Typhoon Mangkhut: area the size of 12 football fields on former Kai Tak runway to store fallen trees in clean-up struggle
Reports of uprooted trees have tripled to more than 46,000 as city reels from clean-up effort and experts question if long-term planning is needed
An area the size of 12 football fields on a former runway in Hong Kong will become a dumping ground for trees uprooted by Typhoon Mangkhut, which has left the city with an unprecedented struggle to clean up its streets, the Post has learned.
A government source said four unsold sites on a runway of the old Kai Tak Airport had been designated for tree waste storage, with a fifth under negotiation. According to the source, the five sites would total 10 hectares, equivalent to about 12 football pitches.
Two weeks after Mangkhut ripped through the city, the number of reports about fallen trees received by the Development Bureau has tripled to more than 46,000, including 11 registered old and valuable trees. Only 700 reports were received after Typhoon Hato last year.
By 5pm last Friday, nearly 2,000 trucks had unloaded waste from damaged vegetation on the Kai Tak site, which opened on September 21, the Environmental Protection Department said.
The issue sparked public concern after a green group last week spotted the huge amount of material already filling up a stretch of the runway, with half of another site nearby also occupied.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said in response that the government would look for more storage space.
An inspection by the Post on Friday found two sites were already filled, with unloading operations commencing on the third and fourth sites. In about 10 minutes, 10 trucks were seen visiting the area. A closer look found plastic bags and bottles mixed with the tree waste. Other domestic waste such as umbrellas and adaptors were also spotted.
“This place could be full later today,” a driver serving an outsourced contractor, who identified himself as Leung, told the Post. “I don’t know where else to send the waste to [when the current site is filled]. Probably somewhere nearby.”
Leung, who had already visited the site for the fifth time at around 1.30pm, said it usually took him seven or eight trips daily to clear his load and some of them were collected near Kowloon Bay Park. Piles of tree trunks and twigs were still seen outside the park’s entrance on Friday, occupying a 10-metre stretch.
Wong earlier said part of the waste would be sent to the Animal Waste Composting Plant in Yuen Long and the Organic Resources Recovery Centre at Siu Ho Wan in Lantau Island’s north.
For waste not immediately processed, such as that temporarily stored at Kai Tak, he encouraged the public and organisations to reuse such material. Interested parties can call a hotline and register with the Environmental Protection Department to get access to the wood stored at the sites.
As of last Tuesday, the department had received about 90 calls from groups and individuals who expressed interest in reusing the stockpiled material.
“The government will do its best for waste reduction, but this is a special case,” Wong said.
According to government specifications, the Yuen Long composting plant can only handle two to three tonnes of waste a day and this requires detailed sorting. Material with a high wood content is not preferred.
The Siu Ho Wan recovery centre handles about 200 tonnes of organic waste daily but most of this is food waste. Yard material, or plant matter, should also be sorted clearly and cut into tiny pieces so they can be mixed with food waste.
Existing policies do not require the private sector to separate yard waste from domestic and commercial waste. Also, there is no separate facility for processing yard waste at present, sparking concern over whether the city needs to plan long term for better handling of the matter.
In 2014, the Development Bureau issued internal guidelines to advise government departments and their contractors on proper reuse and recycling of yard waste, but criticism emerged after there was no follow through.
During the Post visit to Kai Tak on Friday, it was also observed on a private site nearby that there was a huge pile of stinking plant matter found mixed with construction waste and materials such as plastic pipes, sponge sheets, foam boards and nylon bags.
Tree experts and environmentalists argued the government could have planned better, questioning whether all the waste would go to landfills eventually. In some mainland cities hit by Mangkhut, street cleaners were seen using wood chippers to shred collected yard waste into tiny bits, making them suitable for mulching.
Veteran tree expert Professor Jim Chi-yung, who reviewed photos of the tree waste situation in Hong Kong, said: “The materials have been mixed haphazardly, making them difficult for use by citizens or other organisations.”
He added that some cut mahogany was also seen left untended on a street in Wan Chai, saying it could be reused for high-grade furniture or wall panelling if special treatment was applied.
Dr Cheng Luk-ki, director of environmental group Green Power, said the government should act quickly to select usable woods because exposure to the sun and rain would damage their quality.
Jim said separate facilities should be set up to handle tree waste as they were materials that required different treatments and machinery to process.
Ken So Kwok-yin, director of the Conservancy Association, an NGO, said he believed most of the cut wood would end up in landfills as local demand was too small.
If there was a plan and some mechanism for sorting tree waste based on their end usage, more of the material could be utilised properly, he said.
“The government has to learn [from this lesson], and prepare for strong storms in future,” So added.