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LCQ16: Treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment

     Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 23):


     Regarding the treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the total WEEE generation in each of the past five years, broken down by way of treatment (recycling, disposal, storage pending shipment overseas or others) and type of WEEE (e.g. television set, washing machine, refrigerator, air conditioner, computer product and others, etc.), as well as the respective numbers of organisations or units which use the above ways to treat WEEE and their respective numbers of staff;

(b) as I have learnt that there are about 100 temporary open storage areas (OSAs) in the rural New Territories for the storage of WEEE pending shipment overseas and that many of these sites do not have proper shelter to cover WEEE and are not paved, exposing the WEEE to the open air for a long time, causing land contamination from the leaching of heavy metals, fire hazards, eyesores and other problems:

(i) whether it knows the number of OSAs in operation in Hong Kong in each of the past five years; among them, the percentage of those OSAs which have exposed WEEE to the open air for a long time, broken down by the 18 District Council districts;

(ii) whether it had conducted studies or compiled statistics in the past five years on the pollution (e.g. land contamination from the leaching of heavy metals) and accidents (e.g. fire hazards) caused by OSAs in Hong Kong each year as well as the impact of such pollution and accidents on members of the public (including health hazards and casualties); if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(iii) of the legislation, system or measures in place to regulate the operation of OSAs (e.g. the maximum number and capacity as well as types of WEEE to be stored); and

(iv) whether it knows in general the final shipping destinations and usages of WEEE stored in OSAs; the existing policies and regulations on the treatment of WEEE in these destinations and whether there will be changes in such policies and regulations in the near future; and

(c) given that premises dissembling e-waste classified as noxious chemical waste must be licensed under the Waste Disposal Ordinance (Cap. 354):

(i) of the details and number of prosecutions instituted for violating the aforesaid provisions in each of the past five years; whether there are cases in which no improvement has been made even after prosecution; if so, of the details and number of such cases as well as the measures put in place by the authorities to step up enforcement;

(ii) of the details of the vetting and approval of the applications for the aforesaid licence; of the number of units which obtained the licence in each of the past five years ; and

(iii) whether the authorities have any plan to establish a licensing system for the regulation of premises treating WEEE which are classified as non-chemical waste (regardless of whether they contain noxious substances or not); if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) contains hazardous components that are harmful to the environment and human health if it is disposed of improperly. In the past few years, more than 70 000 tonnes of WEEE were generated in Hong Kong annually, mainly comprising television sets, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners and computer products. In 2010, the Government conducted a public consultation which revealed that stakeholders and the public generally supported the introduction a mandatory producer responsibility scheme (PRS) by legislation for the proper management of WEEE. In view of the findings of the public consultation, the Government proposes to implement a mandatory PRS for the five types of electrical and electronic (E&E) products aforementioned. One of the proposed measures is to introduce licencing requirements for the storage and treatment of used and waste E&E products of a certain quantity and above so as to ensure that the handling of these products is environmentally sound. For details, please refer to the discussion paper issued to the Panel on Environmental Affairs (EA Panel) of this Council.

     My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) If not disposed of locally, WEEE generated in Hong Kong is mostly sold through second-hand dealers to developing countries for re-use and recovery of valuable materials. We have collected data in respect of the quantities of WEEE generated and disposed of in Hong Kong through consultancy studies and landfill surveys, and have accordingly estimated the quantity of WEEE that is recycled.  The relevant figures between 2006 and 2010 are set out in the table below:

         Generation     Disposed      Recycled
         (Thousand      (Thousand     (Thousand
         tonnes)        tonnes)       tonnes)
         ---------      ----------     ---------
2006       68.6            10.6          58.0
2007       70.1            11.1          59.0
2008       71.4            12.6          58.8
2009       72.0             7.7          64.3
2010       74.0            13.1          60.9

     We have not surveyed the quantity of WEEE stored in Hong Kong pending shipment overseas.

     In planning for the PRS on WEEE, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) commissioned consultancy in 2008 and 2010 to conduct surveys on the quantity of locally generated WEEE, with breakdown by product types.  The relevant figures are set out in the table below:

                   WEEE Generation   WEEE Generation
                      in 2008            in 2010
                     (Thousand          (Thousand
                      tonnes)            tonnes)
                   ---------------   ---------------
Television sets          17.9              21.6
Washing machines          9.6              10.5
Refrigerators             8.3               8.4
Air conditioners         11.3              12.6
Computer products        14.1              10.4
Other products           10.2              10.5
Total                    71.4              74.0

(b)(i) and (ii) Hong Kong has yet to establish a statutory licensing regime for the treatment and storage of WEEE. As such we do not have the statistics on the relevant establishments and the manpower involved.

     Most of the temporary open storage areas (OSAs) for the storage of WEEE pending shipment overseas are located in the remote areas in Yuen Long and the North District. By a rough estimate, there are about 120 such OSAs, but the actual number may vary as market situation fluctuates; and their mode of operation may also change from time to time. During inspections at these locations in recent years, EPD has not found any land contamination cases caused by WEEE storage sites. In order to monitor the situation, EPD had collected soil samples from WEEE storage sites in the North District and their surroundings for initial analysis. Such analysis showed that the levels of pollutants like lead and brominated flame retardant were low, which were within the relevant standards and did not pose threat to human health.

(iii) At present, while there is no statutory licensing requirement for WEEE storage sites, such sites should be operated in compliance with various legislation relating to land use, town planning, fire safety, labour, etc. They are also subject to the control of the relevant environmental legislation such as the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, the Noise Control Ordinance, the Water Pollution Control Ordinance, the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO) and their relevant subsidiary legislation.  For the storage sites on Government land, their operation is also governed by the land lease in which there are terms relating to fire safety precautions.

     In our proposals and complementary measures for the mandatory PRS on WEEE, we have already included licensing requirements for the storage of WEEE. Our initial thought is to require operators of such storage sites to obtain a licence. During the application process, they have to submit operational details such as the type and quantity of used or waste E&E products being stored and the maximum storage capacity etc. The storage sites should be properly equipped to satisfy the relevant safety and environmental management requirements. For instance, there should be a roofed structure and paved areas, a maximum stack height, security measures and record-keeping arrangements, etc.

(iv) At present, in accordance with the Basel Convention and the WDO, WEEE containing hazardous substances can be exported overseas only for recycling or re-use purposes.  Available information shows that the key export destinations include Korea and Thailand. Apart from this, the current legislation does not require exporters to handle other WEEE separately from other goods exports, and accordingly we do not have the relevant breakdown figures for individual export destinations. In general, the majority of WEEE exported from Hong Kong is sold through second-hand dealers to developing countries for re-use and recovery of valuable materials. Though policy development in individual jurisdictions may vary, WEEE has become a growing concern internationally. It is expected that increasingly more countries will tighten the import control of WEEE.

(c)(i) In the past five years, one waste recycler was prosecuted by the EPD (in 2007) under the WDO for disposing of cathode ray tubes without a licence. The recycler was fined $30,000. The recycling plant had subsequently ceased operation. Accordingly, there has not been any case in which no improvement has been made even after prosecution.

(ii) Under section 16(1) of the WDO, any person who disposes of hazardous WEEE that has been classified as chemical waste (e.g. cathode ray tube) must apply for a waste disposal licence in accordance with the Ordinance. The layout and operation of the relevant plant must comply with stringent environmental requirements. The plant must also pass relevant operational tests before a licence could be granted. The number of WEEE recycling facilities holding a waste disposal licence in each of the past five years is as follows:

        Number of Recycling Facilities
        with a Waste Disposal Licence
2006                 0
2007                 0
2008                 2
2009                 3
2010                 4

(iii) As mentioned at (b)(ii) above, we propose to include licensing requirements for the storage and treatment of used and waste E&E products as we introduce the PRS for WEEE. We will listen to Members' views at the meeting of the EA Panel on November 28, 2011 and further discuss with the relevant trades so as to jointly work out the relevant implementation details.

Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:05


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