EPD will not tolerate illegal import of hazardous e-waste

     In response to a media report on imports of hazardous electronic waste (e-waste) to Hong Kong from overseas, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) today (June 17) expressed grave concern about the issue and has immediately initiated investigation against the alleged recycling sites. The EPD will not tolerate any hazardous e-waste being illegally imported to Hong Kong.

     An EPD spokesman said that the EPD has already contacted Basel Action Network (BAN), an international green organisation, for seeking available information to facilitate the investigation. The EPD has also urged BAN to provide the United States (US) enforcement authorities with relevant information at the same time to facilitate interception at source so as to prevent such exports of hazardous e-waste. The EPD will also liaise with the US environmental protection authorities to learn about their follow-up action on the media report, including whether the certified recyclers under the e-Stewards programme have fullfiled their responsibilities.

     The spokesman said that e-waste is classified into two categories, non-hazardous e-waste and hazardous e-waste. Under the Basel Convention, non-hazardous e-waste includes main computer units, computer hard disks, other component parts inside a computer, printed circuit boards, printers and servers etc. As is the case for other recyclable materials like waste paper and plastics, the import and export trade of these non-hazardous scrap materials for reuse and recycling are encouraged internationally and will not adversely affect the environment. While hazardous e-waste, such as cathode ray tubes found in old-fashioned television sets and LCD monitors which contain various types of heavy metals (including mercury) and toxic organic compounds, a permit regulatory system is required by the Basel Convention with a view to minimising the import and export movement of these hazardous waste.

     The spokesman stressed that the provisions set out in Hong Kong's Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO) are formulated in accordance with the requirements of the Basel Convention, and are consistent with those adopted internationally by other places including member countries of the European Union. Regarding the processing and treatment of e-waste, where the recycling processes involve mechanical crushing or chemical processing, they will release hazardous substances which could pollute the environment. Such activity is therefore put under the strict control of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO). As regards the dismantling of computer components and circuit boards by manual labour at recycling sites as mentioned in the media report, these simple sorting and separation of recyclable components into plastics, metal scraps and circuit boards will not normally release harmful substances to the environment, these activities therefore will not violate the law.

     The EPD attaches great importance in combating cross-boundary movement of hazardous waste and has collaborated closely with the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) to conduct law enforcement actions at port terminals and the borders to intercept illegal shipments of hazardous e-waste into Hong Kong. In the past five years (2011-15), the EPD inspected about 3 200 containers and completed prosecutions of around 100 cases. All illegally imported e-waste had been returned to the originating places of export. The EPD also notified relevant overseas law enforcement agencies on every single case for their follow-up action. In addition, the EPD conducted surprise inspections on local recycling sites to strictly tackle illegal activities in accordance with the legal requirements. In the past five years, the EPD inspected e-waste recycling sites for about 700 times, with 16 convicted cases. The EPD has ongoing collaboration with other government departments to conduct joint inspections of recycling sites, so as to ensure that their operations comply with the legal requirements on pollution control, fire safety, and land use planning.

     On the international front, the EPD has established close cooperation mechanisms with overseas regulatory agencies and international organisations, and participates in joint enforcement operations to combat illegal import and export of e-waste. The EPD also has collaboration with the community organisations of different places including BAN. During the period between 2013 and May 2016, BAN provided reports on 31 cases of suspected hazardous e-waste shipments to Hong Kong. The EPD and the C&ED conducted joint operations to follow up on each report and conducted inspection of all the containers related to the intelligence reports. Among those cases, four were found to be substantiated involving hazardous e-waste. The EPD immediately returned to the US the hazardous e-waste container shipments and prosecuted the importers concerned.

     BAN advocates that the international community should go beyond the Basel Convention to further extend strict control through the permit system to cover all kinds of e-waste. The Legislative Council passed the Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Electrical Equipment and Electronic Equipment) (Amendment) Bill 2016 (Amendment Bill) in March 2016. The EPD is now working on the subsidiary legislation to formulate the implementation requirements and will set the effective date in due course according to progress. Under the Amendment Bill, the import and export permit control will be expanded to cover more categories of waste electrical and electronic equipment. The products to be put under regulatory control are waste washing machines, refrigerators, air-conditioners, televisions, and computer products including various kinds of desktop computers, laptop computers and tablet computers, printers, scanners and display panels.

     The spokesman reiterated that the EPD will continue to collaborate with relevant government departments and spare no efforts to combat illegal activities of import and export of hazardous e-waste, as well as to maintain close partnership with the international community to tackle the cross-boundary movement of hazardous waste.

Ends/Friday, June 17, 2016
Issued at HKT 23:27