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Advisory Council on the Environment

Confirmed Minutes of the 58th Meeting of the Advisory Council on the Environment held on 14 December 1998 at 2:30 p.m.

Present:

Mr. Peter H. Y. WONG, JP (Chairman)
Mr. Barrie COOK
Mr. CHAN Kwok-wai, JP
Miss Ann CHIANG
Mr. Paul C. H. FAN
Professor Peter HILLS
Dr. HO Kin-chung
Professor LAM Kin-che
Mr. Edwin Lau
Dr. the Hon. LEONG Che-hung
Mr. LIN Chaan-ming
Dr. NG Cho-nam
Mr. PAO Ping-wing, JP
Mr. Otto L. T. POON
Mr. Michael J. D. RUSHWORTH
Ms Iris TAM
Miss Alex YAU
Mr. Plato YIP
Mr. Danny TSUI (Secretary)


Absent with Apologies:

Mr. Clement CHEN
Professor Anthony HEDLEY, JP
Mr. Joseph LAU Man-wai, JP
Mr. Tan Teng Huat


In Attendance:

 

Mr. Kim SALKELD Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (Environment) (DS(E), PELB)
Mr. Mike STOKOE Acting Director of Environmental Protection (Atg. DEP)
Dr. P. K. S. PUN Director of Planning
Mr. S P LAU Assistant Director, Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD)
Mr. David CHAN Principal Information Officer, Environmental Protection Department (EPD)
Mr. Eugene FUNG Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment & Lands (Environment) (AS(E)4, PELB)
Miss Cora SO Executive Officer, Planning, Environment & Lands Bureau (Environment)
 
In Attendance for Agenda Item 3 :
 
Dr. Malcolm BROOM Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Water Policy and Planning), EPD (PEPO(WP), EPD)
Mr. Ed GMITROWICZ Principal Environmental Consultant, Hyder Consulting Ltd. (PEC, HCL)
Dr. Tim CRAMP Director, Maunsell Environmental Consultants Ltd. (Dir., MECL)
 
In Attendance for Agenda Item 4 :
 
Mr. Steve BARCLAY Principal Assistant Secretary (Environment)2, PELB (PAS(E)2, PELB)
Mr. Patrick LEI Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Waste Policy and Services), EPD (PEPO(WS), EPD)
Mr. Mike TSINGM Senior Environmental Protection Officer (Waste Policy and Services)2, EPD (SEPO(WS)2, EPD)
 
In Attendance for Agenda Item 5 :
 
Mr. Steve BARCLAY Principal Assistant Secretary (Environment)2, PELB (PAS(E)2, PELB)
Mr. Patrick LEI Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Waste Policy and Services), EPD
 
In Attendance for Agenda Items 6 & 7 :
 
Mr. Steve BARCLAY Principal Assistant Secretary (Environment)2, PELB
Mr. Benny WONG Assistant Director (Waste Facilities), EPD (AD(WF), EPD)



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  Action
Agenda Item 1 : Confirmation of Minutes of the 57th Meeting held on 16 November 1998  
 
The minutes were confirmed, subject to the proposed amendments to paras. 22, 24 and 30 from ESB and para. 49 from a Member (attached).  
 
Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising  
 
Para. 4 : Comparison of Hong Kong's sewage charges with other countries  
 
2.The Chairman said that Members should have received from the Secretariat the sewage charge and trade effluent surcharge rates in Singapore, Tokyo, England and Wales. He remarked that the level of sewage charges in Hong Kong was comparable to that of Singapore but was considerably lower than that of England and Wales. He asked and DS(E), PELB responded that the annual operation and maintenance (O&M) costs for the provision of sewage services in Hong Kong was about $840 million and about 88% of them were recovered through sewage charges.  
 
Para. 6 : Visit to Shenzhen concerning wastewater treatment projects  
 
3.A Member informed Members that the Shenzhen Environmental Protection Bureau (SEPB) had agreed to organise the visit for ACE. However, December would not be convenient to SEPB. Also, SEPB had difficulties in arranging the visit at weekends. The Chairman said that he would propose a few dates in January 1999 for Members' consideration. That Member undertook to liaise further with SEPB on this matter.


The Chairman
That Member
 
Para. 7 : Information on six further issues related to SSDS requested by Chairman  
 
4.Members noted that EPD was compiling the information and the Secretariat would send it to them once available. Secretariat
 
Para. 9 : Stepped up monitoring of Chinese White Dolphins by Transport Department  
 
5.Members noted that the Secretariat would report progress of discussion with the Transport Department in due course.  
 
Para. 10 : Invitation to ESB to send a representative to sit on ACE  
 
6.Members noted that ESB was still considering the invitation.  
 
Agenda Item 3 : Deep Bay Water Quality - Regional Control Strategy Study
(ACE Paper 55/98)
 
 
7.The Chairman welcomed PEPO(WP), EPD, (PEC, HCL) and Dir., MECL to the meeting. PEPO(WP), EPD briefed Members on the background of the study and PEC, HCL presented the consultants' findings and recommendations.  
 
8.Noting that the Study had projected a rather gloomy picture on the environmental prospects of Deep Bay, the Chairman asked the Administration whether it had started formulating the management strategy as recommended in the Study and, if so, when the strategy would be ready. PEPO(WP), EPD said that one of the major recommendations of the consultants was to export all the treated effluent generated from the Deep Bay catchment away from that area in the long term. He said that as far as domestic, industrial and commercial effluent was concerned, there were already plans to export treated effluent from the North West New Territories out of Deep Bay under the Yuen Long, Kam Tin Sewerage Master Plan (SMP) and the North District SMP. The findings of the Study had reinforced the Administration's determination to implement these sewerage works under these two SMPs. As regards livestock waste, he said that the Livestock Waste Control Scheme (LWCS) was already in place to control the effluent discharge, though more stringent control would be needed in order to comply with the assimilative capacity of Deep Bay. He said that because the full force of the livestock waste control legislation would not be felt in all areas until July 1999, the full impact of the scheme in pollution control terms had yet to be demonstrated. He anticipated that as soon as all areas were subject to the same standard, the effectiveness of the existing controls would be reviewed. At the same time, consideration would be given to the alternative proposals for further reducing the livestock waste loads as identified in the report.  
 
9.A Member asked whether the modelling results had taken into account the likely effect of future reclamation activities that were known to take place in the Deep Bay catchment. PEC, HCL said that the assimilative capacity of Deep Bay for 1996 was projected on the basis of existing reclamation activities in Shekou alone. However, they had taken into account the worst-case scenario in projecting the assimilative capacity of Deep Bay for 2001 and 2011, which assumed that a substantial portion of the Shenzhen side of Inner Deep Bay would be reclaimed. The modelling results indicated that the anticipated reclamation activities would not have significant impact on the assimilative capacity of Deep Bay. As regards the possible impact of such reclamation activities to the ecology of Deep Bay, he said that it was outside the ambit of the Study to carry out such assessment.  
 
10.A Member asked whether the modelling results had taken into account the environmental impact of the cross-border links, such as the Ling Ding Yang Bridge and the Western Corridor, on the water quality of Deep Bay. PEC, HCL said that this had not been specifically addressed. He however told Members that the on-going EIA study for the two cross-border links projects would look into this issue.  
 
11.A Member said that EPD's Marine Water Quality Report 1997 had indicated that the sediment in the seabed of the Deep Bay was highly polluted. He asked whether the consultants had taken into account the pollution loads in the sediments when recommending the management strategies and, if so, whether the consultants would recommend the removal of sediments. PEC, HCL said that the Study had examined the impact of the sediment oxygen demand on Deep Bay but had not examined their impact to the nutrient level or their metal or toxicity content. He also said that since it was difficult to remove sediments from such a huge body of water, they had not recommended any proactive measures to remove the sediments at this stage. Rather, it was hoped that once the water quality was improved, the pollutants on the surface of the sediment could also be gradually cleaned up through the natural purification process of the water current. That Member remarked that it would be more effective if a two-pronged strategy was adopted to improve the water quality of Deep Bay, namely the removal of the polluting sediments and the reduction of new pollution loads concurrently. The Chairman concurred but said that if this could not be done, then the priority should undoubtedly be accorded to the reduction of pollution loads first.  
 
12.Noting that both Hong Kong and Shenzhen had contributed to the pollution loads in the Deep Bay, a Member asked for a breakdown in the proportion of pollution loads arising from these two places respectively. PEC, HCL said that detailed breakdown was contained in Annex B of his written responses to a Member's queries, which was tabled (copy attached). He said that as far as livestock waste was concerned, the pollution loads from Hong Kong was more or less the same as that from Shenzhen in 1996. However, when all the livestock farms in Shenzhen would be relocated out of the Deep Bay catchment by 2001 as planned, the only source of livestock effluent would be from Hong Kong livestock farms.  
 
13.A Member said he was surprised that Hong Kong livestock farms were still being regarded as a major pollution source in the Deep Bay catchment, as the implementation of the LWCS should have significantly reduced the pollution loads from livestock waste generated from local farms. Also, since the number of chicken farms had significantly reduced as a result of the outbreak of Avian Flu earlier this year, the total amount of livestock waste being generated should be much reduced. He further pointed out that whether the relocation of the livestock farms in Shenzhen would in effect lead to zero discharge from the other side would depend on where the relocated livestock farms would discharge their effluent.  
 
14.PEPO(WP), EPD explained that, under the LWCS, livestock farmers were encouraged to adopt the dry muck out methods which would generate very little wastewater. For farmers who chose to adopt wet muck out methods which necessitated a discharge, they were required to comply with the ultimate discharge standards of 50mg/L of BOD and 50mg/L of Suspended Solids (SS). While LWCS was effective in removing BOD and SS, they were not that effective in removing nutrient and E. coli. Given the projected assimilative capacity of Deep Bay in 2001 and 2011, the pollution loads from the livestock waste generated from local livestock farms would still have exceeded the permitted level even if each and every farm had fully complied with the discharge standards as stipulated under the LWCS.  
 
15.Atg. DEP added that the water pollution brought about by livestock waste was only one element of the pollution problems caused by livestock farms. He pointed out that with the increasing urbanisation of the New Territories, the farms were increasingly a source of complaint on other issues such as noise and odour. It was basically a problem of incompatible landuses and he doubted that focusing only on the water pollution caused by the farms would lead to a sustainable solution in the medium to long term.  
 
16.A Member said that the redistribution of the pollution loads away from Deep Bay through an export scheme seemed to be the only solution for alleviating the Deep Bay pollution problem. He urged the Administration to start taking necessary measures to protect the environment of Deep Bay and to ensure its sustainability before it was too late. Also, he asked whether the Study had assessed the likely impact of the recommended management strategy to the overall water quality of the Pearl River Estuary. PEPO(WP), EPD said that the knock-on effect of the recommended management strategy could not be ascertained at this stage, but would be addressed when bringing forward specific proposals for the export of treated effluent.  
 
17.In response to a Member's query, PEPO(WP), EPD said that there were plans for Shenzhen to export part of their treated effluent to west of Shekou. He however said that since most of the sewage was receiving secondary treatment in Shenzhen, the Shenzhen authorities might therefore consider it more important to ensure as much raw sewage as possible was delivered to the works for treatment, rather than pursue an expanded export scheme at this stage.  
 
18.Noting that the Shenzhen side was examining the feasibility of constructing a navigation channel which would link Deep Bay with Mirs Bay, a Member was concerned that the Shenzhen authorities would make use of that channel to export their effluent to the Mirs Bay in future. PEPO(WP), EPD said that the protection of the environment of Mirs Bay was also a mutual objective of and a high priority task for Guangdong and Hong Kong. In this regard, both sides had been co-operating closely in implementing the Mirs Bay Action Plan under the Hong Kong-Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group (EPLG). He told Members that, at the last EPLG meeting held in November 1998, both sides had agreed to conduct a similar study for Mirs Bay, with a view to formulating a management strategy for Mirs Bay.  
 
19.Two Members expressed concern about the long term viability of the effluent export proposal. One of them said that further thoughts should be given to where the treated effluent would be discharged and the level of treatment, since these were the factors which would affect the effectiveness and acceptability of the export scheme. In view of the urgency of the situation, another Member expressed concern about the lack of a concrete Action Plan agreed between the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments, and the lack of an explicit timeframe for its formulation and implementation. She however noted that Nature in general would be fairly resilient if given adequate and appropriate safeguards. She therefore urged the Administration to expedite the implementation of the required measures to salvage the water quality and ecology of the important Deep Bay area.  
 
20.A Member said that he had learnt from a current affairs programme produced by CCTV that the Mainland had formulated a plan to restore the ecological condition of Bohai in 30 years. He said that it would be desirable if the two sides could form a task force to formulate, implement and monitor the management strategy for Deep Bay.  
 
21.A Member said that she had talked to the Mayor of Shenzhen several weeks ago and believed that the Shenzhen authority was also placing great emphasis on the protection of their water environment. However, financial constraint had fettered the Shenzhen authority from implementing various environmental protection schemes. Noting that Deep Bay was an area commonly shared by Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Another Member said that Hong Kong should consider providing financial assistance to the Shenzhen authority to implement their environmental programmes.  
 
22.A Member remarked that there was no time to lose for Hong Kong to formulate and implement an action plan to remedy the environmental condition of Deep Bay. PEPO(WP), EPD said that the drawing up of a plan to implement the recommendations of the Strategy Study was a key agreed task for the HKGEPLG in the coming year. The Chairman urged the Administration to expedite the formulation of an action plan to bring early improvements to the water quality in Deep Bay. He said that the Council would be pleased to discuss the action plan when available.



EPD
 
Agenda Item 4 : Land Decontamination Policy
(ACE Paper 53/98)
 
 
23.The Chairman welcomed PAS(E)2, PELB, PEPO(WS), EPD and SEPO(WS)2, EPD to the meeting. PAS(E)2, PELB briefed Members on the paper.  
 
24.A Member asked whether the Administration would enact a land decontamination law to specify the legal liabilities of land users in cleaning up contaminated land. PAS(E)2, PELB said that since there were already a series of enactments and the common law which government could rely upon to hold the landowners or occupiers responsible for cleaning up contaminated land, priority would not be given to codifying and centralizing the existing laws to formulate a single land decontamination ordinance.  
 
25.A Member said that a land decontamination law was more than just the codification and centralization of various existing legislation. Having such a law implied that Hong Kong had its own standards for land decontamination. Although it was unlikely that Hong Kong would ever again come across cases which would require the decontamination of areas as big as Kai Tak, it was not uncommon that the future redevelopment of industrial buildings would require land decontamination. Atg. DEP responded that the Kai Tak case was both exceptional and unprecedented. He said that apart from the Kai Tak case, few problems had so far been encountered in requiring pollution-sensitive landusers, such as oil depots, to clean up contaminated land upon their removal. Atg. DEP said he understood that some countries which had formulated their own land decontamination law were having second thoughts on the merits of such legislation. This was because the standards which they had set in the legislation were so high that it made land decontamination operation expensive and uneconomical. A risk-based approach seemed to be a far more flexible and pragmatic approach, as the amount of decontamination work required would be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the future land use of specific sites. PAS(E)2, PELB added that, under the common law, the legal liability for cleaning up a piece of contaminated land should rest with the landowners or land users.  
 
26.The Chairman said that he had less concern about requesting financially-sound and well-established companies to take up the legal responsibility to clean up contaminated land. However, he was not optimistic that this could be done if the party concerned was a financially unstable company. A Member said that the frequent changes in land ownership and land leases in Hong Kong made it practically difficult for government to identify the right party to bear that responsibility.  
 
27.PEPO(WS), EPD said that, apart from relying upon the common law, the government could also make use of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO) to require designated project proponents to conduct an assessment of the contamination level of the land in question and come up with a remedial programme. Regarding remediation standards, he echoed his colleague's viewpoint that a risk-based approach should be adopted instead of a fixed set of standards, and EPD would examine the application of this approach based on overseas experience. A Member commented that only major projects would come under the control of the EIAO. For small operations such as car repairing and dismantling, no planning permissions would be needed. The legal liability for the landowners to clean up the land was also unclear since, under most circumstances, the landowners and the actual users of the land could be two separate parties.  
 
28.A Member said that the EIAO and a land decontamination law were not mutually exclusive, and it was rather common for these two pieces of legislation to co-exist in other countries. He went further to say that he and the other environmental auditors would welcome the codification of a land decontamination law as it would help spell out clearly Hong Kong's land decontamination policy. Another Member said that if Hong Kong was going to formulate its own land decontamination law, it should cover decontamination of the seabed as well. He said that the operation of dockyards was also polluting as the paints being used for painting the hulls of ships contained toxic substance such as TBT.  
 
29.A Member said that while it might not be absolutely necessary for the Administration to codify a land decontamination law, it would however be desirable if the Administration could at least formulate a set of guidelines and integrate them into the land lease conditions so as to address Members' concern.  
 
30.In response to a Member's query, PAS(E)2, PELB said that since the old landfills operated by the Civil Engineering Department during the post-war period did not have facilities for collecting leachate and releasing landfill gas, it would be risky to re-use them unless restoration work had been carried out. He said that the government was in the process of restoring 13 old landfills. After these landfills were properly restored, it would take another 30 years before the sites could be used and support permanent structures. The new strategic landfills, SENT, WENT and NENT, were designed to the highest international standards, thus no additional restoration work would be needed. Again, it would take 30 years before the sites could be re-used, after their decommissioning. He told Members that temporary landuse of the decommissioned and rehabilitated landfills would be determined by a committee chaired by the Home Affairs Bureau.  
 
31.The Chairman concluded by urging the government to come up with a policy on land decontamination first. With such a policy, it should then critically review whether a land decontamination law would be necessary. To facilitate further discussion of this issue by this Council, the Chairman considered it useful if the legal liability issue could be clarified. In this regard, he said that it would be helpful if an academic from the law department of one of the local universities could be invited to produce a paper to set out the legal liability issue for Members' reference.




Secretariat
 
Agenda Item 5 : Green Consumerism : Eco-labelling Scheme for Hong Kong - Progress Report
(ACE Paper 54/98)
 
 
32.PAS(E)2, PELB briefed Members on the paper.  
 
33.The Chairman asked whether the implementation of the Demand Side Management (DSM) Plans of the two power companies would facilitate the implementation of the Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (EELS). PAS(E)2, PELB said that the two power companies would offer discounts to consumers who purchased electrical appliances with the EELS labels. This would encourage more manufacturers to apply for EELS labels for their products and more consumers to purchase these products.  
 
34.The Chairman asked and a Member replied that the Hong Kong Electric Co. Ltd. had already finalised its DSM arrangements. China Light and Power Co. Ltd's DSM scheme would be considered by the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) at its meeting on 21 December 1998. The Chairman asked the Secretariat to invite the two power companies to present their DSM Plans to Members when they were ready to do so.



Secretariat
 
35.A Member informed Members that the General Chamber of Commerce was discussing with the Private Sector Committee on the Environment and various other private organisations a proposal for sponsoring an eco-product award. He undertook to send Members further details once the scheme was finalised.


That Member
 
36.A Member asked why the Administration considered it not yet feasible to introduce a comprehensive eco-labelling scheme on the one hand but managed to develop the EELS on the other hand. PAS(E)2, PELB explained that it was because the EELS could overcome some problems which could not yet be resolved for a comprehensive eco-labelling scheme. He said that since the EELS only covered a limited number of products, and the criteria were based on ISO standards, this did not contradict the WTO's requirements to prevent the misuse of eco-labelling scheme as trade barriers. Furthermore, there was strong support from local consumers and domestic producers/agents.  
 
37.A Member said that the efforts of the Energy Efficiency Subcommittee of the EAC in promoting the EELS could also be another reason for the success of EELS. He suggested that a similar working group be set up under EPD to promote eco-labelling. The Chairman said that the proposed eco-product award should provide new initiatives for local manufacturers and agencies to participate in the EELS.  
 
38.A Member asked whether the WTO regarded green purchasing as a trade barrier. PAS(E)2, PELB said that eco-labels were not considered as trade barriers, per se, but there were differences of opinion broadly divided along developed/developing country lines. He however confirmed that Hong Kong had so far not received any pressure from WTO about developing an eco-labelling scheme.  
 
39.In response to a Member's query, PAS(E)2, PELB said that new initiatives were already in the pipeline to encourage government departments to adopt environmentally-friendly practices and procurement. He informed Members that starting from the new financial year, every department head and bureau secretary would be required to publish an annual Environmental Report to show the environmental efforts their bureaux/departments had made. Also, under the newly introduced Enhanced Productivity Programme, bureaux and departments would be required to identify savings by as much as 5% over a three-year period. These would provide additional incentives for bureaux/departments to place greater emphasis on economising their use of resources in order to create savings. As bureaux/departments which managed to achieve the saving target would be allowed to retain the amount being saved, the incentive to save would be even greater.  
 
40.A Member commented that while it was good to see that every bureaux/departments would take the initiative to identify and use environmentally-friendly or energy-saving products, there should somehow be some co-ordination and central planning within the government to avoid duplication of efforts. PAS(E)2, PELB said that the Government Supplies Department (GSD) was already the co-ordinator and central procurer of most products used by departments. He, however, said that the Administration would take note of that Member's comments.  
 
41.In response to a Member's query, PEPO(WS), EPD said that the main thrust of EPD's focused monitoring programme was to establish contacts with eight representative organisations in order to keep abreast of the latest development on eco-labelling in the international scene, and to search information from the relevant websites on the Internet. He said that liaison work had so far not incurred significant resource of EPD.  
 
42.The Chairman urged the government to continue to monitor overseas developments in eco-labelling and pursue the introduction of ecolabelling and green purchasing both within the Administration and for the community. He said that the Council looked forward to receiving the environmental reports from bureaux/departments in early 2000 and would, if necessary, form a subcommittee to scrutinise these reports.  
 
Agenda Item 6 : Waste Reduction Framework Plan 1998-2007
(ACE Paper 52/98)
 
 
43.The Chairman welcomed AD(WF), EPD to the meeting.  
 
44.PAS(E)2, PELB said that Members had been consulted on the proposed Waste Reduction Committee (WRC) at the last meeting. The Administration would like to listen to Members' views on the other aspects of the Waste Reduction Framework Plan this time. Also, in view of recent events regarding wastepaper recycling, he had prepared a short paper to brief Members on the latest developments (ACE Paper 56/98). He proposed and the Chairman agreed that the two papers should be discussed together.  
 
45.The Chairman asked when the Chief Executive would appoint members to the WRC. PAS(E)2, PELB said he hoped that the membership of the WRC could be finalised in the coming two to three weeks.  
 
46.A Member said that the fast food industry was one of the major waste generators in Hong Kong, since they consumed huge quantities of plastics forks and knives, and styrofoam boxes. There was however little incentive for the industry to economize on the use of these materials, which would subsequently be disposed of as waste. She commented that there were merits in appointing representatives from the fast food industry to the WRC as this would help the industry appreciate the importance of waste minimisation.  
 
47.Regarding the wastepaper recycling problem, PAS(E)2, PELB explained that the fundamental problem was the lack of landfill charges and waste collection charges. He said that since there were no direct charges for the collection, transportation and disposal of domestic waste in Hong Kong, there was no incentive for individuals or households to purchase products with less packaging, to segregate recyclable waste or to pay recyclers for the collection and disposal of the recyclable waste. Instead, the public dumped all types of waste through USD/RSD's "free" refuse collection service. If, however, the public had to pay landfill or other waste collection and disposal charges, it would be prepared to pay the recyclers a lower amount to take away recyclable waste. This incentive would encourage the public to select products which would generate less waste, segregate the recyclable waste and thus minimise the amount of waste which would have to go to landfills. In this way, the viability of the recyclers would be improved since they could recover part of their costs from the public. They would also be able to sell their products at a more competitive price in both local and overseas markets.  
 
48.PAS(E)2, PELB said that it was unfortunate that not all recyclers appreciated the beneficial relationship between the introduction of landfill charges and the commercial viability of their trade. He said that the Administration would, through discussion with the trade, explain the importance of the relationship between waste reduction/recycling and landfill charges. He hoped that, in due course, the trade would become a driving force for advocating landfill charges.  
 
49.A Member said that he had reservations on the relationship between landfill charges and the commercial viability of the recycling industry. He envisaged that the introduction of landfill charges would lead to a drastic increase in flytipping activities. The Chairman said that EPD would then have to step up enforcement. Moreover, more efforts should be made to educate the community at large of the importance of waste minimisation, waste segregation and recycling. He said that the huge subsidies which the two municipal councils were receiving had enabled them to provide waste collection services at no extra cost to the public, thereby upsetting the free market mechanism and threatening the commercial viability of the recycling industry. DS(E), PELB added that, as a result, local recyclers were losing their competitiveness vis-a-vis overseas competitors. Another Member remarked that in the past few years, the major competitors were from Singapore and the Netherlands.  
 
50.In response to the Chairman's query, AD(WF), EPD said that EPD had in the past few years been, in collaboration with the green groups and the Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC), organising and launching a great variety of educational programmes to promote waste reduction, segregation and recycling, including the production of teaching kits and organising workshops and variety shows. The focus for the coming years would be to collaborate with the Education Department on the development of a systematic approach to develop further programmes into the school curriculum to enhance the concept of waste reduction. The Chairman remarked that there was a strong need for government to enhance its educational programmes to new immigrants on environmental protection and healthy living. He said that something similar to the scale, scope and intensity of the "Clean Hong Kong Campaign" should be launched.  
 
51.A Member said that the recent wastepaper recycling saga had created a very negative PR image for the government, which would offset the groundwork which the Administration, the green groups and the ECC had laid. He said that over the past few years, the ECC had been financing schools and public housing estates in setting up micro-infrastructure, such as wastepaper collection clubs and wastepaper collection bins, to promote wastepaper reuse and recycling. Those participating in these projects had been very enthusiastic and many of them had yielded encouraging results. However, he was concerned that the recent saga would prompt many students and public housing estate tenants to take a second look at the worthiness of their efforts. This would nullify all the previous efforts the ECC had made in building up a strong public base for recycling. It would also make it extremely difficult for government to revitalize the momentum in future. The Chairman concurred.  
 
52.PAS(E)2, PELB clarified that the wastepaper which was stockpiled at the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter was not destined for one of the landfills but rather for exporting to other countries for recycling. He said that, as a matter of fact, most of the wastepaper collected locally would be exported for recycling since it was not economical to have them recycled locally. He said that no drastic increase in the amount of wastepaper being disposed of at landfills had been observed since the closure of business of Concordia. The 38 tonnes of wastepaper which the local recyclers had transported to the landfills was a gimmick to dramatise their demonstration actions, rather than because the local recyclers had difficulties in identifying overseas buyers.  
 
53.AD(WF), EPD supplemented that EPD had, in the aftermath of the Concordia incident, discussed the situation with 132 public and private housing estates which had participated in the waste separation scheme initiated by EPD, asking them whether they had encountered difficulties in finding outlets for the wastepaper collected. Initially, 36 of them had expressed difficulties and EPD therefore provided them with a list of waste exporters. All of them soon reported back that they had identified interested exporters to collect the waste.  
 
54.A Member said that the media had been very one-sided in reporting the wastepaper recycling issue. As a result, the public had gained the impression that all the wastepaper collected would have no avenue of recycling and would have to be disposed of at landfills. This had prompted many individuals and organisations to stop the good practice of segregating wastepapers from other waste, since they did not want to waste their efforts on something meaningless. He said that since the actual situation was not the same as what had been reported, the government should take proactive means to clarify the situation with the media.  
 
55.A Member said that Members who had read the receiver's report on Concordia would have realised that the cardboard company went into bankruptcy not because of the recycling business but because it was heavily leveraged with the Japanese banks and the latter had called for the loan to be repaid immediately. He said that he would not find it suprising at all if the debtors and the receivers would one day reach agreement to bring the recycling business of Concordia back to normal.  
 
56.A Member said that the U.S. had recently launched the America Recycles Day for its second time. Given the success of this event in the U.S., she suggested that Hong Kong could consider following suit. She undertook to send information about this event, which was also available on the Internet, to Members after the meeting.
[Post-meeting Note : The information was circulated to Members on 21 December 1998.]



That Member
 
57.A Member had the following comments :

 

  (a) Recycling industry all over the world had to rely on government's subsidies in order to survive and the local recycling industry was no exception. Without government's subsidy, the local recycling industry would not be able to survive in view of the keen competition from overseas counterparts.
 
(b) Waste collection charges or landfill charges were cart-before-the-horses as they were not tackling the issue at source. A more direct approach to reduce waste was to discourage the production of materials which would subsequently be dumped as waste, such as any excessive packaging materials or non-returnable bottles or cans, through the imposition of a surcharge or an environmental tax.
 
(c) Landfill charges and waste collection charges would unlikely be well-received by the public as it would add to their financial burden. Instead of penalising the public for disposing of waste, government should educate them to use products which would generate the least waste.
 
 
58.PAS(E)2, PELB responded that while some countries would subsidise their recycling industry, others did not. Those who did not provide subsidies would adopt various measures to reduce waste and the most common one was the introduction of landfill charges. He said that he did not agree that a charging scheme would not work in Hong Kong. According to a survey conducted recently by the Census and Statistics Department, the behavior of the public would change provided that there were adequate incentives to prompt them to do so. However, a successful charging scheme had to be a practical, economically-viable and equitable scheme. He said that the Waste Reduction Framework Plan had advocated the introduction of a producer responsibility scheme. Under this scheme, producers would be required to collect the recyclable items of their products from consumers through a rebate mechanism.  
 
59.The Chairman said that San Miguel used to manufacture beers in returnable bottles but had given up this practice because they found themselves being disadvantaged as overseas manufactures were not doing so. He asked whether and, if so, how the Administration would ensure that similar thing would not happen in future. PAS(E)2, PELB said that the Administration would discuss with the drinks and beverage manufacturers to persuade them to participate in the producer responsibility scheme. The Chairman doubted the effectiveness of a voluntary participation scheme. PAS(E)2, PELB explained that the Administration had to be cautious in making this arrangement mandatory through legislation, due to possible WTO implications.  
 
60.AD(WF), EPD supplemented that a producer responsibility scheme had the merit of having a higher chance of success. He explained that while individual consumers might not accord high priorities to returning returnable bottles due to the small amount of money they could get back, there was strong financial incentives for the producers to do so as the amount involved would be substantial.  
 
61.A Member said that the government should work more closely with the private sector to devise a waste recovery scheme which would benefit all parties concerned. DS(E), PELB commented that, in other places, the proceeds from the landfill charges would be ploughed back to the recycling industry to support the producer responsibility scheme or to provide collection space.  
 
62.A Member said that she understood that it was governments' policy not to provide services to the community when that services could be provided more efficiently by private sector, as it did not want to be seen as competing with the commercial sector. Because of this principle, government had been providing sewage services but not the collection of recyclable waste probably because sewage did not generate income whereas, theoretically speaking, waste did. Given the fact that the recycling industry was not a commercially viable business at all in Hong Kong, government should consider taking up that responsibility. PAS(E)2, PELB said that it was government's policy not to provide services which could be provided for by the private sector. He said that, given a level playing field, many aspects of the recycling industry could be commercially viable in Hong Kong.  
 
63.The Chairman said that this Council had already indicated its support for the introduction of landfill charges in the past. However, the proposal failed to obtain the support from the legislature. He said that he had discussed this with the Central Policy Unit recently and hoped that the latter could come up with some innovative ideas to package the proposal in such a way as to win the support of the Legislative Council.  
 
64.A Member asked what in-house measures the government would take to help reduce waste. PAS(E)2, PELB said that government departments would start using more recycled paper. He told Members that the GSD had recently invited tenders for the purchase of 70,000 tonnes of recycled paper to supply to departments. That Member said that the use of recycled paper in the private sector was still not very common, probably because recycled paper was more expensive than conventional ones.  
 
65.The Chairman concluded that the Council supported the implementation of the Waste Reduction Framework Plan and hoped that the WRC could come into operation as soon as possible. He expected the WRC to assume an important role in educating the public of the importance of waste reduction.  
 
Agenda Item 7 : Any Other Business  
 
Tentative Schedule of Work for ACE in 1999  
 
66.Members noted the schedule which was tabled.  
 
SSDS  
 
67.The Chairman said that he was concerned about the adverse report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) recently on the progress of the six deep tunnels being constructed under SSDS Stage 1 and the condition of the SSDS Stage 1 interim outfall which had been completed but had not yet been commissioned. DS(E), PELB explained that engineering problems had indeed been encountered in the boring of the tunnels but none of them were insurmountable. In spite of the engineering difficulties, progress continued to be made. As regards the interim outfall, it had not yet been handed over to the DSD since the outfall had not yet been commissioned and was therefore not been fully tested. It was therefore not advisable for DSD to take over the tunnel at this stage. He said that he and DEP had already written to SCMP to clarify the above. He undertook to copy the response letter to Members for reference.
[Post-meeting Note : The response letter to SCMP was sent to Members after the meeting.]
Secretariat

 
 
Greening of AA's terminal building  
 
68.The Chairman recalled that when this Council visited the new airport on 4 June 1998, the Airport Authority (AA) had promised to green the terminal building once the teething problems of the new airport had been resolved. He said that since the operation of the new airport had already been back to normal for some time, he had requested the Secretariat to remind the AA of its undertaking. AS(E)4, PELB said that he had already written to AA and was waiting for the latter's reply. Secretariat
 
69.As this was the last ACE meeting which Dr. P.K.S. Pun would attend before his retirement leave, the Chairman asked the Secretariat to put on record his appreciation of Dr. Pun's contributions to this Council. Dr. Pun thanked the Chairman and Members for their courtesy.  
 
70.The Chairman wished everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  
 
Agenda Item 8 : Date of next meeting  
 
71.The next meeting was scheduled for 26 January 1999 (Tuesday).  



Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau
January 1999


 

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