Landfills not only solution to our waste

In response to a reader’s criticism of Hong Kong’s waste management strategy (“Unjustified criticism of waste disposal”, June 21), the undersecretary for the environment, Christine Loh Kung-wai, argues that constructing more waste-treatment facilities, such as waste-to-energy incinerators, and expansion of existing landfills are the only options to transform our waste practices.

As a policy analyst and someone who works closely with the environmental industry, I would argue that this is simply a popular fallacy that drives people into believing that expanding our three existing landfills is the only way to solve our waste-management crisis.

Just look at how New York city deals with its waste. The city does not deal with its waste within the city boundary, but send it to its less populated neighbours for landfill or incineration.

New York city takes on this strategy mainly because it yields three stunning benefits. First, land in the metropolitan area can be saved for dire needs such as affordable housing, park land and office space.

Secondly, there are more jobs and revenue for the neighbouring cities as a result of the influx of waste.

Finally, the city has lower garbage fees from maximising the usage of existing waste-treatment facilities.

We have that luxury in Hong Kong, too. Our not-so-distant neighbour, Shenzhen, has incinerators that are not fully utilised. The facility operators over there certainly want our waste for more revenue.

And from a legal perspective, it is legitimate to send our waste to Shenzhen to be incinerated.

The Basel Convention, the treaty that governs the transportation of waste internationally, states only that our waste could not exported to other countries.

Since Shenzhen and Hong Kong are technically under the same sovereignty, sending waste to Shenzhen therefore is not part of this restriction.

<Posted on South China Morning Post – Letters to the Editor, June 24, 2013>

2 thoughts on “Landfills not only solution to our waste

  1. Hi Tim, pleased to meet you here and thanks for your sharing. Though myself graduated from Master of Environmental Management in HKU, I won’t consider myself the best person to comment this since my focus are not in MSW. I would still want to comment on your points, ethically and technically. Would there be similar hazards of transporting waste to Shenzhen and the “potential” incinerator in an island (not legally confirmed yet)? In HK we may ship the waste as the incinerator station has been designed for that, will the Shenzhen incinerator capable to receive waste from the sea? and if not, do you know many waste trucks will be needed and how horrible they can affect to the neighbors? If you ever visit CKO you know the worst may not be the landfill but the road that full of smelly trash trucks. And about ethic, do you think it is a bit egocentric to think that Hong Kong people have the right to dump the trash in other people’s land? Where will that bargaining power from? I think it is time for HK people really pay for the waste we’ve made – reducing – reusing – and then adapt the most effective waste management methods – first strictly recycling the reusable, incinerate and then through the remaining into landfill. I don’t know any of the modern waste management methods can survive without landfill – – after all, there are ashes from the incinerators!

  2. Hi Pong, thank you for reading my post and commenting about it.

    Whether you believe it or not, I think I’ve been to landfills probably more than the top bureaucrats who now works in ENB. (To be precise: 3x to TKO, 1x to Los Angeles landfill and 1x to another landfill in California). I’ve also visited incinerator as well as you can see from the pictures in my previous posts. So I wouldn’t say I am good at this topic, but I certainly have a point in arguing why sending waste to SZ makes more sense.

    Let me start by answering your question on ethics. You say that it is horrendous to send all the trucks to our neighbors and it is selfish to dump trash in neighbor’s lot. True! But that doesn’t make dumping all of Hong Kong’s garbage next to LOHAS Park, Tuen Mun or Ta Ku Ling environmentally ethical either. I mean, what superiority does the rest of the Hong Kong has that makes them environmentally ethical to dump garbage in all these three places? And since dumping garbage in all places is going to be environmentally unethical anyway, then it makes much more sense to look at it from a efficiency perspective (i.e. costing, land prices, etc…).

    As for your technical questions, first, you are right about there are ashes from incinerators. But with modern technology, ashes can pretty much recycled and be turned into road asphalts and building materials leaving only <1% that really needs to be landfill, which could easily be buried without landfill expansion. Second, you have to understand that SZ wants our garbage. They are currently charging around 90 hkd/tonne just to take their local waste. If Hong Kong pays something between SZ rate and what Hong Kong is paying (i.e. 500hkd/tonne) to take care of its own garbage say 300 hkd/tonne, the folks over there will be making more revenue and we will be able to take care of our own waste crisis; a win-win situation for both of us. third, the transportation method, i apologize i do not have an exact figure. but by my estimate, it is possible we ship the trash up north either by ships or trucks if we are talking about shipping it to the incinerator in yantian. Fourth, air quality (which you did not mentioned), you have to understand that even if we do not build any incinerator or extend landfill today, the pearl river delta region would have 40 incinerators that are slated for operation in the next 2-3 years and that's going to take a huge blow on our air quality. In that case, why should we build another incinerator to worsen our air quality and have all the pollutants in our face?

    To conclude, i agree with you that we should do the three R's and i agree that there are remains needed for incineration or landfill. however, what i do not agree is the fact we have to deal garbage within our city vicinity because it just doesn't make sense environmental, economically or socially no matter how you look at it from any perspectives.

    Hope I answered all of your questions. If not, don't hesitate to throw in a reply. Take care!

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