Warning on looming waste crisis: act now
Alliance of experts says answer to rubbish woes is incinerators, not landfill - and if we don't act soon refuse will end up on the streets
An alliance of academics and professionals is calling on the government to scale back its plan to extend the city's three landfills in favour of incineration, saying they are fed up with the "never-ending argument" about waste.
And they warn that if nothing is done soon to head off the waste crisis, it could turn into a citywide hygiene problem.
The group of 60 academics from local tertiary institutions and professionals, including engineers, was formed late last month. Members say they are disappointed with government inaction on waste and recycling.
And they want to send a clear message to the public: landfills are not sustainable and should be kept to a minimum, while incineration is the most sensible - and urgently needed - option.
The group stressed it did not have any vested interests, saying the plan was in the city's long-term interests.
"We need to act now, or this will end with rubbish piling up on the streets," said Professor Poon Chi-sun, of Polytechnic University's civil and environmental engineering department, and spokesman for the new Alliance for Promoting Sustainable Waste Management for Hong Kong.
The call comes as environment officials prepare to file funding requests for proposed landfill extensions and an incinerator to the Legislative Council in the first quarter of next year.
Plans to expand the Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling landfills were deferred in July, a month after the Tseung Kwan O expansion plan was withdrawn by Legco's public works committee.
A proposal to build a 3,000-tonne incinerator on reclaimed land next to Shek Kwu Chau is being challenged in court.
All of the plans have faced strong public opposition.
"We have strong reservations about the proposal to double the size of the Tuen Mun landfill, especially when incineration could effectively reduce the volume of waste by up to 90 per cent," Poon said.
He urged the government to review its 200-hectare expansion plan to see if it could be reduced.
And he said the government had made the right decision to use the mainstream moving-grate technology - in which waste goes through a combustion chamber - in its incinerator plan. The technology is used in 2,000 plants around the world.
Professor Irene Lo Man-chi, of the University of Science and Technology's department of civil and environmental engineering, said the technology had been proved to be a reliable option that was safe in terms of emissions.
Lo said emerging technologies, such as plasma gasification, would not be the rational choice for Hong Kong at this stage, as it would not be possible to treat the thousands of tonnes of waste produced in the city every day. The process uses plasma to convert organic matter into synthetic gas, electricity and slag.
Lo said problems with plasma technology had led to the closure of a 10-year-old plant in Japan, which had been down for two-thirds of that time. And a plan to introduce the technology in the United States was withdrawn last year as it failed to get approval from the regulator.
"Decision makers need to find the most sensible choice - can we take the risk of having so much uncertainty when we have thousands of tonnes of rubbish to handle?" she asked.
Professor Ho Kin-chung, of Open University and an alliance member, said: "We have to give people … some hope that one day the landfills will be gone."