POLITICS – Talking Rubbish: 11 Untruths About the Shek Kwu Chau Incinerator

Guest Post: Hong Kong is looking to add another superlative to its awards cabinet, as the government plans to construct the world’s largest, most expensive waste incinerator of its kind in the territory. Our guest writer, Rachel Chan, of The Naked Island Project & Living Islands Movement, debunks 11 myths, claims and untruths ahead of a protest tomorrow in Central at 2:30pm.

#1 Untruth: Burning waste is the only solution.

Hong Kong must have an Incinerator to dispose of our Municipal Solid Waste, says the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). However, plasma arc technology and localised efforts that generate power are amongst the many alternatives. What is needed is sustainable management of rubbish, by reducing waste with proper sorting and recycling. (More details on Plan B here.)

#2 Untruth: There is no danger to public health.

The outdated technology will spew toxic air into the atmosphere, adding to Hong Kong’s already abysmal air pollution. An estimated 3,100 deaths in 2013 were related to air pollution in the city. Heart disease and lung disease are the most common pollution linked causes of death. There has been no full health impact assessment for the incinerator and the risks are largely unknown. According to medical experts the two main dangers to health from incinerators are dioxins and airborne particulate matter.  These have been linked to cancer, heart disease and asthma. Proximity to incinerators has also been linked to birth defects.

Hong Kong pollution

via Wikicommons

#3 Untruth: Half of our waste is recycled.

The EPD claims 48% of Hong Kong’s waste is recycled. Not true. If we really recycled that much garbage, an incinerator would be redundant. The EPD claims 44% of our total daily waste is food garbage. An organic waste treatment plant is already being built to handle that. If nearly half of our waste is recycled and nearly half again will be dealt with by the new plant – that leaves just 8% – 720 tonnes of the daily 9,000 tonnes produced – for an incinerator.

#4 Untruth: An incinerator is clean state-of-the-art technology.

However much waste is incinerated, around 30% remains in the incinerator grate as highly toxic ash. This too has to be disposed of. This ash will have to be transported for processing or to landfill, imposing additional and unacceptable risk to Hong Kong’s already crowded waterways.

Hong Kong incinerator protest

#5 Untruth: There will be no environmental damage.

The Bureau claim their incinerator will not harm the local environment. The reality is that the environmental damage to the area off South Lantau and around Shek Kwu Chau and Cheung Chau waters will be substantial and irreversible.

Finless porpoise

The finless porpoise, via Wikicommons

#6 Untruth: Shek Kwu Chau is the best location.

Sites for the first Incinerator have not been properly evaluated. The EPD did not conduct a true and fair cost comparison between Shek Kwu Chau and other locations and have repeatedly refused to show evidence of the relative costs. They rely on a spurious ‘beggar my neighbour’ argument for ‘balanced spatial distribution’ of waste facilities. Put simply: out of sight is out of mind.

#7 Untruth: Act now or be buried by garbage.

Half true. This divisive scaremongering is, ironically, an argument against their incinerator plan. Action should be taken now, rather than postponing until 2022 when the mega incinerator will finally come online. The government could begin now with an intensive campaign to cut waste and encourage recycling with proper sorting at source. They could invest in the recycling industry to manage recoverable waste. But instead of constructive action, they use radio advertisements to promote landfill extensions and incineration.

Lantau Protest

#8 Untruth: This is just a NIMBY issue.

This is a Hong Kong-wide issue. When planning to put their incinerator on reclaimed land off the pristine island of Shek Kwu Chau, the Bureau claimed that the prevailing wind came from the north. In fact, the Hong Kong Observatory notes that summer wind direction is mostly from the south. This means the incinerator’s poisonous emissions will blow across densely populated urban areas. The Bureau failed to mention how this is a major hazard to human health. Beyond Hong Kong, New Yorkers have refused to accept this costly and damaging outdated technology.

Lantau incinerator

Via FB

#9 Misleading data: Gov’t recycling statistics include imported plastic waste, which is in fact then re-exported. 

It is wrong to include this with Hong Kong’s domestic ‘recycled’ waste figures – it is a straightforward untruth.

#10 Misleading statistic: Most residents can already recycle rubbish.

EPD says more than 80% of Hong Kong residents have recycling bins near their homes. This could be true, but many bins are poorly located and most too small for public need. The result is overflowing bins and rubbish on the streets. The truth: despite their claims to the contrary, the EPD have done virtually nothing in the last three years to promote a sustainable strategy for waste management. Even the simple solution of bigger bins in better locations or collecting recyclables from the existing bins seems beyond them.

#11 Misleading statistic: The HK$18 billion cost.

The estimated cost of building the Organic Waste Treatment plant in North Lantau has ballooned from $500 million to HK$1.5 billion. The EPD and their advisors miscalculated – and got away with it. The estimated cost of the Incinerator on reclaimed land off Shek Kwu Chau is HK$18 billion, but sensible estimates put the real price closer to HK$30 billion. This is tax-payers’ money. Where is the financial integrity and financial accountability for this miscalculation?

Take action:

Sign the petition, join the protest on Friday or write to the Legco Finance Committee: 

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Lantau incinerator

Via FB

Rachel ChanRachel Chan is a long-time Hong Kong resident, teacher, writer & supporter of the Naked Islands Project & Living Islands Movement.

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