Hong Kong people vs Shek Kwu Chau Mega-Incinerator

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:

Hugely Expensive

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;

porpoise vs incinerator

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;

mega incinerator shek kwu chau

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.

Among possibilities:

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. 

Participating groups:

Association for Tai O Environment and Development

The Conservation Agency

Friends of the Earth (HK)

Friends of Sai Kung

Green Lantau Association

Green Peng Chau Association

Greenpeace Hong Kong

Green Sense

Hong Kong Dolphinwatch

Hong Kong Outdoors

Living Islands Movement

Living Lamma

Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group

Living Seas Hong Kong

Momentum 107

Range Education Centre Environment Concern Group

Tuen Mun Infrastructure Civic Monitor

Legislative Councillors  Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Yiu-chung

People from many districts, including Cheung Chau fishermen

Contact Person:

Eddie Tse, Tuen Mun Infrastructure Civic Monitor

Tel: 92249764

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Hong Kong people supporting positive action to reduce waste

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong Island, Lantau, Sai Kung, Tuen Mun and elsewhere

 

Mr Donald Tsang

Chief Executive

Government of the Hong Kong SAR

24 November 2011

 

Dear Mr Tsang:

We the undersigned are Hong Kong groups and individuals who favour sustainable development, and are highly concerned by the Environmental Protection Department’s plans to build a mega incinerator on an artificial island beside Shek Kwu Chau.

We are impressed by your personal empathy for nature, as evidenced by your keeping fish, and birdwatching in your free time.

At times, however, it seems this empathy is not discernible in government actions, and the proposed mega incinerator is a prime example of a project that appears not only ill-advised, but looks set to cause substantial, irreparable environmental damage – impacting wildlife including fish and birds.

We respectfully submit a position paper, outlining key points of concern regarding the mega incinerator, and briefly suggesting alternative solutions to Hong Kong’s waste problem.

This may be summarised as: rather than focusing on incinerators, we believe a more balanced, more comprehensive approach to waste management is required.

Thank you for your time in reading the enclosed. We look forward to your response, and to perhaps joining discussions and participating in action to truly help reduce waste in Hong Kong – whilst retaining our outstanding scenery and biodiversity.

Yours sincerely,

 

The Conservation Agency

Friends of the Earth

Green Lantau Association

Green Sense

Hong Kong Outdoors

Living Islands Movement

Living Lamma

Living Seas Hong Kong

Momentum 107

Range Education Centre Environment Concern Group

Tai O Environmental Association

Tuen Mun Infrastructure Civic Monitor

District Councillors Leung Yau Chung and Lee Chak Yan

People from many districts, including Cheung Chau fishermen

Martin Williams's picture

just sent this email; maybe self expanatory

Dear ACE EIA sub-committee member:

I've just learned that you will again discuss the IWMF ["Integrated Waste Management Facility"] plans tomorrow, 5 Dec.

Hope you will have an opportunity to thoroughly discuss the issue, which has a host of massive problems you are doubtless aware of, including:

- Not integrated
- Huge expense, with massive funding into just one option that amounts to little more than a giant, non-stop fire
- Threatens wildlife including Indo-Pacific porpoise, which is globally Vulnerable to extinction (drawing lines on map won't help it!)
- Threatens best fishing ground near Cheung Chau
- Will create monstrosity in currently beautiful area of Hong Kong, which govt earmarked for conservation and leisure tourism
- Nearby residents opposed
- Will not tackle Hong Kong's pressing waste problems
- Now want two incinerators
- Things have moved on since incineration first looked good option for Hong Kong: anaerobic digestion more used, plasma waste disposal showing great promise; mega-incinerators could seem antiquated by the time Incinerator Island becomes ready for operation
- Takes long time before operational

By contrast: it is very hard to come up with much in the way of support for the project. Mega-incinerators seem only a superficial solution to Hong Kong's waste problem.

... and yes, I know you are aware of all this. Perhaps, then, you will speak up, and help put the "Environment" in ACE.

Attached joint statement may be of some interest; indicates there is opposition from groups and individuals across Hong Kong.

I hope you can play a part in ensuring Hong Kong adopts a wise, modern and comprehensive approach to waste management, which citizens can support and be proud of.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Martin Williams

Director
Hong Kong Outdoors

 

Martin Williams's picture

Letter from today's Sunday Morning Post:

I actually agree with the concept of using incinerators to dispose of waste, but not in the manner being proposed by the government for a super-incinerator to be located on Shek Kwu Chau.
I have as number of reasons for being opposed to it.

The technology is 10 years out of date, it produces dangerous emissions, and for every 3,000 tonnes of waste burnt, 800 tonnes of toxic waste are produced, that will have to be shipped back to a landfill, and will poison that landfill and the groundwater.

Plasma arc waste incineration technology, which is the much newer alternative, produces a fraction of the waste, and no dangerous emissions, as everything burns up at a much higher temperature.

For the cost of one super-incinerator, 10 smaller plasma arc incinerators could be built, burning the same amount of rubbish, and because they are much smaller they could be spread around Hong Kong, thus cutting down on the pollution caused by shipping all the waste to one location. And 10 plasma arc incinerators could be built and put into operation quicker than one super-incinerator.

To deal with the immediate problem of Hong Kong's waste, several plasma arc incinerators could be built very quickly, relieving the current pressure on landfills, and giving the government a chance to implement policies that cut down waste at source - as currently Hong Kong has the highest per-capita waste output in the world - about which something needs to be done.

Shek Kwu Chau is the wrong location, in one of the few completely unspoilt green oases of Hong Kong, which should be preserved for future generations, whereas the Tsang Tsui ash lagoons are already a mess. Also, it will be much cheaper to build it there.

In addition shipping all the waste from Hong Kong to Shek Kwu Chau will produce a huge amount of pollution from the slow-moving diesel-powered barges that will inevitably be used.

There is a lack of due process. Why has the go-ahead been given to begin dredging for the services that are necessary to build the incinerator, when the actual final permission to build it has not been given?

Peter Millward, Chai Wan

 

Martin Williams's picture

Just sent to members of Advisory Council on the Environment; and to others inc Executive and Legislative councils.

Dear member of ACE:

As I believe you know, I am among people seeking to assemble an expert panel on alternatives to the incinerator and its artificial island beside Shek Kwu Chau. While tI am informed that it will not be possible to make a presentation to ACE, I submit the following preliminary information for your consideration.

A range of responses to the EIA outline why this project will be an environmental outrage:
- Significant environmental damage in a beautiful area earmarked for conservation and leisure tourism;
- Negative impacts including on porpoise that's globally Vulnerable to extinction;
- Increase in Hong Kong air pollution including toxic dioxins, heavy metals, fine particulates etc;
- Not at all an "integrated" plan;
- Will take a long time to implement.
[See attached joint statement: "HK People Oppose Plans for Shek Kwu Chau Mega-Incinerator", with signatories including 16 groups from across Hong Kong, and one in the US]

Plus, the proposed technology is old. There are alternatives.

Before rushing into giving the green light to the project, is it time for Hong Kong - including ACE - to pause, reflect, and ask, can we do a better job of treating Hong Kong's waste, and in the process safeguard rather than harm our environment?

ACE Treated as Rubber Stamp?

It has become evident to myself and others that there are several viable alternatives to simplistic, mass burn incineration.

Yet given AECOM has recently been awarded a consultancy contract for the development of the IWMF Phase 1, you may wish to consider: Does AECOM really have a strong interest in considering potential alternatives?
Should outside views, include from waste management experts, be sought?

- Indeed, given AECOM reporting on being awarded the contract even prior to this meeting, you might also ask if the government is simply treating ACE as a rubber stamp?
Is the 30 December meeting merely a charade in the government's eyes, or are your views and your vote of any value?

A Politicised Process

Though in 2002, planning of Hong Kong's waste strategy was clearly well intentioned - with waste separation and anaerobic digestion set to play key roles, it has since become politicised.
The Tsang Tsui site became off-limits for political reasons.
No valid reasons have been given for rejecting Green Island Cement's eco co-combustion incineration system, despite them running a successful pilot project with Hong Kong waste (unlike moving grate incineration).

Who decided there should be one or two 3000-tonne mega incinerators, receiving unsorted waste?
- surely not the same person who also aims for far more recycling in Hong Kong, plus separation of food waste etc.
The aims conflict, in ways that might please the author of Alice in Wonderland, yet should not be overlooked in Hong Kong.

Modern, Sophisticated Alternatives

"Toronto invests in green technology with biogas digesters"

"Airline to Launch Massive Biojet Fuel-from-Waste Project"

"Gasification Facility Given Go-Ahead in Tees Valley, UK"

"Advanced Plasma Power Featured in BBC Spotlight" [link takes you to page with video clip]

- These are among headlines you can readily find regarding current developments in waste treatment.
There are far more sophisticated - and integrated - systems being put in place for collecting, sorting and recycling waste.
Manchester and Toronto have major projects including anaerobic digestion, which can produce biofuels as well as electricity.

Plasma arc technologies are tried and tested, and now set to be launched for large-scale waste treatment.
As organic molecules are blasted apart (rather than burnt), this produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide - which can be used for power generation, and/or as building blocks for creating fuel, including jet-fuel.

There are plasma arc companies that are keenly interested in working with Hong Kong to help treat our waste - and create useful energy and/or fuel, along with jobs; and to do so far more cleanly than the rather basic bonfire style incineration that is being foisted upon Hong Kong. They can even be used for mining existing landfills.

Information Attached

Please find attached an EIA response from US-based Solena Fuels: this proposes plasma arc facilities to produce jet fuel from Hong Kong waste. Cathay Pacific is interested in buying the jet fuel.
Advanced Plasma Power, in the UK, is another company working on plasma systems - currently for waste to energy. After introductions via an opponent of the SKC incinerator - but supporter of plasma arc [which should not be sited in a remote place], Dr Lee Potts.of AECOM UK will visit APP on 12 January. Please see the enclosed APP brochure.
Tees Valley, in the northeast UK, is set to build a substantial waste to energy facility, using plasma arc technology from AlterNRG in the US. File on this here, too.

Also, to show anaerobic digestion of MSW can be highly sophisticated nowadays, I attach information from Enbasys, Austria. - a company I contacted a few days ago, but am yet to receive a reply from.
Plus see the info on Manchester's mechanical biological treatment and anaerobic digestion.

Well, too much info for you to read over the Christmas period I think!

But even should you glance through this material, you will see there is a strong case for Hong Kong reconsidering its waste strategy.

Showing the Way Forwards - or Backwards?

There are some moves towards holding a conference on waste treatment methods. Ideally, would involve experts who are working in this field. Could be of wide significance, including for China - where plasma arc tech is already being introduced.

I hope you will support moves to reconsider.
There is time: plasma arc facilities, say, could be built within two years - so could be in place before the artificial island could even be ready to start work on the mega incinerator, which by then could appear highly outdated, even ludicrous.

We might then answer the question: will Hong Kong help show the way forward for waste treatment; or the way backwards?

Best regards,
Dr Martin Williams


 

Martin Williams's picture

Another email to ACE, before meeting on 30 Dec:

Dear member of ACE:

In obtaining my PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University, UK, I conducted experiments in which a powerful electrical discharge blasted water molecules apart, and I then monitored concentrations of hydroxyl radicals (using a laser).

This background helps explain my strong interest in plasma arc technologies - in which molecules are likewise blasted apart - for helping deal with Hong Kong's waste problems.

The basic chemistry is radically different to the use of mass burn incineration planned for Hong Kong.

Importantly, even separation beforehand will have a profound influence on the chemistry. Way less potential problems with cadmium, mercury and so on.

Then, instead of creating a hideous cocktail of noxious chemicals that are either vented from a giant chimney, or mixed in with powdery ash, the gaseous components are simplified, and the remainder become set in material like glassy rock.

With plasma arch tech, the chemicals in the resulting gases can be used to generate power; or to create organic fuels such as ethanol or even jet fuel.

Hong Kong has heard from and been powerfully influenced by mass burn incinerator salesmen.

You have discovered that AECOM Hong Kong knows next to nothing about plasma arc technologies, even as in the US AECOM notes that "this technology is not only environmentally friendly but ready for large-scale commercialization."

Isn't it time that Hong Kong heard from experts in plasma arc technologies?
- so by 2018, we can have a modern, holistic waste management system in place; and not some outdated monstrosity where porpoises once swam?

Martin Williams's picture

Presentation to Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs, 26 March 2012

Dr Martin Williams, Director, Hong Kong Outdoors

I’m from HK Outdoors, a website; also drafted this joint statement against the incinerator, signed by groups across Hong Kong,

Hong Kong closed its waste incinerators in the early 1990s

In 1999, New York City closed its last waste incinerator.

Now, incineration back for HK

We hear of modern, improved technology, and beautiful looking incinerators.

I have a PhD in physical chemistry, was interested to see what’s so much better.

Can’t see all that much has changed.

Instead of science, we get propaganda.

You know of problems. Death to marine life including endangered porpoises. A monstrosity in a beautiful area. Poisonous emissions, and toxic ash.

Incinerator opponents living near Shek Kwu Chau have been called selfish (including by Emily Lau).

You will hear from incinerator advocates today.

Perhaps you can ask each of them: Do you receive support from EPD, or do you expect to benefit financially from the incinerator project?

So who is really being selfish here?

You will hear of alternatives, too.

Especially the 3Rs.

Our recycling figures look good.

The reality is terrible – includes old ladies pulling cardboard from lap sap bins; far more needs doing.

There are technologies, too; we take only baby steps with the excellent anaerobic digestion.

There’s also plasma arc treatment.

Unlike the incinerator, this is state of the art technology for waste treatment. With minimal emissions. Zero ash. No need to hide it away in a remote and lovely area. Lower cost and faster to build than incinerator on an island. Works well with recycling.

Worldwide, many plasma arc projects now planned or under construction, including for over 1000 tonnes of waste per day.

There’s anti-plasma propaganda in Hong Kong, based on secondhand information.

Here’s a quote on plasma arc technology:

"We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly, but ready for large-scale commercialisation."

- that’s from AECOM, in the US, from an expert working on a major project.

Perhaps Hong Kong should learn directly from plasma arc companies: several are willing to visit and talk to people including EPD and Panel members within days.

This month, New York City requested proposals for waste-to-energy projects, specifically excluding "mass burn" incineration.

Shouldn’t we also be open to ideas, in Asia’s World City?

It’s time for a rethink.

Don’t be misled by the propaganda. If you say no to the government’s plans, we won’t be overwhelmed by waste.

All alternatives look better than mass incineration.

Panel members: please vote no to the incinerator.