The Environment Bureau has abandoned its HK$23 billion funding request for what it says is an urgently needed waste incinerator and landfill expansion after failing to gain the support of lawmakers from across the political spectrum yesterday.
The controversial waste plans, which included building a waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau off the south coast of Lantau, will face uncertain delays when they are left to the next government to decide as requested by lawmakers at an environment panel meeting.
Despite the government's warnings, one waste expert said Hong Kong would not immediately plunge into a waste crisis, but it would be wise for the city to start at least one landfill expansion to ease pressure.
Panel members refused to support the bureau in filing its funding request to the public works subcommittee and Finance Committee.
Some members cited concerns over government transition, following a remark by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying on the role of incineration, while others criticised the government for its poor performance on recycling and waste reduction.
'Without the support of the panel, the current administration is unable to file the funding requests within this term and complete all the relevant processes,' the bureau said.
It said it was unfortunate that the plans, including the HK$15 billion waste incinerator and HK$8 billion for expanding landfills in Tseung Kwan O, North District and Tuen Mun, had not been backed by the panel despite intensive discussions.
Environment minister Edward Yau Tang-wah failed to convince lawmakers that the waste plans were essential regardless of who led the next government, and were needed before all landfills were full by 2018.
'Is it necessary to bring everything to a halt just because there is a new government?' he asked the panel.
Lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and chairman of the environment panel, said Yau was still free to table the funding requests at his own risk.
'He can still ignore the panel's advice and submit the funding applications,' he said. 'There was a similar case when the Home Affairs Bureau sought funding for the Asian Games, but the request was still rejected.'
Chan said he might be willing to consider funding requests for less controversial landfill expansion plans in Tuen Mun and North District, but excluding Tseung Kwan O.
Democratic Party lawmaker Kam Nai-wai said there would be no disastrous consequences in delaying the plans for six to nine months, pending further discussion with the new government.
Legislator Tanya Chan from the Civic Party appeared sympathetic to the government despite not being able to lend support. 'I understand there might be a need for an incinerator as it can extend the landfill life. But it might delay action on other waste reduction initiatives.'
Professor Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, a waste expert from Baptist University, said a delay of a year would only have a small impact on the overall waste problem.
Wong said the delay might give the government more time to come up with effective waste reduction strategies involving waste-charging schemes. But he believed an incinerator was part of the waste solution.
The city sends about 13,800 tonnes of waste each day to landfills - the only waste disposal outlets in Hong Kong.
The amount, in tonnes, of solid waste from households and businesses sent to landfills in Hong Kong each day