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Integrated Waste Management Facilities: Proposed Shek Kwu Chau Incinerator Project

Hong Kong is home to over 7 million people and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and has an overall density of some 6400 people per square kilometre. The high population and vertical nature of the city can create various problems for new construction projects which are often solved by highly complex and technical engineering expertise. The high number of people in Hong Kong also creates significant problems with waste management and disposal.

In order to help manage this ongoing problem the Environment Protection Department (EPD) has proposed to build an Integrated Waste Management Facilities (IWMF) on a reclaimed island on Shek Kwu Chau. The proposed development will involve the creation of an artificial island south of Shek Kwu Chau and west of Cheung Chau. The facilities which will include a large incinerator which is expected to treat about 3,000 tonnes of waste a day at peak operation. With construction anticipated to be complete in 2022 the estimated cost is likely to be within the range of HK$40 - HK$60 billion to complete the project.

Benefits

The IWMF project aims to substantially reduce the bulk size of mixed municipal solid waste (MSW) and to recover useful resources. It will help to reduce the strain on existing landfills, thereby extending the useable life of landfills and their extensions in Hong Kong. In fact the government claimed that the capacity of the existing three landfills will be exhausted by 2018 which further emphasised the need for the project.

Other benefits include the ability to recover energy from the waste which could be turned into electricity to power over 100,000 households in Hong Kong, in turn helping to reduce the use of fossil fuel for electricity generation. The project is expected to contribute positively to the reduction of Green House Gas emission in Hong Kong.

The EPD claim the incineration facility will blend in with the surrounding local environment with attractive and thoughtful design aspects. The IWMF would be designed to have aesthetically pleasing architectural elements. In addition, it would provide excellent opportunities for incorporation of environmental education and technology research.

Opposition

Although many believe the incinerator will have positive benefits the project has also attracted considerable opposition. Environmental groups oppose the proposed technology which will be used and believe the emissions created are harmful to health. They believe alternative technology “plasma gasification”, rather than the moving grate technology should be used in the incinerator. The advantages of gasification are that there are virtually no emissions, and the gas produced from the process can be converted into electricity, or biofuel.

Whereas the current proposal with mean the incinerator will produce up to 20 to 30 per cent by weight of hazardous bottom ash which will need transporting to the ash lagoon at Tsang Tsui by a fleet of barges

They believe the proposed incinerator will use polluting technology, produce toxic ash, disrupt the marine habitat, despoil a pristine island and destroy rather than protect the environment.

Others criticise the location saying that it will adversely affect local residents and wildlife. To justify locating the incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau island, the Environmental Protection Department claimed that building it in Tuen Mun, a far more cost-effective site, would unacceptably worsen the air quality there, contradicting its own previous report.

Future

The project will involve major elements of land reclamation, infrastructure works, building and marine engineering. With contractors and engineering companies looking to secure work packages on the project there is no doubt this would create 1000s of job opportunities for construction and engineering professionals. However as debate continues and with contracts still yet to be awarded it remains to be seen if and when construction will begin on this major scale waste management project.

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Tim Cole
Senior Recruitment Consultant – Hong Kong & Asia

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