Electronics industry forced to go green

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 1993, 12:00am

MOST electronics firms in Hong Kong have switched to environmentally friendly cleaning agents for fear of going out of business, said the chairman of the Hong Kong Electronics Association.

Lui Ming-wah, said: ''I would say about 80 per cent of electronics companies in Hong Kong are already using CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) alternatives or are actively in the process of making the change.

''This is happening because firms have realised that if they don't start using CFC alternatives they are likely to go out of business or be forced to move to China.'' But the Hong Kong Productivity Council believes more than 40 per cent of the 1,300 electronics firms in the territory have already relocated to China.

A ban on importing CFCs to Hong Kong, which will come into force in 1996 following a phasing-out period in line with the Montreal Protocol, has serious implications for the territory's electronics companies.

The industry is the main user of the ozone-depleting chemical CFC-113, while its use of solvents as cleaning agents accounts for almost half of Hong Kong's CFC usage.

Electronics is also Hong Kong's second largest exporter, accounting for 26 per cent of total domestic exports, and employs 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce.

But instead of switching to non-CFC cleaning agents, many factory-sized companies have moved to the Pearl River delta.

The council's senior consultant in electronics services, Ricky Yeung Kwai-biu, said: ''I would agree that the majority of electronics companies in Hong Kong have switched to CFC alternatives, which is very good news.

''But many firms have already moved to China to take advantage of lower labour and land costs and to escape the expense of switching to non-CFCs.'' Although China has also signed the Montreal Protocol, the phasing out period will be longer and it will only be implemented if the United Nations agrees to give the Chinese Government a grant to make the change.

The council said multi-national electronics firms still in Hong Kong had switched to CFC alternatives to give themselves an environmentally friendly image, while medium-sized companies had started to use non-CFC cleaning agents in response to customer demand.

''But smaller electronics companies in the territory simply do not have the capital to make the change and I think they will end up leaving it to the last minute and probably going to China,'' Mr Yeung added.

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said the number of electronics firms that had already switched to non-CFCs or were in the process of doing so was encouraging.

''We believe the Hong Kong Government should have acted sooner to ban CFCs, but now that legislation has come into force we are glad to see companies actually doing something, even if it is for economic rather than environmental reasons,'' the spokesman said.