Hongkong acts in battle to save ozone

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 1993, 12:00am

HONGKONG will be able to meet a new phase-out date for ozone-depleting chemicals, under a bill gazetted yesterday aimed at banning some imports and placing controls on use.

The international community agreed in November that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) should be phased out in 1996 rather than 2000 as earlier agreed, because of evidence the ozone was depleting faster than expected.

Ozone protects the Earth from the sun's harmful, ultraviolet rays, which can cause skin cancer and blindness and affect the food chain.

The new bill, which won approval from the Executive Council earlier this week, is aimed at limiting imports of products containing harmful chemicals to countries which have signed the Montreal Protocol, the original, international agreement on ozone.

Imports of pure CFCs, which are used as refrigerants, as a solvent in the electronics industry and as a blowing agent for foam plastic manufacturing, will be reduced to 25 per cent of present levels by 1994 and banned by 1996, if the bill is passed.

The use of CFCs will also be controlled, making it illegal for anyone to intentionally vent them from air-conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Venting is currently allowed and is common, particularly among garages servicing car air-conditioners.

The proposed ban is intended to encourage users to recycle their supplies.

About 3,000 air-conditioning units in Hongkong use CFCs, and the industry has been investigating alternatives. Most of the units are for commercial blocks and small, window-type air-cons usually contain CFC substitutes.

The local branch of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers earlier expected there would be difficulties meeting the new phase-out date, because of a shortage of people qualified to convert older systems to CFC alternatives, or to install new non-CFC systems.

The electronics and foam-blowing industries were also urged by the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch yesterday to use alternatives to CFCs, given that there will be a shortage of supply and prices are likely to escalate.

But the industries are reluctant to switch to alternatives, which are readily available at an investment of $1 million to $2 million, until they are certain the new technology will not become obsolete, according to the Hongkong Productivity Council.

The new bill does not contain provision for a tax on CFCs, which the Environmental Protection Department and green groups said would encourage more recycling or a move away from CFCs, as this would take longer to draw up.

But it does provide for a ban on halon imports from 1994, which are used in fighting fires.

The Fire Services Department has said it could switch to a carbon dioxide dry powder formula if required, although this was not considered as effective.