Why put a recycling plant in an area of Hong Kong where it’s not welcome?

Philip Yeung says plans for a scrap-plastic recycler amid food and pharma factories in Hong Kong have caused alarm among manufacturers, and highlight how officials are slow to respond to public concerns

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 7:15pm

In a land of speculators, the manufacturing industry is often an afterthought in official economic thinking. Still, local manufacturers have coaxed a robust existence from a tough environment of high land prices and labour costs. The government pays lip service to economic diversification, but seems unready to make life easy for them.

This sector has now mostly fled north. But recent years have seen a small-scale industrial rebirth. The Tai Po Industrial Estate, for example, is home to some of our iconic brands, from Amoy Food to Vita Green Pharmaceutical.

Hygiene-sensitive industries are concerned about toxic emissions from the heat treatment of scrap plastic, not to mention the foul smell and noise

But manufacturers now find themselves fighting the intrusion of an unwelcome player. In a move defying logic, the Lands Department has authorised the rental of a 50,000 sq ft plot for a plant that recycles plastic. It will sit with the hygiene-sensitive industries, in the heart of the estate. They are concerned about toxic emissions from the heat treatment of scrap plastic, not to mention the foul smell and noise. The rental was approved over the strong objections of the estate’s management authority, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park. Apparently, the plant does not need a permit from the Environmental Protection Department unless it involves the treatment of sewage water. The department has thrown its weight behind the recycling industry. No one will argue with that. But why in a location full of plants producing food and lifestyle products?

Harmony is a two-way street. It comes from officials humble enough to listen and bold enough to reverse course

The manufacturers’ pleas to the government seem to have fallen on deaf ears. They have gone as far as offering to absorb the loss of revenue in case the rental agreement is annulled. The lessee has apparently undertaken to install an air-purification facility to mitigate the impact of unavoidable air pollution. The environment department has also pledged to periodically monitor the site against any violation. But this requires constant vigilance, which no one can guarantee. Wouldn’t it be much simpler if an alternative site were found that is at least an antiseptic distance away?

We are now an unhappy city. Contributing to this sour mood is government unresponsiveness. Accommodating reasonable requests is not a sign of weakness, but of good government. Harmony is a two-way street. It comes from officials humble enough to listen and bold enough to reverse course.

When Christine Loh Kung-wai was tapped for public service, people expected good deeds from her as environment undersecretary. How about a small one as we near the end of this administration, by finding an alternative site for the treatment of hazardous materials?

Philip Yeung is a former speechwriter to the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. PKY480@gmail.com