Greenpeace intercepts illegal US electronic waste shipment to Hong Kong

Press release - 2008-06-14
Greenpeace activists boarded the Yang Ming Success and prevented the offloading of an illegal container of waste electronic devices (e-waste) from the Port of Oakland in the United States, on its way to Sanshui district in mainland China, via Hong Kong. Activists unfurled a banner reading, “Toxic waste not welcomed here,” and demanded that Hong Kong authorities refuse entry of the container and return it to the US.

Greenpeace researchers monitored the operations of several exporters in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley area. They observed the loading of this container, noting the container number, allowing Greenpeace to track it to Hong Kong and determine its final destination – Sanshui in Guangdong province, China. Every year, 20 to 50 million tones of dangerous e-waste are generated worldwide, and Greenpeace has uncovered only the tip of an illegal e-waste mountain entering China.

“As long as manufacturers fail to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, illegal shipments containing hazardous e-waste, like this one, will continue to find their way to the scrap yards of countries like China,” said LO Sze Ping, Greenpeace China Campaign Director. “In these yards, where rudimentary recycling takes place, human health and the environment are at risk from the cocktail of toxic chemicals released when end-of-life are broken up.”

The import of electronic waste is illegal in mainland China, however legislation in Hong Kong provides loopholes allowing e-waste to enter the country and make its way to scrap yards in mainland China such as in Guiyu of Guangdong Province. Without holding the electronic manufacturers responsible for their products including financing and setting a global take back schemes, illegal traders will continue to use loopholes within the legislative system to open the door to this unwelcome trade.'

“Sole responsibility lies with manufacturers of electronics goods. They need first to design out toxics by using safer alternatives, and secondly to take global responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products,” said Martin Hojsik, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner. “Only then we can ensure that the dangerous tide of toxic e-waste does not end up in scrap yards in countries like China.”


Toxic Tech: Not in Our Backyard is available online, as is a summary.

PVC can be a source of toxic and persistent chemicals when recycled or disposed of (e.g. by incineration or burning). Often requires the use of chemical additives, such as toxic phthalate plasticizers.

Phthalates: hormone disrupters. Some are toxic to reproduction interfering with sexual development in mammals, especially in males.

Brominated Flame Retardants can be a source of toxic and persistent brominates chemicals when recycled or disposed of (e.g. by incineration or burning).

Beryllium: dusts and fumes produced by recycling or processing can lead to chronic beryllium disease (CBD), an incurable debilitating lung disease.

According to the Hong Kong Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO), import or export of controlled waste needs authorization from the Environmental Protection Department through a permit. However, Greenpeace discovered that the current control scheme is full of loopholes, which makes Hong Kong a major transit for electronic waste in the region. Loopholes could be found in the 3 steps

Step 1No clear definition for ‘reuse’, ‘reprocessing’, ‘recycling’, ‘recovery operation’. Importers or exporters could easily claim their electronic waste are ‘goods’ for recycling and escape from control laid by the WDO

Step 2: Not all types of electronic waste are under control Frontline officials only pay attention to electronic waste like ‘old batteries’ or ‘cathode ray tubes’, but fail to address the problem caused by other electronic waste, such as printed wiring boards.

Step 3Loose definition of ‘contamination’. Lacking a clear definition on ‘contamination’ under the Ordinance leaves a large proportion of electronic waste containing hazardous materials uncontrolled in Hong Kong.

Guiyu of Guangdong Province is the main centre of e-waste scrapping in China.