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Hong Kong environmental issues

Halt Hong Kong auctions ahead of laws on e-waste

While the government puts unwanted appliances under the hammer, everyone else has to dispose of equipment via licensed recyclers – this needs to change

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 11:33pm

Auctions have long been used by the government to get rid of confiscated items, surplus inventories and unwanted office appliances, and for good reason. Not only are they a convenient way to dispose of such items, but they also rely on market forces to get the best price for things that are no longer wanted. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That is why the auctions have attracted traders and scavengers alike over the years.

But it is a different story following the implementation last month of a scheme that mandates everyone to discard certain electronic appliances via licensed recyclers. Instead of taking the lead, the Government Logistics Department continues to dispose of controlled items via auctions. A batch of 2,179 items, including air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, computers and printers, went under the hammer last month. They came from a dozen or so departments.

It has to be asked why households and businesses are required to abide by the new scheme when departments seemingly are not. The government is no different from a household or company in this respect. What sets it apart is the volume of things it disposes of regularly. With dozens of bureaus and departments in the hierarchy, compliance is essential.

Pay to dispose of electronic waste, or pay for a more polluted city

Auction officials appear insensitive to the implications arising from the scheme. Not only are the two means of disposal inconsistent in spirit, but also there are adverse consequences if items are obtained by those who focus on profit rather than the environment. As reported by the Post, successful bidders sometimes just salvage useful parts to resell. There is no guarantee that the remainder will be disposed of via licensed recyclers.

It is unethical, if not hypocritical, for the government to preach responsible recycling when it does not set a good example. Having been questioned by the Post, the government said it planned to allow only eligible licensed recyclers to participate in e-waste auctions starting from late December, when new laws relating to disposal and import and export permits come into effect. It makes sense to suspend the auctions in the meantime.