Serious problem which needs attention

SINCE we were not contacted beforehand, Greenpeace would appreciate an opportunity of respond to the views of Mark Montgomery as reported in Elisabeth Tacey's article 'Academic issues attack on waste dumping data.' (South China Morning Post, September 22).

The article reports that Mr Montgomery disagrees with Greenpeace's conclusion that international trade in hazardous waste represents an environmental problem for the importing country. While recognising that the data is poor, he nevertheless concludes that there is a very small trade in hazardous wastes and that such trade does not necessarily harm the environment. We agree that the data is incomplete. But what this means is that there are many more hazardous exports, and more damage done, than we know of. Rather than exaggerating, we are very likely understating by reporting only those waste trade cases which we can fully document.

Waste Invasion of Asia, the Greenpeace report which Mr Montgomery attacks, documents that: Between 1991 and 1993, Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the US shipped more than 5.4 million tonnes of toxic waste to the following countries: Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

This included over 50,000 tonnes of lead shipped to 11 Asian countries, over 100,000 tonnes of plastic waste, over five million tonnes of scrap metal.

This waste had contaminated farms, in Bangladesh, streams in Indonesia, and schoolchildren in Taiwan.

Known planned shipments amount to over five million tonnes of waste, including household garbage, plastic and lead battery wastes, hospital waste and radioactive waste for disposal in Tibet and India.

The world's governments agree that this is more than a small issue and that environmental harm is indeed caused by waste trade. In March of this year, at the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, the developing countries won a decision to ban all exports of hazardous waste from the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the rest of the world. After 1997, this ban will include export for recycling as well.

It is true that for Hong Kong and many countries in the region, domestically generated hazardous waste is a serious problem which needs attention. However, this does not justify the continued export from industrialised countries of the waste they would rather not handle at home.

Kenny Bruno, Toxic Trade Project, Greenpeace