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Shenzhen raises stink over HK rubbish dump

Publication Date : 25-01-2014


When businesswoman An Ying, 50, bought an apartment in Shekou, western Shenzhen, eight years ago, its view was a key attraction.

Her 28th-floor unit in the Peninsula estate overlooks Shenzhen Bay. In the distance, the verdant green of a hilltop in Hong Kong can be glimpsed.

"I thought it was a golf course," An said wryly.

The green turned out to be the colour of the plastic material used to cover Hong Kong's largest landfill.

Each day, about 6,400 tonnes of rubbish - nearly half the city's waste - are dumped there.

For six months in spring and summer, northerly winds would carry the stench of rotting rubbish from the Tuen Mun landfill across the water towards Shenzhen, according to An and other residents.

The stretch of water separating Hong Kong and Shenzhen is 8km at its narrowest point.

With Hong Kong now planning to double the size of the landfill, lawmakers in Shenzhen are signing a petition against the move - a reversal of roles in a region where Hong Kongers have long blamed Chinese factories and a nuclear power plant in the Pearl River Delta for polluting the city's air and waters.

On Thursday, the Shenzhen People's Congress urged the municipal government to lobby the Hong Kong government.

Local media reports said lawmaker Yang Qin, who is spearheading the campaign, has collected some 200 signatures from fellow legislators as well as companies and industrial associations that purportedly represent 14 million residents.

"Getting signatures is a way to voice the people's feelings. The Hong Kong government is a democratic government - it should consider the opinions of the Shenzhen people, and give it due respect," said Yang.

"Hong Kong and Shenzhen are dependent on each other. If you dump your rubbish in a place that will affect Shenzhen, and not consider how we feel, how can that be?"

The expansion plans come amid warnings from officials that Hong Kong's three existing landfills will be full in two to six years.

In a response to The Straits Times, the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department said its three landfills, including the one in Tuen Mun, meet stringent environmental standards.

To minimise odours, contractors have put in place "odour avoidance and deodorisation measures", it added.

The department did not say whether the Shenzhen petition would halt the proposed expansion, which has also run into opposition from Hong Kong residents.

But it stressed that the government "will continue to maintain a close dialogue with the relevant Shenzhen authorities".

For now, the cross-border brouhaha remains manageable.

But it is a harbinger of more that could come, testing relations between the two cities, as Shenzhen residents become more wealthy and vocal about quality of living issues.

Besides protesting against the landfill expansion, some Shekou residents are also opposed to plans to set up a rubbish collection point in the neighbourhood.

"In the past, Shenzhen people were poorer than Hong Kongers, who complained about pollution from the mainland.

"These days, Shenzhen people care about such matters, and they are now unhappy with Hong Kong too," said political scientist Huang Weiping at Shenzhen University.

"The two sides will have to get used to this new dynamic."

The stench of rubbish is not the only thing testing cross-border relations in recent times.

Hong Kong's decision last March to slap a two-can limit on the export of baby milk powder created a lot of unhappiness on the mainland, with some accusing the city of discrimination.

But Shekou resident Yang Yan Ping, a taxi driver, scoffs at the anti-landfill campaign.

Hitting out at Hong Kong is a high-profile way for local lawmakers to show that they are doing something for the people, he said.

"It is also smelly elsewhere in Shenzhen - some of the rivers are even worse," he added.

But this is no comfort for Ms An and her husband, who have to put up with the pungent smell of rubbish for half the year.

"It is very gross," she said with a grimace.


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