Rebranded Shek Kwu Chau incinerator plan still stinks

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    Dear Sir:

    As noted in previous letters to the editor, Elvis Au, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Department, has shown great bias in pushing plans for the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator. Yet during the RTHK Radio 3 show Peaks and Troughs on 25 April, his comments were even more skewed.

    I have referred before to Mr Au being wrong to claim that incinerator technology can completely destroy organic pollutants. This time, he went further still: asked about heavy metals in the ash, he remarked, "The technology would enable the complete destruction of these toxic materials."

    This is a preposterous falsehood. As many a schoolchild will know, it took the energy of supernovas to create elements heavier than iron, which include toxic metals of concern with waste incinerators such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Hence, they cannot be destroyed by incineration. Instead, incinerators emit these along with particulates and a veritable cocktail of organic toxins – leading to serious health concerns, and documented cases of elevated levels of disease and deaths near incinerators.

    Not only does Mr Au avoid mention of such research; when asked about the facility planned for Shek Kwu Chau he responded: "It's not an incinerator." So he seems intent on rebranding the incinerator – which will be little more than a glorified bonfire – by calling it a waste to energy facility.

    On the face of it, turning waste to energy seems a good idea, and Mr Au asserts the incinerator will power 100,000 households. But much of Hong Kong waste is soggy rice and other food slops, which will not readily burn. So the incinerator will surely require fuel such as coal, or drying with electrical power.

    Various other figures and claims seem at least as questionable. Mr Au was unperturbed at being told the EPD plans to spend HK$40 billion on incineration and landfills – around 2000 times as much as on recycling. He repeated a dated notion that we recycle 40% of the waste – a figure that always looked suspect, and proved more fanciful after China stopped importing our plastic waste.

    Hong Kong deserves a far better waste policy, with real efforts in waste reduction and recycling, and trustworthy technology. But also, Hong Kong deserves officials who have the willpower, passion and acumen to work with the community in protecting the environment.

    Yours faithfully,

    Dr Martin Williams

    Director, Hong Kong Outdoors

    – edited version published as Letter in South China Morning Post, 2 May 2015

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