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What a waste: Bulk of Hong Kong marine litter is plastic, say green groups

Plastic comprises more than two-thirds of marine litter accumulating in many coastal areas in Hong Kong, a new survey has found.

Led by WWF-Hong Kong and six partners, the Coastal Watch Project found that the plastic in floating and underwater marine litter posed a grave threat to ecosystems.

Project manager Patrick Yeung Chung-wing stressed that the marine litter problem had to be tackled at source as it would be absorbed into the food chain and affect human health. “We also found fish bite marks on pieces of plastic litter,” he said.

“The pollutants absorbed by marine animals will potentially bio-accumulate along the food chain, which will eventually damage the marine ecosystem and affect fishery resources and human health.”


An average of 391 pieces of marine litter sized more than 1cm were collected in each five-metre stretch. In total, plastic accounted for 62 per cent of the litter. It mainly consisted of fragments, packaging, bottle caps, string, rope or ribbon and cutlery.

A total of 131 pieces of smaller marine litter were collected in every one-square-metre area, with plastic constituting 67.4 per cent of the rubbish. Items were mainly polystyrene fragments, broken pieces of polystyrene boxes and other forms of packaging.

The researchers’ first ever investigation of the underwater situation also showed that 60 per cent of the refuse in every 100-metre area consisted of plastic debris such as disposable items and abandoned fishing gear. Heavier items such as glass and metal were also common.

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Roughly 85 per cent of floating marine refuse was plastic such as packaging, bottles, cutlery, foam boxes and even large containers from the city’s markets.

About 1,125 volunteers collected data at 27 coastal sites ranging from mangroves and mudflats to beaches and rocky shore habitats between last July and this May.

The government’s Inter-departmental Working Group on Clean Shorelines, which is coordinated by the Environment Bureau, says it will continue its “three-pronged strategy” of reducing overall waste generation at source, reducing the amount of refuse entering the marine environment and removing marine refuse as well as discouraging use of disposable items and encouraging recycling.

Cosco to order 11 container megaships

Triple-E container ships are more fuel-efficient and help operators cut costs. Photo: Maersk Line

Triple-E container ships are more fuel-efficient and help operators cut costs. Photo: Maersk Line

Shipping and port giant China Cosco Holdings Co. Ltd. (01919.HK) said it will order 11 container megaships, joining several competitors in their quest to dominate the world’s busiest trade routes, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The so-called Triple-E’s, which are roughly as long as the Empire State Building is tall, will cost a combined US$1.5 billion and will each carry 19,000 containers from China to northern European port hubs such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Hamburg in Germany.

Cosco said late Wednesday the order would go to four Chinese yards, which it didn’t name.

Container shipping, which moves 95 percent of manufactured goods, has been in the doldrums over the past decade.
Overcapacity estimated at 30 percent in the water has sent freight rates to levels that at times don’t even cover the vessels’ fuel cost.

Fully loaded, Triple-E ships cut the cost of moving a container across the oceans by about 25 percent, the report said.
Cosco, the listed unit of state shipping company China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., will benefit from substantial subsidies under Beijing’s scrap-and-build policy, which encourages Chinese operators to renew their fleets.

Sandia leads partnership to develop high-speed hydrogen fuel cell ferry for San Francisco

When it comes to environmental sustainability, Red and White Fleet president Tom Escher is all in.

“Everyone is talking about reducing emissions by 20 percent, 40 percent or more,” he says. “I thought, ‘Why not do away with emissions altogether?'”

Sandia National Laboratories and San Francisco's Red and White Fleet are partnering to develop a high-speed, hydrogen fuel cell-powered passenger ferry and refueling station. [Photo courtesy: Red and White Fleet]

Sandia National Laboratories and San Francisco’s Red and White Fleet are partnering to develop a high-speed, hydrogen fuel cell-powered passenger ferry and refueling station. [Photo courtesy: Red and White Fleet]

Sandia National Laboratories, which recently signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Red and White Fleet, is helping the San Francisco-based company realize that goal. Named SF-BREEZE (San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric vessel with Zero Emissions), the project aims to design, build, and operate a high-speed hydrogen fuel cell passenger ferry and hydrogen refueling station.

Hydrogen fuel cells have several advantages over the diesel engines that power most passenger ferries: no harmful exhaust emissions, higher energy efficiency, quiet operation, and no risk of fuel spills. Replacing diesel engines and generators with hydrogen fuel cells could greatly improve air and water quality in harbor areas.

The hydrogen refueling station is planned to be the largest in the world and serve fuel cell electric cars, buses, and fleet vehicles in addition to the ferry and other maritime vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) is funding a feasibility study to examine the technical, regulatory, and economic aspects of the project.

“The Maritime Administration is committed to finding new and efficient technologies for use in the maritime industry that reduce pollution and protect our environment,” says Maritime Administrator Paul ‘Chip’ Jaenichen. “This industry continues moving forward on renewable energy and clean-fuel options, and this project encourages a shift toward lower-impact maritime fuels that may further green the waterborne link in our national transportation system.”

Sandia is leading the study in partnership with Red and White Fleet, the American Bureau of Shipping, the U.S. Coast Guard, and naval architect Elliott Bay Design Group. Other contributors include the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

“We are involving so many stakeholders up front because if the feasibility study shows a ‘go,’ we want to make sure the next phase has a rock-solid foundation,” says mechanical engineer Joe Pratt, the Sandia project lead. “We hope that the feasibility study, regardless of the outcome, can be useful to others nationally and around the world who are looking at hydrogen fuel cell vessels as clean-energy alternatives.”

Boat speed critical to economic viability
Economic viability is essential to the success of SF-BREEZE.

“Rather than a tour boat that would primarily be a demonstration project, Red and White Fleet believes a high-speed passenger ferry makes economic sense,” Pratt says. To compete with existing transportation methods — cars, buses, Bay Area Rapid Transit, and other ferries — the ferry must be fast. But speed adds complexity.

“If you are trying to achieve speed, boat weight is important,” Pratt says. “Fuel cells and hydrogen are heavier than existing diesel engines and fuel, so the question becomes can you build a boat powered by hydrogen fuel cells that is both large and fast enough? The feasibility study will provide that answer.”

A preliminary conceptual study shows the answer is probably yes, but it will require a boat specially designed to accommodate hydrogen fuel and the fuel cell technology. A traditional passenger ferry can’t easily be retrofitted with a hydrogen fuel cell, so it was essential to include a naval architect in the feasibility study. The ferry design will include collaboration with the American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard to ensure the final design conforms to safety and reliability rules and regulations.

The world’s largest hydrogen refueling station
The boat — design, operation, maintenance, and fueling — is one part of the equation; the hydrogen refueling station is the other. The high-speed passenger ferry would use about 1,000 kg of hydrogen per day. To put this in perspective, an average hydrogen fuel cell car might use less than 5 kg of hydrogen per week.

To support the ferry and other potential users, the refueling station would have a capacity of 1,500 kg a day — about twice the size of the largest hydrogen refueling station in the world. It would also be the first hydrogen refueling station to simultaneously serve land and marine uses.

The economy of scale could boost the local hydrogen fuel cell marketplace. “A larger station reduces the cost per kilogram of hydrogen,” says Pratt. “Higher use will drive down that cost even more.”

Reducing the cost of hydrogen refueling could stimulate the market for hydrogen fuel cell cars and accelerate wider adoption of the technology in other vehicle markets, such as heavy-duty trucks and buses.

“This project offers an opportunity to closely examine how hydrogen can take its rightful place as a clean, low-carbon fuel for high-volume transportation operations, and also build the business case as part of an innovative application for fuel cells,” says Catherine Dunwoody, chief of the Fuel Cell Program at the California Air Resources Board.

Feasibility study will address regulations
SF-BREEZE will enter new regulatory space, both for the high-speed ferry and refueling station. The feasibility study will examine those regulations and their impact on the project.

For the refueling station, Sandia can draw on its technical expertise in developing and optimizing safe, cost-effective vehicular hydrogen fueling stations. The U.S. Department of Energy Fuel Cell Technologies Office funds most of Sandia’s efforts in this area. Sandia is a leading partner in two nationwide infrastructure initiatives: H2USA, a private-public partnership focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure, and the Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST), a U.S. Department of Energy project established to support H2USA.

“The knowledge, tools, and stakeholder resources we’ve cultivated through these initiatives will directly apply to developing the large, multi-use hydrogen refueling station,” says Pratt. “We will work closely with the Air Resources Board and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development to determine the best location for the refueling station and understand the associated regulations.”

Sandia leads the Maritime Fuel Cell project, which is piloting the use of a hydrogen fuel cell to power refrigerated containers on land and on transport barges at the Port of Honolulu. [See Designfax story here.]

“Working with the Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard, we’ve explored some of the unique issues related to using a hydrogen fuel cell on a vessel and in the marine environment,” says Pratt. “But there is more at stake when the fuel cell is powering the boat, not an auxiliary system, and the boat is carrying passengers.”

Vessel design next step
If the feasibility study indicates that SF-BREEZE could succeed technically, economically, and within regulations, the next step is to design the vessel. The project will need additional funding, resources, and partners, which could come from the federal government, the state of California, investors, industry, or private foundations.

Escher joked that if the project ultimately succeeds, it could hurt him financially.

“It will make all of my boats obsolete, and I’ll have to replace my entire fleet,” he says. “But in all seriousness, this is really about preserving the environment for future generations.”

He hopes to continue Red and White’s tradition of leadership and environmental stewardship established by his grandfather, Thomas Crowley, who started the company in 1892.

“I want to ride across the San Francisco Bay on a quiet, fast boat with no emissions,” he says. “If we get thirsty, we can drink the exhaust.”

Ship Emissions 3rd Largest Air Pollution Source in China

Ship emissions now remain the third largest source of air pollution in China, following vehicles exhaust and factory emissions.

According to the Economic Information Daily, the emission of a ship that uses fuels with 3.5% sulphur discharge is tantamount to that of 210 thousand trucks per day. The pollutants contain dozens of toxic chemicals that pose critical damage to people’s health.

Right now, China’s marine fuel quality lags behind that of major developed countries.

Industry observers suggest the establishment of an inter-regional mechanism to jointly tackle the problem.

Hong Kong is the first Chinese city to take strong actions against ship emissions, where half of air pollution was produced by marine vessels. In 2013, Hong Kong chief executive C. Y. Leung called for “green transport”, requiring vessels to use low-sulphur diesel in the Pearl River Delta ports.

Meanwhile in Shenzhen, over 100 container vessels from 15 shipping enterprises have participated in a project aiming to subsidize ships using low sulfur fuel or shore power.

In June, Chinese authorities said it was considering a new standard in regards to the country’s marine fuel quality and usage.

Last year, China rolled out its Air Pollution Action Plan, declaring a war against the country’s long-existing air pollution problem.

Bridging the (dirty) gap

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Do the new regulations on berthing ships in Hong Kong go far enough to curb pollution?

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Pollution drops near Hong Kong container port as ships switch to cleaner fuel, green group says

Ernest Kao

Sulphur pollution near one of Hong Kong’s busiest shipping lanes fell markedly in the first week of this month as a result of new regulations mandating ocean-going vessels switch to cleaner fuel, according to the Clean Air Network.

Average 24-hour concentrations of toxic sulphur dioxide (SO2) in Kwai Chung were recorded at 12 micrograms per cubic metre of air between July 1 – the day the mandate went into effect – and Tuesday.

By comparison, the average 24-hour SO2 concentration in the same period last year was 34 micrograms per cubic metre and 23 micrograms per cubic metre the year before that.

The new rule requires all ocean-bound vessels from tugboats to container ships to switch to 0.5 per cent sulphur marine fuel when berthing in the city.

Kwai Chung, which together with Tsing Yi forms Kwai Tsing district, is located near the Kwai Chung container port – the world’s fourth biggest in terms of throughput.

Previous studies have found the area to be the worst hit district in the city from ship pollution. Ships are the biggest source of SO2 in the city, followed by power generation.

In terms of roadside pollution, average levels of nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulates and ozone all dropped in the first half of the year.

But average concentrations of microscopic particulate matters suspended in the air, or PM, rose in Tuen Mun, Tung Chung, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok in the same period. Particulates can penetrate into the lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

All five major pollutants measured at 11 out of 15 of the city’s air quality monitoring stations exceeded the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.

Other than in Kwai Chung, Kwun Tong and Tai Po, concentrations of ozone – an indicator of regional air quality –recorded lower than average recordings at all ambient monitoring stations in the first six months of the year.

But the number of times ozone levels exceeded WHO guidelines over eight-hour periods rose at all stations in the same period.

Region should follow Hong Kong’s example on cleaner fuel for vessels

SCMP Editorial

Hong Kong has taken another positive step in fighting air pollution. Since July 1, ocean-going vessels have been required to switch to low-sulphur fuel within local waters under a new law to improve air quality. Emissions of sulphur and respirable suspended particles of 10 microns or less are expected to fall by 12 per cent and 6 per cent as a result. The health risks for those living near container ports and coastal areas will also be lowered.

Credit goes to the government and environmentalists for making this happen. Emissions at sea are known to be a major cause of air pollution. Yet weak marine shipping laws mean the problem has not previously been dealt with seriously. It was not until recent years that vessels were required to switch to less-polluting fuels while berthing in the city under a pilot scheme. This became mandatory under the new law, which allows for a maximum jail term of six months and a HK$200,000 fine for non-compliance.

But air pollution knows no boundaries. Just like the need for collective efforts to keep the neighbourhood clean, it does not help when other cities in the Pearl River Delta are not doing their part. It’s time we convinced our neighbours to do the same and adopt a region-wide fuel standard for vessels. That would mean establishing an emissions control area, within which vessels have to use low-sulphur fuel.

The importance of getting Guangdong and others on board to improve air quality has long been recognised. The joint emission reduction targets set out in the Hong Kong-Guangdong Cooperation Conference, a forum on cross-border issues, are an example. Indeed, the issue of reducing emissions by vessels in the delta region was raised at the conference a few years ago, with both sides pledging to further explore the feasibility of adopting joint fuel standards. Now that we have made efforts to clear up our skies, the next step is to urge our neighbours to follow suit. This is not just for Hongkongers, but also for the tens of millions of people living in the delta region.

Nature lover vows to clean up Hong Kong waters

If you commit your energies to protecting the oceans, it helps to live close to the sea.

That’s how Toronto-born Lisa Christensen found her calling growing up in a small town on the US east coast, where she developed a healthy respect for nature.

She recalls a time of bliss.

“There was nearly no pollution. The air, water and the beaches were all so clean,” Christensen says.

“Nature is a wonderful thing. We should all learn from it.”

She did. In 2000, she founded Ecovision, an environmental awareness group in which she also serves as chief executive.

Christensen’s parents moved to Hong Kong in 1989 when her mother got a job at KPMG. She followed eight years later.

She had her first experience with Big Wave Bay on Hong Kong Island but was later horrified to find it strewn with debris, some of which had washed ashore.

The sight brought her to tears.

“I have travelled with my parents to South America and Europe since I was young but I have never seen such a scene,” she says.

She decided to do something about it.

Christensen went to beach clean-up events with friend Christine Loh, who would later become undersecretary for the environment and from whom she would learn about environmental issues.

Christensen quit her job as a sports marketing professional to establish Ecovision, working with schools and shopping malls tor collect and recycle waste.“It was a decision made out of passion,” says Christensen. “My father has been my biggest supporter.” Not even SARS could stop her, although the 2003 outbreak seriously dented her recycling efforts to a point where many of her projects were canceled. After her father died of brain cancer in 2006, Christensen pressed on. And when her mother returned to Canada, she decided to stay in Hong Kong.

“I love Hong Kong. It’s such a lovely, vibrant city,” she says.

And the rubbish problem? “It’s not impossible to tackle.”

Later, Christensen realized Hong Kong was not ready for recycling because people lacked awareness.

Hence, she decided to turn her venture into an environmental awareness organization. It organizes educational campaigns and the annual Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge for schools and civic organizations. Christensen says the clean-up campaigns are just the first step. Education is key to spreading waste consciousness. “In the 1997 policy address, Hong Kong landfills were projected to full by 2009. Yet, the government has not come up with a better waste management system and simply expanded the landfills year after year.”

Christensen has recently introduced Zero Waste Week to Hong Kong businesses to promote reduction of plastic and paper waste.

“Zero waste is achievable,” she says.

She cites a San Francisco resort which has cut waste production by 95 percent in 14 years, and the Slovenian capital Ljubljana which has been declared as the first city to adopt a zero waste policy, with more than 60 percent of its waste reduced by recycling.

Christensen says Hong Kong should also set a target to end waste production.

“I’m hopeful that Hong Kong will show a much higher level of environmental awareness,” she says.

Berthing ships must use fuel with low sulphur under new Hong Kong law

New law forces all vessels berthing in the city to switch to cleaner fuel, but now the focus shifts to consistency throughout the Pearl River Delta

Berthing ships must use fuel with low sulphur under new Hong Kong law

Berthing ships must use fuel with low sulphur under new Hong Kong law

An anti-pollution law under which all ocean-going vessels must be powered by low-sulphur fuel while berthing in Hong Kong took effect yesterday, accompanied by calls to look ahead to the next step – pressuring other regional ports to follow suit.

The city now makes it compulsory for berthing ocean-bound vessels to use fuel with sulphur content no higher than 0.5 per cent, lower than the international cap of 3.5 per cent.

In return, shipowners save half of their berthing fees through government subsidies.

The move is expected to cut emissions of sulphur and respirable suspended particles of 10 microns or less by 12 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively, according to the Environmental Protection Department – improvements in air quality that one think tank estimates will lead to 44 per cent fewer premature deaths each year.

With the new law now in place, it is time to shift the focus to setting up an emissions control area (ECA) for the Pearl River Delta region, said Simon Ng Ka-wing, chief research officer for the think tank, Civic Exchange.

“There needs to be a level playing field for the entire region,” Ng said. “Shenzhen already has an incentive scheme and hopefully Guangzhou will be pressured to do something, too.”

He said the region’s emissions data was being updated and would provide more justification for an ECA.

Civic Exchange helped pave the way for a local Fair Winds Charter, launched in 2011.

Under the voluntary scheme, 3,000 ocean vessels from 17 freight lines switch to low-sulphur fuel at berth each year, equivalent to roughly 10 per cent of total annual port calls.

With the new mandate, all 30,000 ocean-going ships that berth in Hong Kong yearly must comply, the department said.

Retired Liner Shipping Association chairman Peter Ng Yee-chun agreed a region-wide fuel standard would make things easier for shipping operators.

If an ECA was the ultimate goal, he said, all ships in the region should adopt a consistent standard of 0.1 per cent sulphur in their fuel, the latest cap for recognised ECAs.

This idea was echoed by Shippers’ Council chairman Willy Lin Sun-mo. “It would be much better for shippers, if Shenzhen or Guangzhou could adopt the same regulation for a consistency of regional standards,” he said.

Subsidies to help the industry comply end in 2018, and the question is how to transfer the cost, eventually, to the consumer. Current oil prices make 0.5 sulphur fuel 20 per cent more expensive than regular heavy fuel.

“All parties need to shoulder the cost burden,” Peter Ng said.