From Rotterdam to Victoria Harbour

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Between two of the largest ports in the world, Hong Kong has imported milk powder, tulips, furniture, and (temporarily) one huge rubber duck. Now there are talks to import Holland’s crown jewel – Waste Management.

Lending a Hand
Waste management has been a hot topic in Hong Kong, with the EPD pushing the controversial “three landfills, one incinerator” proposal amid threats that Hong Kong’s current landfills will reach capacity in the next few years. In 2013, a Letter of Intent was signed between the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for cooperation regarding waste management. The agreement has thus far generated a lot of activity, with delegations making meaningful visits both ways.

The proposal that has been pushed by the EPD, involves the expansion of the three landfills in Tuen Mun, Tseung Kwan O, and Ta Kwu Ling, and the building of an incinerator facility in Shek Kwu Chau. Communities adjacent to the landfills and environmental NGOs alike have strongly opposed such measures, fearing potential pollution. Last year, Wong Kam Sing, the head of EPD who signed the Letter of Intent, warned that Hong Kong would be “surrounded by rubbish” if the HK$8.9 billion expansion did not go through.

Mr Wilfred Mohr, Dutch Consul General in Hong Kong, asserts the Netherland’s authority on these matters, “In Netherlands we have 25 years of experience, in getting away from landfills, reducing waste and recycling more, and building incinerators. We have 11 incinerators in the Netherlands equipped with state of the art technology… [and are] clean operations. The Netherlands has quite some experience in how to organize this all.” A report from the European Commission in 2012 touted Netherland’s waste management programme – along with Austria’s – as the best in Europe.

With about 8 companies, a Dutch consortium has been making themselves known to potentially interested Hong Kong partners. They will then bid on the tenders, alone or in a consortium fashion with local partners, and try to win contracts awarded by the EPD. “We are the ears and eyes on the ground,” explained Wilfred with regards to the consul’s role. “I think it would be nice if one or two Dutch companies could win the upcoming tenders EPD is going to put up, but that’s a bit out of my hands.”

Speaking on the incinerator technologies the Dutch have to offer, Wilfred said, “I think the word “incinerator” doesn’t cover the full sense. It’s a power plant that runs on waste. When you put it in that perspective, it is positive.” He explained, “People think if you burn stuff, that could be toxic, smelly, bad for the environment… Basically these modern facilities are not. Plus, you can generate energy that you can put to the grid and help the energy mix.” Hong Kong’s officials have thus far failed to convince stakeholders that this is the case, with many calling the suggested technologies “outdated”. The Afval Energie Bedrijf (AEB) Waste and Energy Company operates two such incinerators in Amsterdam. Their report in 2013 stated that, while annual average of environmentally harmful emissions into the air remained within standards, CO emission requirements were incidentally exceeded on a number of occasions during the heating process.

Words of advice
Wilfred did leave this piece of advice for the government, “I think you need to do two things: [overhauling your waste management policy] Look for the best technical solutions and options, but communication to stakeholders is equally important. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? How are you doing it? So stakeholders, the population, industry, environmental groups…everyone is prepared and see what it is you’re doing well in advance.” Let’s see if they succeed.