Hong Kong is blessed with numerous sandy beaches that may rival those of island resorts. Sadly, some of our beaches are polluted with rubbish washed up from the sea or dumped by irresponsible visitors. Recently, a beach accessible to tens of thousands of residents in Discovery Bay was littered with hundreds of used syringes and other medical items. Not only is this a nuisance it also poses a serious threat to public health and safety on Lantau.
Beaches awash with medical waste are nothing new. This newspaper was among the first to draw public attention to the problem following complaints by environmentalists in the early 1990s. Like household garbage, medical waste used to be dumped in landfills without restrictions. Legislation forbidding this was enacted in 2006, only after a decade-long campaign. Hospitals and clinics are now required to send their waste for centralised disposal in Tsing Yi via licensed contractors.
The infusion bags, vials and syringes found on Sam Pak Wan beach over the past few months shows something is still amiss. As we thank volunteers for the regular clean-up, it has to be asked why the garbage ended up on the shore. It would be an injustice to those who help to keep beaches clean if the authorities continue to turn a blind eye or sweep the problem under the carpet.
The government has yet to identify the source. Some items carried simplified Chinese characters used on the mainland, while the characters on others were apparently the same as those used in Hong Kong. This suggests they may originate on both sides of the border. Although we have no control over waste disposal on the mainland, we have every right to take it up with authorities there if their rubbish ends up on our doorstep. Officials have to liaise with the mainland authorities to see whether the problem arises on their side. Given that our disposal system did not come into force until August 2011, it would also be premature to rule out illegal dumping by the local industry. Thorough investigation is needed.