Officials have failed to convince public about merits of incinerator

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 4:21am

I am among people who have written saying that the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project is driven by politics and vested interests. A recent flurry of supportive opinion pieces and letters only reinforces this view - coming from bodies such as two chambers of commerce, and the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers (HKIE).

While the chambers can be expected to support businesses, the institute seems like it could be an expert, non-partisan organisation. Yet it appears curious that six of 24 committee members are in the Environmental Protection Department.

Proponents of the incinerator - and the related expansion of three landfills - have held fast to arguments that have been presented for years, without convincing Hong Kong people. For extra pressure, we're even told the issue is urgent, as if Hong Kong could be suddenly smothered in waste.

But proponents fail to tell us why, with such urgency, they advocate an incinerator that cannot be operational for a decade or so. Other questions likewise go unanswered, and there's disregard for research finding cancers and birth defects among people living near incinerators. Nor are there satisfactory responses regarding proposed alternatives, including a major effort at implementing zero-waste strategies, treating food waste through the Stonecutters sewage plant, and substituting incineration with the more advanced, far cleaner and more versatile plasma arc waste treatment.

Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing and undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai gave assurances there would be discussions of waste technologies, yet no such public discussions have occurred.

Reflecting the profound unwillingness to consider alternatives, a recent Environmental Protection Department-organised trip to Europe took legislators to a Danish incinerator that will include a ski slope but won't be completed till 2016 or later, but omitted the world's largest plasma arc waste facility, which took around two years to build and will be in start-up phase this year.

In his letter ("Artificial island near Shek Kwu Chau best site for incinerator", April 23) Raymond Chan Kin-sek, president of the HKIE, claimed, "The institute wants to see different stakeholders working hand in hand to solve the controversial issues with a view to formulating optimal, multi-pronged waste management measures that can be accepted by all parties in the community."

These seem fine words. But Mr Chan's notion is impossible while the government holds fast to the incinerator plus landfills strategy, stubbornly telling us there can be no Plan B.

Dr Martin Williams, founder, Hong Kong Outdoors