Day 1 was the most tiring day, as our flight was at midnight and I did not get sufficient rest on the plane. However, once the plane landed in Korea, I was so excited to feel the freezing temperature and breathe the chilly air, since this was my first time to go on such a trip in the winter. After settling some housekeeping duties, we went to the first tourist spot, a village with ancient Korean houses. It was nice to see but at the same time, it was so cold that our limbs went numb. Then, the rest of the day was our free time and we went out to explore Seoul ourselves by the Metro.
On Day 2, we visited the Transportation Pollution Research Centre and metropolitan landfill site.
On Day 3 we visited the National Institute of Biological Resources and the air quality monitoring station.
On Day 4, we went to Mapo Resources Recovery Plant, which is a waste incinerator, and the NGO, Green Transportation, which specializes in traffic related environmental problems.
On Day 5, we visited Ewha Woman’s University. We were introduced to the history and culture of Ewha and we met the students of this university and spent time with them.
We enjoyed the games prepared by Sue and Ashley, representatives from Ewha.
The last day’s visit was to Cheonggyecheon, a restored waterway in the urban center of Seoul.
Apart from site visits, we also went to different places in Seoul to experience its culture and food.
Discussion – Metropolitan landfill site
Seoul has four landfill sites. One of them was turned into a park when it was full. There is one currently in operation while those remaining are for future use. The reason why I chose this as the topic to discuss in greater depth is because I have been to the landfill site in Hong Kong and therefore I like to compare the landfill sites of Hong Kong and Seoul.
The first impression the landfill site in Seoul gave me was that it was well organized. Both the landfill sites of HK and Seoul were divided into several layers for dipping rubbish. Yet, the one in Seoul was better structured. As shown in the photo below, the landfill site was divided into many layers and trash was buried layer by layer.
While the one in HK looks more disorganized, as the saturated spot (which was covered with a green sheet and tires) could be seen everywhere. (This is the WENT landfill site in Nim Wan, Tuen Mun)
However, in terms of the other features of both landfills, I think the one in HK is also doing well, in terms of landfill liner system (e.g. HDPE sheet is used in both of the sites), leachate management system (e.g. both sites have holistic leachate collection system and leachate treatment facility), environmental monitoring and so on. I did not have enough time to look into the operation of the landfill site in Seoul, but from the leaflet distributed on the visit, it seems the landfill site in Seoul performs better at turning waste to energy.
Turning waste to energy is also one of the directions of the Environmental Protection Department’s future plan. Therefore, I strongly believe that HK can learn from Seoul. They make use of landfill gas to generate electricity, and they also sell the power to make income for their operation. I understand HK has their landfill gas recovery facilities, however, the scale is much smaller. I therefore think that the HK government can learn from this, lowering the risk of energy crisis. Moreover, there are more useful things that can be made from waste, such as the solid refuse fuel from combustible wastes, biogas for automotive fuel from food waste and so on. Indeed, there is a lot for HK to learn from, if we, citizens can work hand in hand in classifying waste into different categories as well as reducing it at source.
How can HK turn into a sustainable city?
One of the most crucial elements that was pointed out by Prof. Alexis Lau was urban planning. I do agree that this has to be conducted carefully because it will affect the land use, especially in HK where land is so precious. Nowadays in HK, if there is a piece of land, turning it into residential land use is probably at the top of the government’s agenda. Nevertheless, the land where Seoul’s landfill site is located is in fact land from reclamation. Apart from being located near a river, there is also a special transportation pathway designed only for the garbage trucks. This specialized road may solve the problem of bad odours and heavy dust caused by garbage trucks in HK.
Moreover, I also see the importance of communication among government departments and stakeholders (e.g. citizens living nearby). Residents living near the Seoul landfill site opposed the operation of the landfill at the very beginning. Yet, as there were ample and clear communications between the stakeholders, the citizens were aware of what measures the government had imposed. In such a way the level of odour and emissions of dioxin was greatly reduced. The landfill also organized and hosted visits for the public so that they could have a better understanding on the operation of the landfill site. These actions finally helped change the view of the public. This demonstrates that the government has to be transparent and willing to talk to stakeholders so as to gain their support.
Recommendation for Ewha’s visit to us
Food waste currently accounts for the largest proportion of municipal solid waste in HK. A visit to Food Angel enabled Ewha students to understand how food waste or leftover food can be turned into a lunchbox for the needy. Apart from composting, this is also another way to ‘reuse’ leftover food. During the visit, instead of just walking around and listening to the introduction by the stuff, Ewha students can also have a taste of being a volunteer to revitalize the leftover food (booking in advance is required). In knowing more about one of the most pressing issues in HK, I believe this hands-on experience will be a remarkable memory for them as well.
Suggestions for future trips
I think this trip was organized pretty well and I was happy with its arrangement. Thank you for all the preparation work and the help of the representatives from Ewha!