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Speech by SEN at Seminar on Thermal Waste Treatment (English only)(with photo)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Seminar on Thermal Waste Treatment today (March 7):

Professor Lam, Professor Poon, Dr Ng, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

    Waste, and the treatment of it, does not seem to be a good topic for a luncheon talk as it might upset our appetite, or worse still, create a sense of guilt amongst us as I can observe we are all contributing to Hong Kong's daily creation of over 3,000 tonnes of food waste.  I hope my ongoing speech will not make it worse.

    The waste management issue is imminently pressing in Hong Kong as evident from the following facts : -

Daily waste generated: 17,000 tonnes
                        2/3 household and
                        1/3 commercial/industrial
Waste reduced through recycling: 8,000 tonnes
Waste ending up at our three landfills: 9,000 tonnes/day

    Unfortunately, the three strategic landfills operating will be running out of capacity in four to eight years' time. In short, the current mode of waste disposal is simply not sustainable.

    We have back in 2005 published a policy framework on the management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).  This framework provides the blueprint for sustainable waste management in Hong Kong.  To recap, this comprehensive package of initiatives sets out specific waste management targets that are to be met through a multitude of policy tools.  These include targets to reduce waste through waste charging, producer responsibility schemes, promotion of waste recycling, and state-of-the-art facilities for bulk reduction and disposal of waste.  The challenge is how to put all these measures into implementation in a timely and publicly acceptable manner.

    Let's take a look at how we have been doing since 2005, when we published the policy framework.

    Taking the latest figures for the year 2007, we have achieved some solid results in reducing domestic waste disposal and in recycling more waste.  In 2007, the amount of domestic waste disposed of at the landfills dropped by 4% compared with the year before, despite an increase of about 1% in the local population over the same period.  This was due, I believe, largely to the continuing expansion of the source separation of waste programme. To better facilitate waste recycling at the domestic level, we will introduce legislation shortly to mandate the provision of a refuse storage and material recovery room for new residential buildings. 

    On the other hand, the landfill disposal of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste increased by almost 16% in 2007, which was probably driven by robust economic growth and strong tourism influx. As a result, the overall landfill disposal of MSW (i.e. domestic plus C&I waste) increased slightly by 1.6% to about 3.44 million tones in 2007. It is therefore necessary for us to speed up the implementation of waste reduction initiatives and the development of waste treatment infrastructure, while sustaining our momentum in waste recovery and recycling.

    On recycling, we achieved a MSW recovery rate of 45% in 2006, not too bad an interim level of achievement, but the question is whether we can sustain this and are able to push for even a higher recovery rate.  In addition to publicity campaigns and public education, we need new tools especially in introducing a targeted approach in bringing producer responsibility into our management options.  In the past year, we have struggled but finally succeeded in putting the Product Eco-responsibility Bill to the Legislative Council in January this year. This bill will provide the legal basis for us to pursue the Producer Responsibility Scheme and to implement an environmental levy on plastic shopping bags initially.  It also allows us to extend the scheme to cover vehicle tyres, electrical and electronic equipment, packaging materials, beverage containers and rechargeable batteries.  The current construction of the bill is a compromise of early implementation of a levy on plastic shopping bags and paving the way for other forms of mandatory recycling measures.  We are thankful to Legco in giving us the slot in spite of the tight legislative timetable this year, being the last year of the current term.  We need their ongoing support in processing the bill swiftly and should give them bigger applause if this could be enacted within the current session.

    In the policy framework, we have also considered the introduction of MSW charging, which is another useful tool that follows the "polluter pays" principle to achieve waste avoidance and reduction.  However, it is also a measure that could invite heated debates as it could easily be misconstrued as a form of new tax, let alone some enforcement issues.  Last year, we conducted a trial to examine the feasibility of a charging system using designated garbage bags. The result of the trial suggests that a designated bag system would meet with difficulties in Hong Kong's multi-storey multi-tenant household setting where there are practical difficulties in tracing waste to the individual source.  We need to sort this out before moving further.  That said, we are not giving up the idea as abandoning this very important tool would greatly jeopardise the effectiveness of the package of policy options. We will also embark on a comprehensive territory-wide baseline survey later this year to collect information on waste generation patterns and waste collection modes under different domestic and commercial/industrial settings.  The survey will provide vital information for us to develop a waste charging scheme that will suit the needs of Hong Kong.

    Turning to the initiative of developing bulk waste reduction facilities, we have set out in the Policy Framework that Integrated Waste Management Facilities (IWMF) would be developed.  We have made some progress and will adopt a two pronged programme whereby Organic Waste Treatment Facilities (OWTF) for treating source separated biodegradable food waste generated by the commercial and industrial sectors will be developed in Siu Ho Wan on North Lantau Island.  The facilities will adopt a biological process that turns the waste into useful products such as compost for fertilisers and bio-gas for power generation.

    Today, we are here to talk about thermal incineration that will reduce the volume of waste requiring landfill disposal.  This is an obvious choice given Hong Kong's scarcity of land.  This will help extend the useful life of the landfills so that the further need to use our scarce land resources for landfill development will be greatly reduced.  The design capacity of 3,000 tonnes per day will save more than one million cubic metres of landfill space each year, equating to more than two hectares of land each year.  The clock is ticking that if we do not start planning for the IWMF, we could have a big headache like what Naples in Italy was recently facing.

    Another very important function under the IWMF is the recovery of resources. The mixed MSW reaching the facility will include some recyclables for reuse or recycling. Moreover, through the incineration facility of the IWMF, we can recover energy from the waste and produce heat and electricity for the community's use. We estimate that for a 3,000 tonnes per day incineration facility, the electricity generated would be adequate for use by more than one hundred thousand households. This would offset the need to burn fossil fuel for electricity generation, resulting in a reduction of some 0.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions each year.

    I will not go into the details of the proven technologies of IWMF, which many expert speakers will cover in the various sessions.

    In short, the IWMF with incineration will contribute positively to the sustainable management of waste in Hong Kong by significantly reducing use of land for landfills, generating a considerable amount of renewable electricity and leading to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Notwithstanding the many potential benefits of such a facility, some have raised concerns over its health and environmental impact.  Some perceive it as visually intrusive and fear it may attract additional waste traffic that would have an impact on the nearby community. Some also are worried that once the Government has developed the IWMF, it will lessen its resolve to pursue waste avoidance and reduction measures. All these are quite legitimate concerns.

    There is no short-cut to convincing our community of the need for the IWMF without addressing all these concerns through a public engagement process.  We have recently started this process by identifying two sites for a more detailed environmental impact study with a view to finding the most appropriate location.  More work would need to be done in ensuring that the facility when built will provide not just the best waste treatment facility for the entire territory but also a good community facility for the local district. 

    Hong Kong is not alone in tackling this problem.  Indeed, there are also good examples overseas showing that high recycling rates can go hand in hand with the use of incineration for waste management.  Waste incineration facilities are already a common feature for waste management in many advanced cities such as Tokyo, Hamburg, Singapore and Paris, so there is a lot for us to learn on how to address community concerns in the course of pursuing our IWMF plan.  Today's seminar is timely and useful as renowned speakers in the field of thermal technology on waste management have shared or will share their wisdom and experience on the subject.

    For sure, Hong Kong will make reference to the successful experience of other cities in developing its IWMF. We will employ state-of-the-art technologies and adopt the highest standards to safeguard public health and the environment, and to harness resources from waste efficiently. We will develop the IWMF in such a way that it will blend in well and be acceptable to the surrounding community.

    I thank the organiser for organising this event.  I admire the wisdom of the organiser in picking the headline of this seminar - "Thermal Waste Treatment"- as we know full well that the topic of waste management will generate heat -- heated debates and arguments.  But if we could turn these heated debates into enthusiasm for solutions as we turn waste burning heat into usable energy, we stand to make Hong Kong a greener city, and in so doing, some cool-headed deliberation amongst experts, academics, professionals and stakeholders, in a seminar like the one we have here today, would be most productive. 

    Thank you.

Ends/Friday, March 7, 2008
Issued at HKT 17:18


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