Hong Kong should be trying to aim for a zero waste policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 5:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 5:40pm

I refer to the letter by Victor Sum ("Expansion of landfills is not the answer", August 4).

Mr Sum is indeed correct to write that an expansion could only be a short-term measure to deal with Hong Kong's waste problem. However, in advocating incineration instead, referring to it as not creating pollution and generating energy, he is deeply misguided.

Mr Sum seems to think of incineration as something magical that makes waste vanish while creating electricity. Alas, this is not true.

There is ample information on the many problems with waste incinerators, including air pollutants, along with the huge amounts of toxic ash that must be disposed of in landfills, and contains dangerous chemicals created in the combustion process.

Health studies reveal impacts such as cancer, premature births and early deaths in the vicinity of incinerators; even with newer technologies, severe problems persist. Such problems are not all far away, either: even in Macau, there are concerns that a waste incinerator is harming residents' health.

Claims regarding energy generation are suspect, too, as Hong Kong's waste is so wet that energy will be required to make it burn.

There are better technologies for waste treatment. But of course, much of the waste should not exist in the first place.

Any long-term solution to Hong Kong's waste problem must tackle the fact that this is an appallingly throwaway society, with Hongkongers discarding among the most waste per person of any territory in the world. The government seems fond of talking and reporting on the issue, but measures to date are puny.

Elsewhere, there are moves towards "zero waste", with efforts to minimise packaging such as use once and discard plastic bottles, along with far more reuse and recycling. There are zero waste efforts driven by local governments, such as in Santa Monica, California - second hometown of deputy environment secretary Christine Loh Kung-wai.

Yet in Hong Kong, "zero waste" is a barely known concept, advocated by a few environmentalists, while those paid from the public purse for supposedly protecting the environment continue pushing for bigger landfills coupled with a giant bonfire of waste.

It is a sorry situation for this self-proclaimed "world city"; with obdurate bureaucrats clinging to a waste strategy centred on burying and burning. Yet with the right mindset - and right people in charge - we could do far better.

Dr Martin Williams, founder, Hong Kong Outdoors