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Environmental watchdog is all bark and no bite when it comes to e-waste from the US

Americans are shipping their electronic waste to Hong Kong, seemingly with impunity, and we are paying the price

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 1:20am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 1:20am

The United States is the world’s greatest exporter of electronic waste, and Hong Kong has become one of its main recipients. This is shameful on so many levels.

The US is the only industrialised country that has refused to ratify the Basel Convention, the international treaty that bans developed economies from dumping hazardous waste on other countries.

Hong Kong and the mainland have signed on to the convention. But agencies like the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have shown a woeful lack of oversight.

The mainland used to be the main dumping ground for e-waste, and Hong Kong’s New Territories used to serve as a transit point. But following a crackdown on the mainland, the New Territories, especially Yuen Long, has become the final destination.

Revealed: the toxic trail of e-waste that leads from the US to Hong Kong

Now, thanks to a multi-year investigation by the US environmental watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN), the reality of e-waste dumping in Hong Kong can no longer be denied.

Using advanced global tracking devices, the watchdog was able to trace the movement of cargo containing e-waste from the US to the rest of the world, which includes Mexico, Taiwan, mainland China, Pakistan, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Kenya and even Canada. But there is no bigger recipient than Hong Kong.

A list of 10 of the worst dump sites in the New Territories was handed to the EPD months ago, but most continue to operate today. The EPD hardly needed to be given the list. At the dump sites, discarded computers, printers and LCD TVs form huge piles taking up grounds the size of soccer fields. E-waste is highly hazardous, as it may release lead, mercury, dioxins and carcinogenic toner ink. Officials can hardly claim not to notice when there have been several fires at those junkyards in the past year. Two in March were widely reported as they emitted massive plumes of toxic black smoke into the neighbourhoods.

Turn back the e-waste tide: pressure to stop flood of toxic imports from US to Hong Kong

The EPD proudly noted 21 instances in the last three years in which cargo containing e-waste was turned back to the US. But BAN estimates between 50 and 100 containers dump e-waste here each day and 90 per cent of the material comes from the US.

The EPD claims to be cooperating with the US. Seriously? We need to shame the Americans, shut down those junkyards and aggressively inspect and turn back e-waste cargo. But with the EPD, don’t bet on it.