7,000 tonnes of trees felled by Typhoon Mangkhut have ended up in Hong Kong landfill, government admits
- 5,500 truckloads of tree waste have been delivered to Kai Tak collection area, government says
- Site will be closed at ‘suitable juncture’, according to Environmental Protection Department
At least 7,000 tonnes of trees felled by Typhoon Mangkhut and stored at the former Kai Tak airport have ended up in a landfill, the government has admitted.
The Environmental Protection Department, struggling to cope with huge amounts of tree waste occupying 10 hectares of the runway following the monster storm on September 16, confirmed on Friday it was sending the wood to a landfill after three inquiries by the Post in the past week.
In previous replies to the Post, the department said only that some tree waste would be sent for recycling and that it had set up a hotline for people who wanted to collect some of the wood for reuse. There was no mention of landfills.
But a worker on site said on Wednesday that more than 100 truckloads of tree waste were moved from the runway each day, but he was not allowed to disclose the destination.
Trucks were seen taking the trees to a nearby pier, where they were loaded onto a barge. About eight trucks visited the runway in 10 minutes, with five moving trees to barges.
A truck driver said the barges would sail to a landfill in Nim Wan, Tuen Mun.
On Thursday morning, tree waste unloaded by barges was seen at a pier beside the landfill, from which trucks transported the trees to the dump, where they were flattened..
By Wednesday, 5,500 truckloads of tree waste had been delivered to the Kai Tak collection area, more than double the 2,000 recorded by the end of September, a department spokeswoman said on Friday.
She said 7,000 tonnes of wood waste had ended up at the West New Territories Landfill in Nim Wan since September 28. That was equivalent to 78 per cent of the annual amount of green waste collected by government departments that ended up in Hong Kong’s three landfills.
The department said it would close the collection area “at a suitable juncture” as it would be needed for Kai Tak’s development, adding that tree truckloads had declined from a peak of more than 300 a day to fewer than 200 recently. Tree waste would be sent directly to landfills in Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling when it closed.
It added it was in the process of acquiring one or more industrial-grade wood chippers, to ease recycling.
One month after Mangkhut ripped through the city, fallen trees and branches are still widely seen around town. The Development Bureau received about 55,000 reports of fallen trees after the typhoon and it was uncertain when all the tree waste would be cleared.
Tree experts and green groups earlier criticised the government for failing to handle the wood properly as it could have been reused, raising concerns over a lack of policy and hardware planning on yard waste. Environmentalists proposed measures such as sorting the trees, chipping the wood and composting.
Tree expert Professor Jim Chi-yung said the failure to reuse the materials was affected by negative factors from the beginning. They included not sorting the materials at source by tree part, size and nutrient content for potential use as compost; no selection of wood for potential timber use; and the mixing of materials with ordinary municipal waste by some contractors.
Jim also said the government should promote basic natural and ecological knowledge to the public to correct common misconceptions about reusing tree materials. Leaves and twigs, for instance, should be collected and stockpiled separately for composting to make organic fertiliser and soil conditioner.
Jan Thomsen, from wood recycler Made by Mao, said he contacted the department and offered to collect all the waste which could be chipped and exported to a power plant in South Korea. But he had not heard from the department.
“The fresh wood can be used as fuel in the power plant,” he said.
Dr Cheng Luk-ki, director of environmental group Green Power, said sending the tree waste to landfills was not sustainable as it would increase the burden on them.
“Transporting the tree waste by trucks and barges also has a carbon footprint,” he added.
A composting plant in Yuen Long could only handle two to three tonnes of waste a day, and required detailed sorting. Material with a high wood content was not preferred. The Siu Ho Wan recovery centre handled about 200 tonnes of organic waste daily but it was mostly food.