Hong Kong issues dire warning on landfills amid protests by residents

Minister's dire prediction comes as residents take to the streets to oppose plan to expand landfills until an incinerator can be built

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 3:55pm

Hong Kong would be swamped with rubbish if its three landfills were not expanded, the environment chief warned yesterday, as Tseung Kwan O residents took to the streets to oppose the plan.

The landfills at Ta Kwu Ling, Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O are expected to hit capacity by 2019. The government argues there is no alternative to expanding them until a planned incinerator, tied up in a legal challenge, can be built.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said Hong Kong would be "surrounded by rubbish" if the HK$8.9 billion expansion, planned since 2003, did not go ahead. The Legislative Council's environment panel will discuss the proposal tomorrow.

Sai Kung district councillor Christine Fong Kwok-shan, who represents Tseung Kwan O, said they might lodge a judicial review if the government did not call off the plan. Residents want the landfill closed permanently, saying the smell could be overwhelming and affect their health.

The Tseung Kwan O landfill will be the first to hit saturation point, either next year or in 2015.

About 100 demonstrators marched from Lohas Park to the Tseung Kwan O MTR station, along Wan Po Road.

Wong said further expansion beyond the one planned was unlikely due to the site's physical limitations.

"On one side it's a country park, and the land on the other side has been reserved for future [other] use," he said.

"It's not that we have to set a deadline for the closure of the landfill. But we can't see any space to further expand it."

Wong urged residents living near landfills to consider Hong Kong's overall interests. "If we don't expand our landfills, it won't be long before the city is surrounded by rubbish," he said.

On average, each Hong Kong person generates 1.36kg of waste a day, compared to 0.77kg in Tokyo and 1kg in Taipei.

The government last Monday unveiled its blueprint for tackling waste, with a target of a 40 per cent reduction in the amount sent to landfill by 2022. Incineration and waste charging are key components of the strategy, but the bill to introduce both is expected to face an uphill battle in the legislature.

Lawmakers rejected a funding request by the previous government for an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, near Cheung Chau. The proposal has also been challenged in court and a verdict is pending.

Documents submitted to the panel warn that "no matter how hard we work to reduce waste, there will still be inert materials, non-recyclables, construction waste and post-treatment residues that need to be disposed of".