Reply To: Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project will kill wildlife


Another letter from me to South China Morning Post, appeared on 7 Dec 2011:

After several years of considering how to deal with Hong Kong's domestic waste, the government has come up with a plan to spend billions of dollars to set fire to it. Despite abundant counterarguments and various alternatives, the government seems determined to continue with the plan. But why?

Why spend perhaps HK$17 billion or more on first one and then a second mega-incinerator, in the process damaging a fishery, severely affecting endangered species and creating a monstrosity by Shek Kwu Chau – in an area the government had earmarked for conservation and leisure tourism, only to build expensive bonfires that will spew toxic emissions and leave poison ash, but will do little to solve our pressing waste problems?

The Environmental Protection Department is spearheading the environmentally destructive plans, and citing Singapore as an example of a place using incinerators. Yet it fails to mention this will not be a long-term solution for Singapore, and incineration is falling out of favour in places such as Britain, where there is a trend towards anaerobic digestion of organic waste, which can produce compost and energy. The advantages of the process include no toxic emissions, so digesters need not be far-flung.

Toronto is striving to avoid waste incineration. After having success with anaerobic digestion – in which bacteria disintegrate waste in an oxygen-free environment – the city is now building an additional facility. Should Hong Kong build enough of these plants to treat all our food waste, the cost would be around HK$7.4 billion – so around HK$10 billion less than the government's big bonfire plan.

What to do with the "remaining" money? It could be used for wholehearted efforts to promote less waste, and more recycling with far more vigour than the wishy-washy attempts to date. Perhaps burning of some form could still be useful, but this could be tackled by Green Island Cement's proposed eco- co-combustion system, or maybe plasma waste conversion.

With other alternatives, including turning domestic waste into jet fuel – which British Airways and Qantas are supporting – Hongkongers should again ask: why is the government so dead-set on the bonfires plan? In the absence of convincing answers, there might be suspicions that the mega-incinerator proposal is at least partly another way of creating jobs for the boys in the construction industry. It's certainly not the best way to tackle Hong Kong's waste.

Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors