Hong Kong evidence crucial to first US e-waste conviction
City handed over evidence about intercepted loads, leading to first success against recycler
Hong Kong played a key role in the United States' first successful conviction in December of a recycling company for smuggling hazardous electronic waste, the environment watchdog says.
The Environmental Protection Department said it supplied evidence to the US authorities after the interception of seven containers loaded with hundreds of cathode ray tubes in Hong Kong in 2008, which helped to convict Executive Recycling and its executives.
Acting principal environmental protection officer Kelly Yung Kin-ki said the evidence included invoices, photos and cargo inspection reports.
The information was handed over last year after a request from the US.
In an unprecedented move, a department officer also testified before a Hong Kong judge in the presence of US officers, with the evidence broadcast live in the US court.
Colorado-based firm Executive Recycling was found to have falsely claimed the electronic waste from businesses and the government would be handled locally. Instead, it shipped the waste overseas, with some of it ending up on the mainland.
"Executive Recycling appeared as the exporter of record in over 300 exports from the United States between 2005 and 2008," the US Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado said.
"Approximately 160 of these exported cargo containers contained more than 100,000 CRTs."
The company and executives were convicted in December but sentences were handed down only last month.
The firm was fined US$4.5 million and its owner and chief executive, Brandon Richter, was jailed for 2-1/2 years.
In Hong Kong, six consignees of the waste were fined up to HK$54,000 by local courts in 2008.
A report by a research arm of the United Nations said in April that China was believed to be the world's largest importer of e-waste.
In the Guangdong town of Guiyu - sometimes dubbed the world's electronic waste dump - it was estimated in early 2000 that more than one million tonnes of such waste was smuggled in for dismantling by the most primitive means, causing major health and environmental problems.
Yung said that since the high-profile case, the number of intercepted illegal shipments from the US had slid from 62 in 2008 to three last year.
"We won't speculate on the reasons behind the drastic fall but we believe that the stringent enforcement, as in this case, has conveyed to the others a clear deterrent message," he said.
Yung did not reveal how the department got the information to intercept the shipments but admitted it had noted reports from a TV programme in the US and from a green group about the company's malpractices.