Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project will kill wildlife

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    Letter to South China Morning Post, appeared today:

    In 1997, the government designated south Lantau and nearby islands for conservation and sustainable recreation. Yet this year, there are plans for a waste incinerator on a giant artificial island that will be built beside Shek Kwu Chau, just west of Cheung Chau. The community was given just a month to make comments.

    Bob Bunker ("Island incinerator will not use Japan's clean-burn technology", 3 March 2011) noted that officials are telling us incinerators are safe for urban areas, yet we must build ours as far away as possible. There are more contradictions, many questions arise, and Shek Kwu Chau is clearly an appalling choice as incinerator site.

    The environmental impact assessment shoehorns Shek Kwu Chau into appearing a viable site. Sai Kung islands are rejected for incinerator sites, as these and nearby areas are "popular locations for various recreational activities”. So why not reject Shek Kwun Chau as a potential site?

    Though tiny, Shek Kwu Chau is a remarkable island for biodiversity. Two kinds of snake are only known from here. It’s also home to a lizard found on only three islands in the world, two-thirds of all Hong Kong's butterfly species, and our most magnificent breeding bird of prey, White-bellied Sea-Eagle.

    Proponents argue the incinerator island will be separate from the island. Yet the reclamation will occupy an area similar to Victoria Park – killing corals, and impacting the best fishing grounds by Cheung Chau, as well as a prime location for finless porpoise, regarded as globally Vulnerable to extinction. The EIA merely states the impacts will be "acceptable", without giving details or answering: Acceptable to whom, exactly?

    Impacts may be acceptable to government officials such as Elvis W.K. Au (“Reduce waste, but also prepare for incinerator”, 19 March 2011). Yet they should not be acceptable to Hong Kong people, for whom the incinerator may be out of sight, but will not be out of lungs. Summer south-westerlies will waft emissions right across Hong Kong.

    There are alternatives. The government had favoured siting the incinerator at ash lagoons near Tuen Mun. It seems politics intervened: the government became afraid Tuen Mun people – and property developers? – would kick up a fuss.

    Green Island Cement company has a plan, too. Unlike the government-touted incinerators, this would utilise technology that has been tried and tested in Hong Kong, with results showing emissions at levels well below the standards the government will aim for. There is industrial land available, with infrastructure; the capacity can exceed the government's planned incinerator, and the cost will be far lower – around HK$3 billion compared to HK$8 billion for Shek Kwu Chau.

    Such options deserve fuller consideration. Hong Kong should not rush this consultation process. The government may wish to hide the incinerator away from the city, but it would be wrong to do so by damaging one of our loveliest and most ecologically significant coastal areas.



    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


    Another letter in SCM Post (not from me):

    As visitors from Australia to Hong Kong, staying on lovely Cheung Chau island, we were dismayed to hear of the proposed Shek Kwu Chau mega-incinerator on reclaimed land among these beautiful and popular islands.

    This is a highly inappropriate place for an incinerator.

    It would be an ugly fit amongst these lovely islands, and it would greatly add to the notorious air pollution in the city.

    This is our third visit to Hong Kong, which we like very much, but we sometimes suffer from asthma here due to the air pollution.

    We are concerned that the proposed incinerator will accentuate respiratory problems for residents and tourists, and make the city a less appealing destination.

    Hong Kong is forward looking in many ways.

    Therefore, we find it surprising that sustainable ways of dealing with waste do not have precedence over an old-fashioned, expensive and polluting incinerator.

    Many countries have adopted the three principles of reducing, reusing and recycling materials, such as paper, metals, plastic, timber, used cooking oil and lubricants, and also composting food and green waste and capturing methane for fuel.

    This is a modern, advanced society that should be adopting sustainable ways of dealing with waste.

    Nina and Brian Earl, Melbourne, Australia


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