Hong Kong people from a range of groups and places across the territory are strongly opposed to the Hong Kong government’s plans to build a waste incinerator on an artificial island beside Shek Kwu Chau.
This massive project has huge implications for Hong Kong – and yet most people know very little about. Even before the project’s environmental impact assessment process was concluded, the Environmental Protection Department jumped straight to preparing for dredging and reclamation beside Shek Kwu Chau, to build one of the world’s biggest – and most expensive – incinerators.
Our opposition to the project is based on the following:
1) In the shocking absence of any official cost estimates, we have sought and referred to estimates by construction industry experts, with figures for construction of the mega incinerator ranging from HK$8 billion to at least HK$13 billion. This would make it not only one of the world’s largest incinerators, but also the most expensive – entailing shocking misuse of taxpayers’ money;
Major Procedural Errors
2) We oppose the government aiming to gain permission for sea-bed dredging and reclamation without consideration of the overall project by the Legislative Council, and are concerned this will lead to "destroy first and develop later" behaviour, which may establish a very bad precedent for the government and society;
3) The EPD commissioned an environmental impact assessment regarding a site for one incinerator; yet as this proceeded, made it plain that two incinerators would be required;
4) The EPD has used an absurd and defective site-selection process, which appears motivated by politics rather than by commonsense, and ignores the health impacts on and wishes of nearby residents;
No Solution to Waste Problem
5) Municipal waste incinerators cannot resolve Hong Kong’s solid waste problems. In the absence of a holistic approach to waste management, they will instead lead to a need for even more incinerators;
6) The government is rushing to set up incineration, and is currently refusing to consider alternatives, including a multi-faceted approach that includes modern technologies such as anaerobic digestion – particularly to help solve issues with food waste; a far less costly project proposed by Green Island Cement Company; greatly enhanced reuse and recycling and – of paramount importance – reduction of waste produced in Hong Kong, one of the world’s most wasteful societies;
7) EPD calls the incinerator an “Integrated Waste Management Facility”, yet this seems just a fancy title for a big fire that will burn unsorted waste;
8) The mega-incinerator will produce at least 300 tonnes of toxic ash per day, which must be specially handled and disposed of in a landfill;
Will Have Major Environmental Impacts
9) Though waste fed into the incinerators will be essentially unsorted, EPD plays down the potential for emission of large quantities of pollutants including toxic gases such as dioxins and other organic chemicals, heavy metals, and respirable suspended particulates. The EIA has scant information on air quality calculations, which appear based on best-case scenarios;
10) Dredging and reclamation will kill Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoises, a species globally Vulnerable to extinction, and affect the unique biodiversity of Shek Kwu Chau;
11) Dredging and reclamation will also damage one of best remaining areas for Hong Kong fisheries, dealing a severe blow to the livelihood of fishermen;
12) The mega incinerator will be an industrial site with a 150-metre high chimney (almost as tall as 180-metre HSBC Main Building), creating a monstrosity in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which the government in 1995 designated for leisure tourism and conservation;
Will Have Negative Social Consequences
13) Rather than proving a tourist draw as the EPD claims, the mega incinerator will deal a heavy blow to local tourism (especially Cheung Chau and South Lantau);
14) The emphasis on mega incinerators will reduce potential for creating jobs in, for example, waste sorting, recycling and reuse;
Bogus Claims Regarding Certain Environmental “Benefits”
15) Claims the mega incinerator will be a good way of generating power or reduce greenhouse gas emissions are devoid of merit, based only on assumptions that it is not otherwise possible to reduce waste, enhance recycling and reuse, and employ other techniques such as anaerobic digestion.
The Alternative: Comprehensive Waste Management
It is indeed difficult to solve Hong Kong’s problem with domestic waste; however, there is a broad alternative to the Shek Kwu Chau Mega-incinerator: employ a diverse mix of approaches, rather than focusing such vast resources on a single option that is essentially just a very expensive bonfire with added technologies.
The EPD is indeed working on some other approaches, which is commendable. However, compared to the mega-incinerator, these receive only minor attention.
Reduce waste in Hong Kong.
16) This is of course paramount. It has been part of government planning, yet the government has failed to achieve the EPD’s 1998 or 2005 targets for waste reduction. This is reprehensible; clearly, drastic changes are needed – and must be far more wide-ranging and effective than, say, the plastic bag levy. They require imagination, forward thinking, and will and drive to succeed, together with support from Hong Kong people;
More Action at District Level
17) More waste treatment at district level. Instead of massive schemes in a very few places, more waste should be treated within districts;
Deal with Food Waste
18) Food waste is a major issue. Rather than simply burn waste food, there is potential for treating it in anaerobic digesters, producing potentially useful compost, as well as methane that can be a localised energy source. Digesters are especially well suited to Hong Kong, as they operate best at warm temperatures;
Increase Recycling and Reuse
19) Though EPD reports high percentage of waste recycling, the recycling rate should be increased, such as by expanding to cover glass;
20) Reuse is important and requires encouraging – it should not be the case that having deposits on glass bottles, say, has become part of history;
Consider Alternatives to the Mega Incinerators
21) For instance, there is a proposal for a far less costly form of incineration on an already industrial site, and there are emerging technologies such as plasma arc waste disposal. Such techniques may also prove somewhat controversial – indeed, some groups below are vehemently opposed to waste incineration – yet would prove less environmentally destructive than the proposed Shek Kwu Chau Mega-Incinerator, and would not devour so many resources that could be used for other means of waste reduction and treatment.
Tuen Mun Infrastructure Civic Monitor
Legislative Councillors Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Yiu-chung
People from many districts, including Cheung Chau fishermen
Eddie Tse, Tuen Mun Infrastructure Civic Monitor