Hong Kong Needs an Innovative Way to Cut its Reliance on Water Imports

The recent price increase for Dongjiang water imports has sparked debate on whether we should continue relying on the Dongjiang as our primary source of water. The proponents of relying less on water from Guangdong are taking advantage of this rate increase to urge the Hong Kong government to spend more resources on water conservation. Some go as far as demanding that the government increase the water tariff to discourage the wasting of water.

I am not against the idea of conserving water so we could import less from the Dongjiang. But I can hardly see how conservation policies by themselves could lead to less reliance on imports.

The increase in the water tariff is a perfect example. If the tariff rises by only a small amount, few will have any incentive to conserve water and the policy will become ineffective. Conversely, if the tariff increases significantly, it will raise the issue of affordability and the price hike will come under attack from politicians and the general public.

In either case, it will only lead to endless debate within society. In the end, we will most likely end up with the status quo, still relying on the Dongjiang as our primary water source.

What we need is an innovative policy in addition to conservation measures. This may include reusing water that gets dumped into the drainage system and/or rainwater harvesting – both of which are water resources readily available throughout the year. The former may be complicated, as it will probably involve restructuring of the existing pipe network and redefining our health and environmental policy. It may be years before our waste water can be effectively recycled. But the latter option is technically feasible.

A partnership between the government and the private sector can help, with the Buildings Department giving floor area concessions to development projects and/or the Environmental Protection Department handing out a subsidy to encourage building owners and developers to install a rainwater harvesting system.

If either of these policies can be adopted, I envisage that Hong Kong could decrease its water imports from the Dongjiang within five years. We would also have more bargaining power in future negotiations on the price of Dongjiang water.

As Guangdong cities develop, we can expect increasing demands on Dongjiang water. This means our water import rates may rise more frequently. Our government needs to act now to help Hong Kong rely less on the Dongjiang and ensure a sustainable water supply for all.

<This article appeared in South China Morning Post on 04/11/2014 Letters column as “Hong Kong Needs an Innovative Way to Cut Its Reliance on Water Imports”>

Eco-farming deserving of more support

IMG_20140104_105746   IMG_20140104_113827 IMG_20140104_102006   IMG_20140104_103828 IMG_20140104_104427   IMG_20140104_105406
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a privatised eco-farming facility in Tin Shui Wai.

I was amazed by the facility’s holistic approach to growing local food with our daily food waste.

Put simply, this facility turns food waste into local food in three steps.

First, staff will go to the nearby estate, school or restaurant to collect food waste.

Then they process the waste and turn it into quality fish food used for breeding fish in the facility’s fish tank. Finally, the microbes from the tank act as a form of fertiliser to grow vegetables near the tank.

At the end of the day, fresh and nutritious vegetables will be grown and fish farmed to be sold at the local market.

This is truly a sustainable approach. It could not just solve Hong Kong’s waste management crisis, but also help to cut our carbon footprint in terms of food imports.

The company has yet to break even because it is operating a small-scale business. But I was told by the management that they are confident that the facility could break even within 6 to 11 months once the business reaches the economy of scale.

Also, the management repeatedly emphasised that they do not require a grant or subsidy from the government to keep the business alive.

Here we have a private company that has the will to tackle Hong Kong’s waste management crisis without asking for a subsidy and. In doing so, it is causing no problems for the local community.

Therefore, shouldn’t the government consider this as a third possible part of our waste management initiative besides the construction of an incinerator and the expansion of our landfills?

The chief executive is due to make his policy address on Wednesday.

It gives the government a good opportunity to do justice to its highly criticised sustainable resource blueprint.

It can set out proper public policies to assist companies like the one I have described and put Hong Kong on the right path to solving our current waste crisis.

* A big thanks to my friends at Environmental Company of Hong Kong, Ltd for showing me their eco farm.

<This article appeared in South China Morning Post on 11/01/2014 Letters column as “Eco-farming deserving of more support”>

不應激化地區之間矛盾

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近日,一個名為綜合廢物管理行動組(Integrated Waste Management Action Group)向城規會提交規劃申請。根據該項規劃申請,擬將屯門、打鼓嶺及將軍澳三幅鄰近現有堆填區的政府空置用地,改劃為堆填焚化用途,也將石鼓洲焚化爐用地改劃為海岸公園。行動組希望通過相關規劃申請,加快本港焚化爐的建造和減少破壞海洋生態。

改劃用途 魔鬼在細節

誠然,我們歡迎石鼓洲焚化爐用地改劃為海岸公園,亦支持行動組出謀獻計。但魔鬼在細節,是次申請並非行動組口中所說的保育或完善全港廢物管理設施,而是一項間接激化地區之間的政治取態。

若城規會通過是次申請,只要政府日後有適當財力,政府就能為所欲為,在毋須諮詢公眾或城規會情況下,於屯門、打鼓嶺及將軍澳三地,隨意興建大型焚化堆填設施。三區合共一百一十萬居民亦將因為是次申請,須無了期承受焚化堆填設施所帶來的交通、環境及健康影響。對這三區居民而言,為了保育石鼓洲而導致他們蒙受環境污染,實在說不過人!

行動組一口氣把三區的土地,改劃為堆填焚化用途實在太私利,只單方面思考利用焚化爐設施廢物的方法,難道行動組把近日鬧得全城熱烘烘的廢物徵費給忘了嗎?在廢物徵費落實的可能性下,本港廢物產量下跌是意料中事。四個焚化爐落成後,會否供過於求,令焚化堆填設施變成一隻大白象?

此外,行動組提交城規會的文件中,並無提交每項工程最重要的環境影響與交通影響評估。若城規會在欠缺實質因素和科學數據下,亦能通過相關申請,城規會勢必負上政治代價。當日後有任何涉及重大規劃申請需要城規會處理時,市民勢必拉布反對不公義規劃申請,令城規會審批規劃申請更舉步維艱。

花費逾百萬的石鼓洲焚化爐前期工程,因司法覆核與訴訟,浪費了政府處理廢物管理的黃金時機。我們不是反對市民繼續進行司法覆核,亦非針對市民提出規劃修訂,但任何有關廢物管理的建議、計畫修訂或訴訟,都應要合乎社會大多數人的利益。

多年來,不同民間智庫組織不斷向政府提出各類可行的長遠廢物處理方案。作為民間與政策的橋梁,環境局應多聽民間意見,盡快推行一套切實可行的廢物管理政策,不要令民間因一項廢物管理政策,激化地區之間矛盾。

* 本文章與專業動力青年團副召集人李思朗一起撰寫

<文章刊登於2013年12月27日星島日報>

Rezoning existing landfill sites for incinerator not a good idea

I refer to Ian Brownlee’s article (“Community has the know-how to tackle Hong Kong’s waste challenges“, December 2) on South China Morning Post.

Mr Brownlee suggested that the government should consider two waste management initiatives recently proposed by two local NGOs, adopting plasma gasification and rezoning existing landfill sites for incinerators.

I agree that the government should give these initiatives some consideration. Yet on a practical basis, I do not see how they can be a wiser use of public resources than constructing a large incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau. And most certainly, I do not see how these initiatives could expedite the implementation of the proposed incinerator.

For one thing, plasma gasification is an emerging and pricey technology.

It has huge upfront and maintenance costs and has a lengthy payback period.

The cost-effectiveness of such technology has yet to be proved on a massive scale. Therefore, many metropolises have yet to pursue it as one of their primary municipal waste treatment strategies.

Regarding rezoning sites near existing landfills for an incinerator, that is easier said than done.

In 2011, when the Town Planning Board looked into rezoning Tseung Kwan O Area 137 (a parcel of land next to the existing landfill) into the landfill and related facilities, more than 10,000 local residents filed their objections against rezoning. Some of them even threatened to file an application for judicial review should the government decide to implement the board’s final rezoning decision.

Such legal processes will lead to further delays in the construction of the incinerator and not expedite it by at least two years as Mr Brownlee claims.

I understand that Mr Brownlee and the NGO groups that share his views are well-intentioned.

They want to contribute in any way they can to help the government establish a sustainable strategy for Hong Kong’s waste management.

Nonetheless, any new proposal that tries to rationalise the government’s current waste management strategy should be feasible from a public finance standpoint. And more importantly, it should not attempt to create further conflicts between the government and those communities adjacent to a landfill.

This will only lead to more disagreements, a greater accumulation of waste throughout Hong Kong and further delay a strategy which fixes our city’s waste management problems.

<This article appeared in South China Morning Post on 19/12/2013 Letters column as “Rezoning existing landfill sites for incinerator not a good idea” and print edition as “Rezoning landfill sites for incinerator will not solve waste problems”>

探討廚餘的另一面

如果筆者用:「廢物危機、近在咫尺」這八個字來描述香港現時的廢物管理策略,相信沒有人會反對筆者這個描述。若要解決當前的廢物危機,我們必須盡快推行積極而可行的政策,減少廢物棄置量,令廢物能夠得到妥善處理。

為了處理當前的廢物問題,環保團體、政府官員與回收業界異口同聲,建議加快推行廚餘回收。這個做法既能令棄置的食物更物盡其用,又能減少廢物棄置於「珍貴」的堆填區,實屬一舉兩得。

筆者並不否定這個說法,但作為從事環境業務的一員,筆者只能說,有關說法把廚餘包裝得太完美了。事實上,廚餘像其他垃圾處理模式一樣,都能夠引致不同程度的環境與健康影響。

廚餘也會產生毒氣與病毒

其一、在廚餘被處理的時候,過程中會散發一種名位揮發性有機化合物 (Volatile Organic Compound) 的氣體。揮發性有機化合物是一種無色無味的氣體,通常會在油漆風乾過程中釋放。吸入這種氣體會令人產生長期勞累、頭痛、喉嚨痛等多項病症。有研究甚至指出,長期吸入揮發性有機化合物能增加患癌的機會。

其二、廚餘能夠污染水質。城市人為求食物美味,他們會將湯水與飯菜加入不同調味料。然而,這些調味料帶有不同酸鹼度。一但廚餘回收商未按照固定程序,沒有把廚餘內的水分中和,酸性的廚餘可透過處理後的堆肥,滲透地下水,污染鄰近地區水質。

其三、某些廚餘物料帶有病毒。如一些肉類和奶類,他們本身帶有沙門氏菌、肝炎菌、鏈球菌等多項病毒。若回收商沒有為廚餘作定期安全測試,處理廚餘的技工可能在不知情的情況下,感染相關病毒,並把病毒傳播至家人及朋友,大大增加了上述病毒在社區爆發的風險。

任何廢物處理模式都有自身問題

無論是廚餘、堆填區或焚化爐,任何廢物處理模式都有經濟、社會與環保利弊。正如英文的一句詞句:”There are two sides of the same coin” (每個錢幣都有正反兩面)。

廚餘能有效處理當前的廢物管理問題,但同時亦能夠帶來環境與健康的負面影響。唯一解決方法是透過立法監管與完善設施的設計,進一步減少廢物處理設施所帶來的負面影響。

有見及此,政府應及早提出廚餘回收業的監管方案,一方面嚴格監管廚餘的工序,而另一方面則保障工人在處理廚餘時能享有清新的工作環境。

How I Think Waste Charging Should Be Implemented

About a week ago, my article titled “Why Municipal Solid Waste Charging Fails” outlined the reasons why waste charging schemes proposed by Hong Kong’s Council of Sustainable Development would ultimately fail.  Today, I want to propose some suggestions as to how I think waste charging should be implemented in Hong Kong.

In numerous occasions, chair of Council for Sustainable Development Mr. Bernard Chan declares that the government’s main objective of introducing waste charging is to induce behavioral changes of every citizen and business to reduce waste. And given Hong Kong’s huge budget surplus, Hong Kong Government has no mean to use the charge as a way to increase government’s revenue.

If this is the case, simply by setting a quota on the amount and frequency of waste collected for “free”, and charging a hefty fees for those who exceed the quota would have served this objective.

I envision the quota system would consist of three simple steps:

  1. Government allocates waste collection quota to each building or estate based on the number of households;
  2. Waste collectors provide designated waste bins and pick up filled bins;
  3. If the building exceeds the collection quota, waste collection company charge a hefty fee on each additional waste bin collected.

Two types of bins that are commonly used in Hong Kong’s waste collection:
The smaller one on the left holds about 59kg of waste. The larger one on the right holds about 200kg of waste. Both bins could be considered as options to the designated bins.

Initially, government could set a lenient quota of 5% reduction in the amount and frequency of waste collection to prepare people for the adjustment to the new waste management practice. As more local recycling and food waste facilities begin to operate, government would then set stringent quota and aggressively cut down the amount of “free” waste collection. Quota will continue to be cut down until the waste reduction target set forth in Environmental Bureau’s Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources is met.

When compare to the government’s waste charging proposal, I believe my proposal yields much more benefit to the society:

  1. Government would continue to honor its waste collection services cover by the property rates;
  2. Everyone will bear the same waste reduction and economical responsibility, regardless of their socio-economical status, industries and sectors;
  3. Building occupants will force one another to reduce waste in order to avoid exceeding the waste collection quota and paying the hefty fees;
  4. Less administrative work (i.e. selling and bookkeeping the bags) for the property management
  5. Lower chance of a property management fees hike;
  6. Less enforcement responsibility from the government;
  7. Much lower cost in running the waste reduction program

I acknowledge that my proposal has its drawback (i.e. the likelihood of fly-tipping when someone uses up their entire waste collection quota). Nevertheless, I believe with proper monitoring (i.e. installing closed-circuit television and heavily fining those who fly-tip), we should be able to resolve some of the drawbacks at a relatively lower administrative cost.

Waste management and social justice are equally important to Hong Kong. For the former, Hong Kong citizens agree that we need to do what we can to cut down our waste. As for the latter, Hong Kong citizens would not like to see policy that could ultimately bring inequality and economic burdens to people.

I hope my proposal above along with the arguments that I wrote previously against waste charging could encourage everyone to start a dialogue to urge the Council of Sustainable Development and Environmental Bureau to stop pushing people to support their unfair waste charging proposal, but to start rationalizing their waste charging proposal and make it equal for all.

美國太陽能十項全能比賽

每當談到綠色建築,很多朋友會反問我是否要他們放棄使用家中的電器和回歸原始人生活。如果你也有這個疑問,那你就大錯特錯了。其實,綠色建築並不是要任何人放棄現在家中的電器或做原始人。綠色建築的原意是希望提高建築物所使用資源的效率,令大家能夠居住於一個健康、舒適和人人負擔得起的環境。

每兩年一屆的美國太陽能十項全能比賽 (Solar Decathlon) 正是希望達到這個目的。

今屆美國太陽能十項全能比賽,二十隊來自美國、加拿大、捷克和奧地利的大學,各自打造他們心目中最具成本效益、節能和影響力綠色建築。有些參賽作品自製平版電腦應用程式,令住戶能夠調控室內溫度。有些參賽作品則在浴室內裝設綠色植生牆 (green wall),以淨化浴室內的空氣。亦有一些作品重用當地被棄置的木材來建造房屋,以減低房屋的建造成本。總括而言,參賽隊的創意、概念表述和參賽的熱誠證明了綠色建築既能夠改善居住環境,亦能夠節省金錢。

以下是今屆美國太陽能十項全能剪影:

加拿大安大略湖隊伍-皇后大學、卡爾頓大學及阿崗昆大學 (Team Ontario: Queen’s University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College) 透過自製平版電腦應用程式,令住戶能夠調控室內溫度。

南加州大學隊伍 (Team University of Southern California) 在客廳加設太陽煙筒。透過這個太陽煙筒,住戶能夠調節自然光和天然通風,令他們能夠更親近大自然。

南加州建築學院和加州理工學院隊伍 (Team Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology) 研發了可移動房屋,利用軌道系統把房屋向兩旁延伸,令房屋的戶外空間得以增加。

明德大學 (Middlebury University) 採用當地被棄置的木材來建造房屋,以減低建築成本。此外,他們亦利用雨水收集系統 (rainwater collection system),把收集得來的雨水用作沖廁和灌溉,大幅度減少使用自來水。

加拿大亞伯達隊伍-卡加利大學 (Team Alberta: University of Calgary) 利用太陽能熱水器,為用水加熱,以減少房屋能源的使用。此外,他們亦在浴室內裝設綠色植生牆 (green wall),以淨化浴室內的空氣。

想更深入了解今屆美國太陽能十項全能的詳情?不妨參閱以下網頁:
http://www.solardecathlon.gov