and 'prove' with yet another study, or paper they found on the internet that the Hong Kong government should 'rethink its incinerator project'?
The biggest danger to Hong Kong people's health stems from continuing landfilling raw garbage. If you cannot even find ONE location for an incinerator - how can you find ten - or more. That is what you are suggesting, if you would do just a little math, no?
Incinerator bag houses and flues cannot control PM1 and PM2.5 RSP heavy metal emissions that kill.The previous ENB minister left an air pollution + waste disaster for the incumbents. Yau's abject failure to act means HK now needs an immediate (less than 3 years) gasification treatment option replacing dinosaur incineration 7+ years + JR appeals hence. The obvious treatment site w/existing marine waste delivery train at Tsang Tsui has been allocated as a columbarium. SENT will receive no more food waste but when it closes necessitates MSW transport from the entire East Kowloon for disposal. West Kowloon TS is already at capacity. Haul times + costs will double or 3x as will vehicle generated air quality problems unless E KLN waste can be barged. To minimise this problem KLN Bay TS will have to reopen to truck 2000 TPD to NENT. However this is opposite the new cruise liner terminal which displaced all the typhoon moorings in Kai Tak shelter SENT will need replacement by a major transfer station capable of dealing with 2700 TPD destined for WENT.
20,000+tpd public fill material construction waste from building + demolishing things handled by CEDD is currently being delivered along Wan Po Rd Area 137 + shipped to China
(is that considered part of the recycling 48% number quoted by EPD ?)
Sell the waste as a commodity to Europe which needs it.
Incinerator is not all sinister, or is Sweden so stupid to import garbage from all over Europe to fuel their incinerators on top of just treating their own garbage? I think plasma arc is worth a look. What I suspect, is that such technology is not provided by any PRC company currently, and the government wants to favor a PRC company for the incinerator build from day one...
Only in Hong Kong would a fifth-place finish in a second-tier market merit a congratulory note. And I don't consider HSBC "our own" bank any more than I consider Cheung Kong "our own" property developer.


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