Mon, Aug 05, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Penghu can do without incinerator for garbage

By Chueng Tsun-wai 張峻偉

July is Penghu County’s peak tourist month, which means it is also the peak time for garbage. Penghu County Commissioner Lai Feng-wei (賴峰偉), who took office again a little more than half a year ago after serving two terms as Penghu commissioner from 1997 to 2005, chose this time to say that planning and building a garbage incinerator is the most important target that he hopes to achieve during his time in office.

What sense would it make to seek re-election if he were to not achieve this goal?

Leaving that aside, the incinerator issue has become something of an article of faith in Penghu, as if the island county would face a gloomy future without one.

However, it is precisely the absence of an incinerator that has preserved Penghu’s clear blue skies up until now.

Ishigaki Island in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture has a population of about 45,000, compared with about 105,000 in Penghu, and the situations faced by the two places have much in common.

A garbage incinerator went into operation on Ishigaki about 22 years ago, but it ran into problems when it came to disposing of its waste in landfills, as well as the financial burden and difficulty of maintaining an incinerator on an outlying island.

These issues forced the local authorities to convene a policy response committee, which last year resolved to send the garbage elsewhere.

Even though environmental consciousness is more advanced in Japan — in Kamikatsu, which has a target of “zero waste,” recycling rates were about 80 percent of the 286 tonnes of waste it produced in 2017, far more than the national average of 20 percent — even in that nation, policymakers are still trying to figure out what do with garbage and they understand that incinerators are not the only solution.

However, in Penghu, garbage is generally sorted into two categories: recyclable and non-recyclable. At most, an additional pail is provided to collect kitchen waste.

This rudimentary sorting leads to a relatively small proportion of garbage being recyclable.

Moreover, the heat generated from burnable garbage is unstable as the material that goes into incinerators varies, which leads to incineration difficulties.

People often raise doubts about the results of emissions inspections at garbage incinerators in Taiwan, but the reason is not entirely to do with technical issues. Uncertainty about the recycling movement is another factor that adversely affects the overall aim of “garbage in, no emissions out.”

My experience of working at garbage incinerators in Japan tells me that excess emissions often occur suddenly and unpredictably.

Excess emissions are a common occurrence, even in Japan, and the same could be expected in Penghu, but the county government is still shouting about building an incinerator.

Ideally, garbage sorting aims to achieve zero waste. Effective use of the resources that can be extracted from garbage would make it possible to put environmental protection into practice, which would help to preserve the natural beauty of Penghu and solve the garbage problem.

If the authorities build an incinerator in Penghu without due consideration for its quality and the environmental damage that it could cause, the rainbows our children see in the future might really be the colors spewed out of the incinerator’s chimneys.

Chueng Tsun-wai teaches Japanese in Penghu and was previously a waste disposal engineer in Japan.

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