Garbage about garbage about garbage

The Hong Kong government asks whether we think charging households for the waste they produce is an option. The nervous phrasing of the question becomes understandable when we see the Standard’s headline, Talking Rubbish. Getting people to pay for something they consider free by right, or already paid for via property management fees or taxes, will be a challenge.

Inevitably, the consultation document offers the public a choice of three stupid options and the one the bureaucrats have already picked.

Non-starter 1 would charge us in proportion to our water bills, which would incentivize us to cut water use while still producing tons of garbage.

Non-starter 2 would ignore private households but charge companies by volume of waste, which would incentivize smaller firms, at least, to make their staff take the trash home. And yes, they would.

Non-starter 3 would charge everyone in the neighbourhood the same, which would at least enable a progressive system (assuming the rich chuck more away than the poor) but otherwise offer no incentive to cut waste.

Which leaves us with what I would insensitively term the Confucian Garbage System, the method that induces Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese to create well under half the rubbish Hongkongers do. By law, residents must use special, relatively expensive plastic bags for their trash (it might help if the bags are pink, play tunes like birthday cards when opened and have Hello Kitty on them). The amount of garbage plummets. However, it relies on people resolutely obeying and enforcing rules in the cause of the common good – not one of the Big Lychee’s strong points when it comes to day-to-day civic life.

So, given the Environmental Protection Department’s success in forcing stationary vehicles to switch their engines off, we can safely assume that Hong Kong will continue churning out 19,000 metric tons of junk per day. Meanwhile, our landfills will be overflowing by 2018 or so. With no-one left in this city manly enough to suggest the quick and simple option of dumping the crap in the Mainland, we need to consider incinerators.

The bureaucrats decided to build one on Shek Kwu Chau. It’s one of those islands you’ve never heard of (near Lingding – the Zhuhai-run vice hub of years back) that turns out to be extremely charming, pristine and home to such endangered species as the lesser three-eared pumpkin toad. Click here to see Mr Julia’s glossy travelogue-style video on what the project would do to Lantau, and here for the Living Islands Movement’s thoughts, including a discrete but plaintive appeal they thought I’d miss concerning the impact on property prices in South Lantau.

While the civil servants are shredding the public submissions on the Shek Kwu Chau proposal – to test the thing’s furnace – some citizens are politely suggesting we should be using plasma arc molecule separation and gasification and “not the caveman-technology bonfires” the civil servants want.

As the name suggests, Plasma arc etc involves such stellar temperatures that atoms separate and form new compounds, as explained in a quick Discovery Channel video and the manufacturer’s blurb. Forget perpetual motion, nuclear fusion or creating gold from base metals – this promises to take Hong Kong’s tons of daily junk and convert it into: a) an inert glass-like slag perfect for construction and b) combustible gas ideal for generating electricity. And you should see what it does to virus-laden bird carcasses.

If it’s so wonderful, why are the bureaucrats of the Environmental Protection Department determined to go with the outdated burning-up-in-smoke-and-dumping-ash-somewhere approach?

As a non-scientist, I can only guess at three possible explanations.

One is that the Discovery Channel, Westinghouse and Hong Kong activists with all their PhDs and beards are wrong and EPD civil servants are right. (For example, the space-age arc Plasma stuff would cost the equivalent of 20 Zhuhai bridges.)

Another is that EPD officials are driving their mammoth 8-seater Alp Hards through town seething with rage that a bunch of outsiders living in buffalo-infested villages have come up with a better idea, and they are now going to dig their heels in and cover Shek Kwu Chau with satanic Victorian-era incinerators to defend the honour and face of the world’s most superior civil service.

A third is that one or both of these camps would get a kickback from the suppliers of their favoured technology. But looking at them all – trendy busybodies holding fund-raising barbecues on their villa roofs and pompously professional public servants filling in their air-conditioning allowance claims – it doesn’t wash.

I will remain agnostic, though I must say I have my hunches.

Click to hear the Golliwogs’ ‘Fight Fire’!

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12 Responses to Garbage about garbage about garbage

  1. Wag says:

    Swimming in garbage, choking on the air, being poisoned by the food and dying early from all the passive lifestyle and environmental toxins. And all the while counting the dollars.

    Great! They don’t deserve better.

    What’s the problem?

  2. Mary Hinge says:

    Can’t we just have a new law to the effect that anyone who puts their filthy garbage bag on top of an already-closed dustbin lid, thus obstructing access to the bin for all subsequent users, shall be stoned to death in public.

    That would eventually solve HK’s overcrowding problem too.

    And you can just send me my GBS through the post, Donald.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I would have thought the status quo was the best option, as it was for the (1997) medium of instruction policy and for the bridge to nowhere that we won’t be allowed to drive over, as it seems to be for runway 3.

    Failing that, can’t we dump it all along the border, sorry boundary, at places where the prevailing current takes any leakage overseas, sorry to where other people can deal with it?

  4. Stephen says:

    In light of the Sub-Standard’s headline last week regarding ‘Mega Island’ (or whatever) how about dusting off the proposal from a few years back for ‘Garbage Island’, located to the south of Lamma – I recall.

    Can our Superior Civil Service multitask and concentrate on the air that I have been chewing most of winter ?

  5. maugrim says:

    My beady eyes narrow in suspicion as soon as i hear ‘recommended by friends of the earth/dolphins/panda’. However, HK is s city full of paradoxes. I can be scolded, clucked at and nay, charged extra for wanting to take my shopping home in a plastic bag by a shop owned by a man who also owns power generation and cement works, two of the biggest polluters in the territory. There are plenty of habits that would need to change in HK to make it more ‘sustainable’ but it wont happen. Far easier for cosmetic things such as hello kitty plastic rubbish bags, and everyone still gets to make money.

  6. Wag says:

    @Stephen

    Maniland Lamma though must remain the chief depository of White Trash!

  7. Vir Cotto says:

    A 4th possible answer to why the EPD (“Environment Polluting Department”) is insisting on old technology is simple: It has taken over 10 years to get the proposal this far and the technology was not that old when EPD started the process.

    Besides in 2009 the nice Japanese old technology suppliers took an awful lot of EPD bureaucrats, local Lantau pollies and the Heung Yee Kuk (of course) to Japan for an all expenses paid incinerator and karaoke tour; while ensuring absolutely no favouritism between technologies, not at all, absolutely no way, that would be right out, the EPD are professionals !!! Although it appears EPD’s team leader Elvis Au was not named for his singing voice, despite it being good for HK’s environment if he gave up his day job.

    Finally, has anyone noticed that 5 of the proposed large reclamation sites noted in the sub-Standard last week are very close to the Shek Kwu Chau mega incinerator site. Apart from the air-born dioxins and fly ash, this technology is so old that 30% of “garbage-in” remains as “garbage-out” thus requiring a lot of landfill availability close by. Conspiracies abound.

  8. Big Al says:

    Personally, I think we should post all the garbage to France.

  9. Walter De Havilland says:

    Does not the plasma arc require massive amounts of power to get up to the required temperature, power that must be generated with a corresponding increase in carbon emissions or nuclear waste. Surely the best approach is to start reducing waste by getting rid of excessive packaging and make a serious attempt at recycling. I’m afraid our current life style and practices are unsustainable.

  10. the appalachianfanclub says:

    I’m not surprised that the trendy, barbecueing, fundraising residents of South Lantau are concerned about the effect of the incinerator on their house prices, environment and health – but this is actually a ‘whole of Hong Kong issue’. The carcinogenic dioxins released into the air will affect the health of everyone in Hong Kong, as will the transportation of 1000 tonnes of highly toxic fly ash from Shek Kwu Chau though the centre of Hong Kong to Tuen Mun every day. And the Environment ‘Protection’ Department’s attempts to hide these facts are a cause for grave concern for every Hong Konger.

  11. Vile says:

    Once one starts looking at these things scientifically one realises that one’s only hope is that immortality will remain an unachievable dream. Or to put it another way, hopefully old age will kill one off before the state of the planet does.

  12. Big Al says:

    The release of dioxins are not a concern from modern incinerators with decent combustion control and air pollution control – more dioxins will be released from the thousands of BBQs lit each year in Hong Kong than from a modern incinerator. In fact, the gas coming out of the stack will be a lot cleaner than the crap we normally breathe – don’t think of it as a waste incinerator, rather than as a clean air generator!

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