The Blog

Open Letter to Mrs Carrie Lam

i Oct 9th No Comments by

Subject: New Inter-departmental co-operation in the planning and implementation of a comprehensive waste management policy urgently required
Date: 2014-10-08 23:39

Dear Mrs Lam

The Environment Bureau is proposing to expand landfills and build an incinerator to dispose of Hong Kong’s waste, and claims that these measures along with waste-charging will reduce the per capita waste generated by 40% by 2022. We understand that the Finance Committee will vote on the proposal in October. We would like to bring this critical matter to your attention as it will affect Hong Kong in the decades to come.

A comprehensive sustainable waste management policy must be based on an integrated programme of waste sorting, separating and recycling. Such a programme requires the co-operation and commitment of the three departments concerned: the Environmental Protection Department, Housing Department, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

You already are aware of the dysfunction and inefficiency of civil service bureaucracy that hinders cross-departmental co-operation essential in the implementation of your policies and you made a personal commitment on this and chair an inter-departmental committee to address this issue. However, there is no evidence of any such inter-departmental co-operation in the planning and implementation of a comprehensive waste management policy based on waste sorting, separating and recycling.

As a result, the Environmental Bureau planning effort in the last ten years has been dedicated only to the expansion of landfills and the construction of an incinerator based on outdated polluting technology that will cost the Hong Kong taxpayer between 100% and 300% more than comparable installations elsewhere.

In municipalities around the world, every successful waste reduction effort has been accompanied by a comprehensive programme to separate and sort waste at or near source into recyclable and non-recyclable waste.  Without such a programme, expanding the landfills and constructing incinerators will not adequately deal with the increasing amount of waste. While waste-charging can help, as in Seoul and Taipei, the success of this strategy is based on having comprehensive measures in place to sort and separate waste so that recyclable and non-recyclable waste can be transported to their respective destinations.

In the past 10 years, no such comprehensive sorting and separation of waste has been seriously investigated for Hong Kong, nor is it in the Environment Bureau’s current plan. Without such a programme, waste management is confined to putting an increasing volume of waste in landfills and incinerator(s). This is not a sustainable strategy. While the Environment Bureau’s plan requires an 8-year lead time before the proposed incinerator is operational in 2022, comprehensive waste sorting and separation can be established in much less time and at far lower cost than the $18 billion needed for the incinerator and $9 billion for expanding the three landfills. As this waste sorting and separation infrastructure is developed, along with waste-charging, the goal of reducing Hong Kong’s per capita waste by 40% would be achievable.

In summary, our recommendation is:
1.   Withdraw the current proposals for landfills expansion and construction of an incinerator.
2.   Develop a comprehensive waste sorting and separation programme to be operational in 2018.
3.   Implement a waste-charging scheme in 2020.
4.   At each current landfill site, build facilities for waste sorting and recycling, along with appropriate thermal technology to dispose of residual waste.

With inter-departmental cooperation, these goals are achievable. This strategy will lead to a sustainable and holistic programme for waste management for Hong Kong, matching if not exceeding that in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Europe. Proceeding along the current plan advocated by the Environmental Bureau is essentially a status quo approach in which the current waste crisis is postponed to the next administration when more landfills and incinerators will be needed.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Merrin Pearse

On behalf of the Committee and Members of the Living Islands Movement