U-turn on recycling of pellets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:10pm

The government will send tonnes of plastic pellets spilled off Hong Kong during Typhoon Vicente to a recycler instead of dumping them in landfills.

The U-turn came a day after environment officials said it would be difficult to recycle the pellets because they had been mixed with sand or rubbish after being washed ashore in southern coastal areas.

Cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 lost seven containers - six of which were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets - during the storm that hit the city two weeks ago.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man, who oversees environmental hygiene, said yesterday a deal had been struck with the Environmental Protection Department on recycling the pellets.

'This might be an inefficient process, but it is still worth it for the sake of environmental protection. We will recycle as much as we can,' he said.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman also said it would make arrangements with an NGO to take the pellets after the government ascertained who the 'legal owner' was.

The spokesman could not say how many pellets had already been dumped in landfills.

Three departments collected about 3.85 tonnes of pellets in the sea and along beaches yesterday, which brings the total retrieved so far to 74.85 tonnes.

The Centre for Food Safety tested 20 fish samples on Monday and 30 samples yesterday. No pellets were detected.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department received reports from five fish farmers that trace amounts of plastic pellets were found in the Ma Wan and Cheung Sha Wan fish culture zones. They were cleared up. In five live-fish samples the department collected, one gram and 0.4 grams of the pellets were found in the stomachs of a red drum and a cobia respectively. The government said the food safety risk was believed to be low.

The pellets were made at a Sinopec plant but so far no one has claimed ownership. Shipping agent China Shipping Container Lines leased the vessel that transported the cargo.

Sinopec organised a group of volunteers to use a vacuum to clear the pellets from a rocky beach in Shek Pai Wan on Lamma.

Yan Oi Tong, a charity funded by the government to operate a plastic recycling centre in Tuen Mun, said it was ready to reprocess the pellets if they were clear of contamination.

Recyclers are also keen to acquire the sacks of plastic pellets, which they said could be resold for a profit. But they were reluctant to take those mixed with other rubbish or sand.

'It will cost us a lot to sift out the pellets,' said Wu Shui-man, a Yuen Long-based recycler.

While the government has deployed helicopters and marine police launches to monitor remote areas, green groups have taken steps to gauge the extent of the pollution.

WWF Hong Kong retrieved two large pieces of metal believed to have come from the broken containers from a remote beach on Beaufort Island, part of the Po Toi island chain off Stanley. It also recovered 40 bags of pellets.

Maritime officials have made little progress in determining exactly how and where the cargo fell into the sea.

The Marine Department said it was crucial when trying to establish legal liability for the incident to determine if the ship was in Hong Kong waters when the cargo was lost.

Sinopec said any liability should be handled according to the law.

The Yong Xin Jie 1, a Xiamen-registered ship leased to China Shipping, was close to the eastern sea order of Hong Kong on July 23 when it apparently was turning west to enter Hong Kong waters. But its signal disappeared when Vicente edged closer to Hong Kong that afternoon. It was not until at about 8am the next day that its signals were detected again. They showed the ship was 2.5 kilometres east of Hong Kong's sea border heading towards Daya Bay. It sheltered in Daya Bay until July 31, then continued on to Shantou , arriving the next day.


The number of tonnes of plastic pellets retrieved so far - almost half of the estimated 150 tonnes spilled during Typhoon Vicente


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