Wealth in waste: In­cin­er­a­tion to gen­er­ate elec­tric power

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - EDDY LI The author is the vice-pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Hong Kong.

The land­fill ex­ten­sion is­sue is un­prece­dent­edly se­vere for Hong Kong at the mo­ment. The heated pub­lic de­bate, how­ever, was put to rest af­ter the ad­journ­ment of the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil (LegCo) dis­cus­sion on the govern­ment’s fund­ing pro­posal for the Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling land­fill ex­ten­sion in early July. The govern­ment in­di­cated that they will ta­ble the pro­posal and con­sult LegCo when it re­sumes busi­ness in au­tumn af­ter the sum­mer re­cess. In the mean­time, the re­lated of­fi­cers will per­form some on-the-spot in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in or­der to find the bal­anc­ing point to carry out the ex­ten­sion af­ter tak­ing much ad­vice and sug­ges­tions. Nev­er­the­less, it is still hard to say for now whether the fund­ing pro­posal will be passed by the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

It is an in­evitable phe­nom­e­non that the amount of the waste is get­ting larger and larger through pop­u­la­tion growth and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Statis­tics show that the cur­rent ev­ery­day do­mes­tic waste per capita in Hong Kong is 1.28 kg, tens of per­cent more than Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei. More­over, this fig­ure is only limited to Hong Kong res­i­dents; if we add the ex­tra waste pro­duced by the 50 mil­lion tourists a year, the to­tal amount is as­ton­ish­ing.

The ad­journ­ment of the pro­posal can only ex­ac­er­bate the waste disas­ter. We should take prompt ac­tion to fix the is­sue, or the three ex­ist­ing land­fills will be ex­hausted one by one by 2020 if waste lev­els con­tinue to in­crease at cur­rent lev­els. By then, the city will have to deal with al­most 20,000 tons of waste ev­ery day.

I do be­lieve that we need to find longterm mea­sures to solv­ing the prob­lem rather than re­ly­ing on land­fill ex­ten­sion only. Oth­er­wise, even with the ex­tended land­fill and im­proved waste re­duc­tion, the prob­lem will re­cur in the fu­ture given that Hong Kong is a small but densely pop­u­lated city. There­fore, the best way is to adopt a sus­tain­able mode for waste dis­posal — in other words, we have to make bet­ter use of the waste and change it into some­thing of com­mer­cial value, turn­ing waste into wealth.

At present, there are al­ready com­pa­nies in the re­cy­cling in­dus­try ad­vo­cat­ing re­cy­cling ma­te­ri­als and in­stalling food waste de­com­pos­ing sys­tems to re­cy­cle left­overs into com­post, but the ef­fect is limited given that the re­cy­cled amount is not pro­por­tional to the waste pro­duced ev­ery day. Ac­tu­ally, the most ef­fec­tive way to clear the waste is in­cin­er­a­tion, which can gen­er­ate elec­tric power in the process. By do­ing this, we can turn waste into en­ergy re­sources and mean­while con­form to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion prin­ci­ples.

There are ex­ist­ing cases of elec­tric power gen­er­a­tion by in­cin­er­a­tion: in Tai­wan, the waste was be­ing used to gen­er­ate power more than two decades ago, and now, there are 26 (24 are in use) refuse in­cin­er­a­tor plants on the is­land, in­cin­er­at­ing 24,650 tons of waste per day and nearly 9 mil­lion tons last year, earn­ing NT$4.6 bil­lion ($153 mil­lion); the sit­u­a­tion in Nor­way is more op­ti­mistic, where the in­cin­er­a­tor plants are even fac­ing “waste short­age” in the coun­try, so that they need to im­port waste from other coun­tries, so as to in­crease the gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity.

Not long ago, a pri­vate busi­ness group in Hong Kong spent HK$9.8 bil­lion launch­ing a takeover bid for the big­gest en­er­gyfrom-waste firm in the Nether­lands. The firm pro­vides elec­tric power, steam and heat­ing, and its an­nual net profit reached HK$400 mil­lion to HK$500 mil­lion — a con­sid­er­able rate of re­turn. Al­though Hong Kong peo­ple have not at­tached great im­por­tance to this op­tion in the past and the whole in­dus­try has not yet been formed, this is an ev­i­dent case that gen­er­at­ing power from waste in­cin­er­a­tion is a promis­ing busi­ness. So it is high time that we con­sid­ered and stud­ied care­fully this so­lu­tion, to avoid “wast­ing” the waste we now pro­duce ev­ery day.

Eddy Li

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