Environment officials' waste strategy was dealt a serious blow yesterday, when lawmakers asked to withdraw a controversial plan to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill.
Despite government pledges to address the odour and dust problems that plague the adjacent residential area, a motion to oppose the plan was passed by nine votes to four at a meeting of the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel.
Similar motions to stop landfill expansions in Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling were rejected.
The question now is whether officials still want to submit about HK$18 billion of funding requests to the public works subcommittee for the three landfill expansion plans, which would provide an extra 106 million cubic metres of space for trash.
The plans were discussed yesterday after the Environment Bureau unveiled a blueprint targeting a 40 per cent cut in waste dumped in landfills by 2022.
"Some overseas jurisdictions have spent two decades to plan for waste handling, but we can barely inch forward with our blueprint," said Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing.
But pro-government lawmaker Chan Yuen-han told him: "You are doomed to fail."
All three landfills, the city's only final waste disposal sites, will run out of space by 2020, according to official projections. The Tseung Kwan O site is the smallest, at 43 hectares, or 6.5 million cubic metres.
Wong said officials were sincere in tackling environmental problems such as odour and dust at Tseung Kwan O, which legislators said were caused by poor planning that put homes beside a rubbish dump.
Measures to be introduced included banning food waste and sludge at the landfill, which could cut rubbish truck traffic in half. Odour and air pollution monitoring will also be stepped up.
Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary for the environment, said "even a single inch of landfill counts".
But Chan, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said Wong was "extremely politically immature" in pushing the Tseung Kwan O landfill extension, and said he should scrap the plan before negotiating with the community.
"You can propose whatever you want," she said. "I won't stop you. But I can assure you that you are doomed to fail."
Democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing urged a "rubbish summit" with residents and politicians.
"No doubt you will leave today empty-handed … but you should also ask yourself what has actually gone wrong," she said.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Liberal Party and the Civic Party also opposed the plan.
The only supporter was insurance-sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por, who said: "If we withdraw these landfill plans today, sooner or later we will run into a rubbish catastrophe. Should that happen, the Tseung Kwan O district is set to lose more because it has a … facility to take in the trash."