Landfill extensions will threaten public health

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 4:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 6:20am

Zero-waste plans are well advanced worldwide. San Francisco is already at 80 per cent recycling, with plans to reach 100 per cent by 2020. Taiwan, with a zero-waste policy since 2003, defines it as "effectively recycling and utilising resources through green production, green consumption, source reduction, recovery, reuse and recycling".

In Italy, 40 million people in 2,000 municipalities now recycle all food and green waste, and Rossano Ercolini, the winner in 2013 of a Goldman Environmental Prize, has inspired five million people in three years to adopt zero waste with 85 per cent recycling.

The key action is simple - separation at source, aided by positive waste charging and simple digital measurement. People are not charged for what they properly separate, but only for what they do not separate. It is a highly effective incentive.

These results are not difficult to comprehend or expensive. They do require new thinking and a new mindset, that, "All waste is a valuable community resource". Governments and decision-makers must work with a new set of principles, the opposite of traditional ones - transparency, simplicity, participation, open-mindedness, experimentation and visibility. A fair-process involvement results in a community actively embracing zero-waste plans. People become fully engaged in the strategy and this can result in self-organisation and innovation.

User-friendly and efficient 100 per cent food and green waste recycling, based on proven "carbon to earth not air" technologies, would eliminate around 50 per cent of Hong Kong waste to landfills. Singapore's construction waste recycling rate is now 99 per cent compared to Hong Kong's purported 85 per cent. The difference is 4,300 tonnes a day, around 25 per cent of Hong Kong's waste. Singapore requires all developers and contractors to hold a recycling licence to operate, and produces construction aggregates. District-based single-track systems for recyclable waste paper, glass, metal and plastic remove another 20 to 25 per cent. The balance of 5 to 10 per cent hazardous, toxic and non-recyclable waste is dealt with by "no carbon to air" ultra high-temperature plasma non-incineration producing energy and vitrified aggregates. This results in no waste going to landfills, no pollution from such waste, no carbon to air and complete sustainability. This could be done within four years.

Landfill extensions and a super incinerator involve substantial capital and operating expenditure, are not sustainable and threaten public health.

Peter Reid, chairman, Zero Waste Smart City Resources Association