Unjustified criticism of waste disposal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 1:44am

Louise Preston ("Embrace real change to be world leader in waste reduction", June 7) says the Environmental Protection Department's "Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022" pursues only engineering projects instead of dealing with waste reduction. This is untrue. Much of our work focuses on waste reduction at source.

We have to deal with 13,500 tonnes of waste at landfills every day. This is made up of 9,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste; 3,400 tonnes of construction waste; 1,000 tonnes of dewatered sludge; and minor items. Of the municipal solid waste, about 3,600 tonnes is food waste, with two-thirds from households.

In the blueprint, we highlighted five programmes including a food wise campaign, food donation and food recycling. In addition, we are also planning to build initially two waste-to-energy treatment facilities to deal with 500 tonnes per day by 2017. Yes, even with these measures in place, this still leaves about 2,700 tonnes per day Hong Kong has to deal with.

Ms Preston calls for 100 per cent food waste reduction, recovery and recycling. This is unrealistic. Even in Taipei, where a per-bag trash collection fee has been implemented since 2000, and there's mandatory separation of waste and outlets for food waste such as pig feed, less than half of food waste is recycled.

A key lesson from around the world is that waste charging is effective in reducing waste. After we imposed construction waste charging in 2006, the quantity of waste going to landfills dropped by about 60 per cent. We are working with the construction sector to reduce waste further; and the Council for Sustainable Development will soon consult the public on the details of a household waste charging scheme for Hong Kong. We would like to see legislation passed by 2016.

Ms Preston challenges our municipal solid waste recovered-for-recycling rate of 48 per cent - this figure is correct.

Hong Kong needs various types of waste treatment facilities. From the end of this year, when the sludge treatment facility is commissioned, the 1,000 tonnes of sludge per day will be incinerated in a state-of-the-art waste-to-energy plant, thereby dealing with a particularly malodorous form of waste. As noted above, we are planning to build two food waste treatment facilities and looking for sites for more such facilities, and Hong Kong also needs to have a sizable (3,000 tonnes per day) waste-to-energy facility for municipal solid waste.

In addition, we need to extend landfills now to give us room to transform our waste practices.

Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment