Incinerator is important but planned for the wrong location

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 5:09pm

I would like to add to the discussion about Hong Kong's soaring waste problem.

As noted by many articles and comments on these pages, the government lacks a holistic perspective for tackling the issue. A charge on household waste is far from being implemented, there is a lack of recycling bins and sometimes cleaners even pour the separated waste into the same black bag anyway.

However, the plans for waste incineration plants seem to be quite advanced, judging from the Environmental Protection Department's website.

The proposed incineration plants would be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, especially making a difference to the pollutant concentration in the exhaust air, which would no longer contain high dioxin levels as the plants previously operated in Hong Kong did. By now, the metals in the bottom ash can be recycled, yielding mostly iron but also valuable copper.

As easing the pressure on the landfills becomes increasingly important, waste incineration is able to play a vital role by reducing the volume of the landfill-destined waste to a fraction of the original and at the same time producing electrical energy for some 100,000 households. Yet, the progress on the projects of building waste incineration plants has been halted mainly due to opposition concerning the proposed sites of the plants. Especially, the site at Shek Kwu Chau is highly controversial, with critics arguing that reclaiming more land will have severe impact on the largely intact environment of the island as well as scaring off tourists in the area.

Another disadvantage that has gone largely unnoticed, is that it is also very inefficient to place the plant on a remote island. The plant should ideally be positioned where the waste is produced, which is in the city itself.

In Switzerland, waste incinerators are operated just next to city centres without plaguing residents with any foul smells. An elaborate smoke cleaning system, the same as proposed by the Environmental Protection Department, leaves the exhaust almost free of pollutants. Thus the often-mentioned and harmful dioxin emissions are way below the European Union threshold value, posing no health risk to the people living close to the plant.

Building the waste incineration plant in the city would diminish the environmental impact and increase the efficiency of the system dramatically. The high chimney would go largely unnoticed between the skyscrapers, leaving Shek Kwu Chau and neighbouring islands beautiful places to visit.

Oskar Joensson, Clear Water Bay