Press Clippings

China Daily

08-12-2016

A fund without much currency - China Daily Article (November 10th, 2016)

Benita Chick, Regional Manager at Earthwatch Institute Hong Kong, suggested ways to tackle the growing volume of waste.

The government’s new HK$1 billion grant to encourage recycling might not make a significant difference to HK where only a few care to re-use stuff, writes Carmen Ho.

A fuzzy understanding of the nature and sources of the waste generated in Hong Kong is getting in the way of its removal. The city’s mountains of trash seem to grow in step with the pile of proposals for better waste management.

Alarmingly, for a city ill-equipped to manage its waste, Hong Kong produces more trash per capita than most other big cities of the world. It generates 1.27 kg of garbage per person everyday, which is 27 per cent higher than Taipei’s 1 kg per day and way above Tokyo’s 0.77 kg per day.

Due to the city’s growing population and economic development, the average daily quantity of solid waste dumped in landfills has increased 3.8 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. The city produces a whopping 6.4 million tons of waste each year – more than 18,000 tons a day.

Everybody, including the city’s Environment Bureau, talks about the “recycling solution”. The irony being that Hong Kong’s public does not seem to care much for recycled products. Neither is the government particularly supportive of the city’s recyclers who barely manage to keep their heads above the water.

The Environmental Protection Department started a five-year HK$1 billion fund in October, to help upgrade recycling in the city which sounds great in terms of theory although in reality there maybe few takers for the recycled items in Hong Kong.

Hurdles have stood in the way of government proposals to address the looming crisis. Its plan to build an incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau Island is opposed by environmentalists for the air pollution it is likely to cause. Of the three landfills in the New Territories used to dump waste, one will reach capacity this year, another in 2017 and the third by 2019. The government plan to expand the landfills and increase their active lifespan has infuriated people who live in proximity to these dumping grounds.

The city’s 16 landfills, spanning 226 hectares in total, roughly equivalent to 300 soccer pitches, are nearing capacity. If the volume of waste continues to increase, another 400 hectares of landfill will be needed by 2030, according to government estimates.

“It’s really a matter of those in the government being unable to make up their minds. There are some good theories and concepts but the details haven’t been worked out and there’s been no implementation. Getting things off the ground has always been a problem,” said Gerald Patchell, associate professor in the Division of Environment at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

E-waste dump

However, now in view of the election for the chief executive’s post, due next year, political parties are trying to get mileage from talking about effective and responsible waste management. The proposal that consumers should be taxed depending on the volume of trash they generate – a bit of an old chestnut – is back on the table. It is being proposed that money earned from the scheme be used to cover waste disposal costs. Also taxation, it is being hoped, will help discourage wastefulness and promote environmentally friendly lifestyles.

Earlier, the government had set a goal to reduce waste disposal to an average of 0.8 kg per person per day by 2022. Then, says Patchell, “The government doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of where waste is generated. There could be a little bit more research to find out exactly who is producing all this waste… If you want people to pay for waste, you need at least to have an idea of who is producing it.”

However, the World Green Organization, a Hong Kong NGO, warned that even if a waste disposal charge were approved, the scheme would not come into effect until 2019 at the earliest, making it hard to meet the government’s 2013 target of a 40 percent reduction in per capita municipal solid waste by 2022. An interim target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2017 is already out of the question.

To cope with the increasing volume of e-waste, it is being suggested that a tax be slapped on consumers of electronic goods at the point of purchase to cover their eventual cost of disposal.

Indeed, the city’s electronic waste has reached humongous proportions. A recent two-year investigation by the Seattle-based environmental group Basel Action Network showed Hong Kong is a favorite destination of exporters of e-waste from the US.

In the past decade, most of the e-waste would end up on the Chinese mainland, but since then the mainland has slapped on a tougher import ban. Many illegal shipments of hazardous waste are reaching Hong Kong because of relatively lax controls on cross-border movement and insufficient import inspections.

No use for recycled goods

Recycling companies are struggling to make ends meet, given the high costs of sorting, cleaning and transporting recycled trash do not leave them with a reasonable profit margin.

And then, as Jimmy Chan, long-time volunteer at Green Sense, a Hong Kong organization promoting sustainable living, says, “The demand for recycled products in Hong Kong is low. Even if people sort their trash and use recycling bins, most of the rubbish will not end up being recycled.”

Unsurprisingly, in recent years the city has been recycling less of its rubbish than before. The amount recycled and reused dropped from 52 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2014. The collection of paper and plastic waste also declined by 87,000 and 144,000 tons, respectively, in 2014 compared to 2013.

The situation is expected to improve significantly when Alba Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong, a local subsidiary of Germany’s Alba Group, starts turning defunct electronic gadgets into recyclable raw material and take out the toxin, but the project won’t begin until at least two more years.

One way of tackling the growing volume of waste perhaps lies in cutting down on one’s consumer+ needs. “We need more emphasis on and attention to reducing consumption in the first place. When we’re looking at reusing and recycling, we’ve created waste already,” said Benita Chick, regional manager at Earthwatch Institute Hong Kong, an international environmental charity.

Another possible solution may be in redistribution. If Hong Kong does not have any use for its recycled goods, it could consider sending these off elsewhere.

“A particularly conflicting thing for Hong Kong is the simple fact that it’s a small place. There’s a sentiment that the problems have to be solved in Hong Kong itself. But cities are fairly unnatural concentrators of stuff so it’s not unreasonable that these should be returned or redistributed in some manner. So if Hong Kong does not have a demand for certain recycled products like fertilizers, these can be exported elsewhere,” said Patchell, adding, “I am very much in favor of redistribution and individual responsibility through some form of environmental tax.”

Experts feel Hong Kong could perhaps take a leaf out of the books of other Asian cities that have done a better job of waste management.

A number of leading Asian cities have achieved good results in waste reduction. Their experience tells us that Hong Kong can do much better if we take coordinated and simultaneous action on waste prevention – reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and landfilling- as part of a comprehensive resources management chain, said Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment, in a recent press release.

While the political intent seems to be there, the government “could be more aggressive and systematic” about implementing an effective waste management program, remarked Patchell.

Chan feels “the government needs to take more responsibility rather than rely on the private sector”.

 

The government’s new HK$1 billion grant to encourage recycling might not make a significantdifference to HK where only a few care to re-use stuff, writes Carmen Ho.

fuzzy understanding of the nature and sources of the waste generated in Hong Kong is gettingin the way of its removal. The city’s mountains of trash seem to grow in step with the pile ofproposals for better waste management.

Alarmingly, for a city ill-equipped to manage its waste, Hong Kong produces more trash percapita than most other big cities of the world. It generates 1.27 kg of garbage per person everyday, which is 27 per cent higher than Taipei’s 1 kg per day and way above Tokyo’s 0.77 kg perday.

Due to the city’s growing population and economic development, the average daily quantity ofsolid waste dumped in landfills has increased 3.8 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. The cityproduces a whopping 6.4 million tons of waste each year - more than 18,000 tons a day.

Everybody, including the city’s Environment Bureau, talks about the ”recycling solution”. Theirony being that Hong Kong’s public does not seem to care much for recycled products. Neitheris the government particularly supportive of the city’s recyclers who barely manage to keeptheir heads above the water.

 

 

A fund without much currency

The Environmental Protection Department started a five-yearHK$1 billion fund in October, to help upgrade recycling in the citywhich sounds great in terms of theory although in reality there maybe few takers for the recycled items in Hong Kong.

Hurdles have stood in the way of government proposals to addressthe looming crisis. Its plan to build an incinerator on Shek KwuChau Island is opposed by environmentalists for the air pollution itis likely to cause. Of the three landfills in the New Territories usedto dump waste, one will reach capacity this year, another in 2017 and the third by 2019. The government plan to expand the landfillsand increase their active lifespan has infuriated people who live inproximity to these dumping grounds.

The city’s 16 landfills, spanning 226 hectares in total, roughlyequivalent to 300 soccer pitches, are nearing capacity. If thevolume of waste continues to increase, another 400 hectares oflandfill will be needed by 2030, according to governmentestimates.

“It’s really a matter of those in the government being unable to make up their minds. There aresome good theories and concepts but the details haven’t been worked out and there’s been noimplementation. Getting things off the ground has always been a problem,” said GeraldPatchell, associate professor in the Division of Environment at the Hong Kong University ofScience and Technology.

E-waste dump

However, now in view of the election for the chief executive’s post, due next year, politicalparties are trying to get mileage from talking about effective and responsible wastemanagement. The proposal that consumers should be taxed depending on the volume of trashthey generate - a bit of an old chestnut - is back on the table. It is being proposed that moneyearned from the scheme be used to cover waste disposal costs. Also taxation, it is beinghoped, will help discourage wastefulness and promote environmentally friendly lifestyles.

 

 

A fund without much currency

Earlier, thegovernment had set agoal to reduce wastedisposal to an averageof 0.8 kg per personper day by 2022. Then, says Patchell, “The governmentdoesn’t seem to havea good grasp of wherewaste is generated. There could be a littlebit more research tofind out exactly who isproducing all thiswaste… If you wantpeople to pay forwaste, you need atleast to have an ideaof who is producing it.”

However, the WorldGreen Organization, aHong Kong NGO, warned that even if awaste disposal chargewere approved, thescheme would notcome into effect until2019 at the earliest, making it hard to meetthe government’s 2013 target of a 40 percentreduction in per capitamunicipal solid wasteby 2022. An interimtarget of a 20 percentreduction by 2017 isalready out of the question.

To cope with the increasing volume of e-waste, it is being suggested that a tax be slapped onconsumers of electronic goods at the point of purchase to cover their eventual cost of disposal.

Indeed, the city’s electronic waste has reached humongous proportions. A recent two-yearinvestigation by the Seattle-based environmental group Basel Action Network showed HongKong is a favorite destination of exporters of e-waste from the US.

In the past decade, most of the e-waste would end up on the Chinese mainland, but since thenthe mainland has slapped on a tougher import ban. Many illegal shipments of hazardous wasteare reaching Hong Kong because of relatively lax controls on cross-border movement andinsufficient import inspections.

No use for recycled goods

Recycling companies are struggling to make ends meet, given the high costs of sorting, cleaning and transporting recycled trash do not leave them with a reasonable profit margin.

And then, as Jimmy Chan, long-time volunteer at Green Sense, a Hong Kong organizationpromoting sustainable living, says, “The demand for recycled products in Hong Kong is low. Even if people sort their trash and use recycling bins, most of the rubbish will not end up beingrecycled.”

Unsurprisingly, in recent years the city has been recycling less of its rubbish than before. Theamount recycled and reused dropped from 52 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2014. Thecollection of paper and plastic waste also declined by 87,000 and 144,000 tons, respectively, in2014 compared to 2013.

The situation is expected to improve significantly when Alba Integrated Waste Solutions HongKong, a local subsidiary of Germany’s Alba Group, starts turning defunct electronic gadgetsinto recyclable raw material and take out the toxin, but the project won’t begin until at least twomore years.

One way of tackling the growing volume of waste perhaps lies in cutting down on one’sconsumer needs. “We need more emphasis on and attention to reducing consumption in thefirst place. When we’re looking at reusing and recycling, we’ve created waste already,” saidBenita Chick, regional manager at Earthwatch Institute Hong Kong, an internationalenvironmental charity.

Another possible solution may be in redistribution. If Hong Kong does not have any use for itsrecycled goods, it could consider sending these off elsewhere.

“A particularly conflicting thing for Hong Kong is the simple fact that it’s a small place. There’s asentiment that the problems have to be solved in Hong Kong itself. But cities are fairlyunnatural concentrators of stuff so it’s not unreasonable that these should be returned orredistributed in some manner. So if Hong Kong does not have a demand for certain recycledproducts like fertilizers, these can be exported elsewhere,” said Patchell, adding, “I am verymuch in favor of redistribution and individual responsibility through some form of environmentaltax.”

Experts feel Hong Kong could perhaps take a leaf out of the books of other Asian cities thathave done a better job of waste management.

A number of leading Asian cities have achieved good results in waste reduction. Theirexperience tells us that Hong Kong can do much better if we take coordinated andsimultaneous action on waste prevention - reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and landfilling- as part of a comprehensive resources management chain, said Wong Kam-sing, Secretaryfor the Environment, in a recent press release.

While the political intent seems to be there, the government ”could be more aggressive andsystematic” about implementing an effective waste management program, remarked Patchell.

Chan feels ”the government needs to take more responsibility rather than rely on the privatesector”.

HK01

05-08-2016

Hong Kong’s Mangrove – HK01 Article (August 5th, 2016)  with regards to recent Earthwatch’s Hong Kong Alcoa Earthwatch Fellowship Team

Collecting Soil Samples to Analyze its Carbon Content

Mai Po Nature Reserve has the biggest mangrove forest in Hong Kong. Today, we followed Prof. Derrick Lai and citizen science volunteers from Earthwatch Institute (Hong Kong) to explore the mangrove forest and collect soil samples from the mudflat.

Derrick is an Assistant Professor from the Department of Geography & Resource Management in The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with a research focus on carbon cycle and green house gas emissions. The research today is mainly for investigate the carbon content and exchange of greenhouse gases in local wetlands, so as to understand the role of wetland ecosystems in alleviating climate change.

Mangrove forests lie in the intertidal area located at the junction of the land and the sea. Mangroves have compact roots which slow down the running of water through wetland soil, and hence let suspended particles in water to accumulate in the soil.

“Mangrove forests, apart from carrying out photosynthesis to absorb carbon dioxide, can also stabilize additional carbon content in water by deposition,” Derrick explained.

These carbon stocks stored in the coastal areas of wetland ecosystems are categorized as “blue carbon”. According to Derrick, there are three types of wetland ecosystems with vegetation in their coastal areas, namely mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marsh. In the subtropical zone, mangrove forest is the main type of wetland. “Past researches showed that these coastal wetlands have high carbon sequestration capacity. Viewing from area per square metre, their carbon sequestration capacity is comparable to that of rainforests, which may have significant impact on alleviating greenhouse effect.” The aim of soil samples extraction from Mai Po wetland during the Alcoa Earthwatch Fellowship Expedition is to analyze carbon stocks in soil, so as to understand the carbon sequestration capacity of wetland.

“Apart from looking at carbon stocks to understand carbon cycle, we also have to look at carbon flux to determine the role of ecosystem in climate change,” Derrick said. He further pointed out that greenhouse gas balance is the most exciting thing to investigate on in a wetland research.

When we discuss greenhouse gases, people may immediately think of carbon dioxide, but there are actually other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are worth our attention, for example methane and nitrous oxide. “Viewing from a global perspective, the main natural source of methane is wetlands. Methane is usually produced in anaerobic microbial activities in an anoxic environment. As wetland is always flooded with water, an anoxic environment is easily built. In the process of decomposition of organics by microorganisms, methane is produced and released into the atmosphere. In this process, mangroves plants’ positive impact in alleviating climate change through photosynthesis is to a certain extent reduced.”

 

Setting up a new environmental station in protected areas

In order to investigate on the greenhouse gases exchanges between mangrove forests and the atmosphere, CUHK (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature) collaborated to set up an environmental monitoring station to measure the absorption and release of different greenhouse gases by the mangrove forest. The construction of the monitoring station was completed in early 2016, and the station records data every half an hour. Through long term monitoring, we can netter understand the relationship between different environmental parameters and the flux of greenhouse gases in mangrove forests throughout the whole year.

This nature conservation zone in Inner Deep Bay in Mai Po has been designated as a protected wetland area (Ramsar Site) since 1983. Comparing with other mangrove forests in Hong Kong, Mai Po is less disturbed by the public and has the most mature and well-grown mangrove forest, and hence why Derrick chose to collect soil samples and data here. “Scientists have conducted various types of researches in Mai Po in the past, thus we already have a certain amount of baseline environmental data about Mai Po. These data are quite comprehensive too. Our current research should be able to further fill the knowledge gap concerning the impact of mangrove forests to climate change.”

Scientific researches require long term monitoring, which relies on the efforts of researchers in constantly advancing and analyzing our knowledge, in the hope that at last we can discover the unknown mystery of the ecosystem. Although scientific researches may not be easy to understand for the general public, we can always learn more about the ecological role of different living things through observing the nature around us. This can fill our personal conservation knowledge gap and raise our ecological consciousness, so that we can stop destroying the ecosystem for our personal enjoyment, and reestablish the harmonious relationship between human and nature.

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Excerpt:
International environmental organization Earthwatch Institute is undertaking research to monitor global climate change. They conduct scientific research at five forests worldwide. Dr. Keiquan Pei is the Director of Earthwatch’s China Regional Climate Centre. He grew up in the Northeastern part of China and specialized in forest diseases and mycology. It’s said that Dr. Pei has such a sensitive nose that when the wind blows, he can identify if there are fungi nearby.

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