Greenpeace exposes Hong Kong's role as a free port for China's electronic waste trade

Feature Story - 2005-03-28
Greenpeace today presented new evidence that sites in Hong Kong's northern New Territories were being used as 'staging points' for the illegal cross-border trade in hazardous electronic waste (e-waste). China enacted a law last year prohibiting the trade in e-waste but the huge volume of cross-border trade between Hong Kong and China attracts traders in e-waste from developed countries to use Hong Kong as a stopover. The e-waste is then imported to the Mainland by road making inspection more difficult.

Greenpeace uncovers electronic waste (e-waste) storage area in Hong Kong's northern New Territories. E-waste traders use Hong Kong as a 'staging post' for e-waste from developed countries before transporting across the border into mainland China for irresponsible recycling contaminating both the environment and the workers.

A Greenpeace investigation uncovered the e-waste operation at Hung Lung Hang near Fanling last month. Large stockpiles of old televisions, computer monitors and printed circuit boards are stored openly at the site and workers could be observed removing cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) from the televisions and monitors.

To determine the extent to which releases of pollutants from the workshop have impacted the local environment, Greenpeace sampled soil from the area in early March. Sampling results showed possible lead contamination in the vicinity of the workshop. This heavy metal is highly toxic to plants, animals and humans, and is generally found in the environment at very low concentrations.

Edward Chan, Greenpeace Campaigner, said "the soils were probably contaminated by the accumulation of e-waste in the area and we urge the SAR government to review and tighten the laws to stop people from using Hong Kong as the free port for the e-waste trade, polluting both Hong Kong and Mainland China".

The two samples of soil collected along the perimeter fence of the workshop contained 51mg/kg & 142mg/kg of lead respectively. These readings are 5-10 times higher than background levels of lead in uncontaminated soils, which typically contain less than 10-30mg/kg lead. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), an element commonly found in computer parts, were also found in the samples. Lead is harmful to the human nervous system, blood circulation and organs while PBDEs can affect hormones.

Greenpeace calls on the HKSAR Government to review the laws to stop the e-waste trade. "Greenpeace believes that the most effective way to stop the hazardous e-waste trade is clean production combined with implementation of the principle of 'extended producer responsibility', holding producers responsible for safe disposal of their products through the introduction of 'take back' policies". Chan said.