Environment Hong Kong 2006 Chapter 1: IntroductionChapter 2: Cross-boundary and International Co-operationChapter 3: Community AwarenessChapter 4: Customer Service and PartnershipChapter 5: Environmental Assessment and Planning
Chapter 6: AirChapter 7: NoiseChapter 8: WasteChapter 9: WaterChapter 10: ConservationChapter 11: Environmental Compliance
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Chapter 11 Environmental Compliance
 

Mission:

To serve the community through enforcing pollution control laws to safeguard people's health and welfare.
 
Highlights in 2005
  • Held a workshop for livestock farmers on controlling their waste, with experts from the Mainland.

  • Launched the Livestock Waste Information System on our web site.

  • Developed a system for real-time monitoring of dumping at sea.

  • Allocated internal resources to deal with fly-tipping in advance of the implementation of construction waste charges in January 2006.

  • Saw pollution complaints drop nine per cent (11 per cent if complaints handled by Police are excluded) from 2004 and prosecutions drop 49 per cent.


BUILDING CAPACITY


Pollution control in Hong Kong has improved remarkably in recent years. Our partnership programmes with problem industries and greater environmental consciousness among operators, have resulted in a dramatic drop in prosecutions. In 2005 we launched 300 prosecutions as against a record 1 824 in 2000. Yet the improvements have not been trouble-free. Some operators, such as certain livestock waste producers, are making it more difficult to carry out enforcement work. Others, when caught, are putting up tough fights in court. In response the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has sought to build its capacity to deal with offenders.

Apart from partnership programmes, we tackle non-compliance through legal and technological means and policing. A Central Prosecution Unit was set up in 2001 dedicated to training enforcement officers and prosecuting cases. New technologies, such as hand-held devices and global positioning systems, are being used to monitor potential polluters. And we continue to sharpen our enforcement activities in response to new problems and new tactics by offenders. The cases described below illustrate how these measures make us more effective in securing compliance with environmental laws.

Electronic Waste

 

 

Electronic waste falls in a grey area. Used computers, televisions, monitors and other devices can be second-hand goods to some, waste to others. They can also be potentially hazardous. Used monitors and televisions are often dismantled for cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which release harmful substances if they break. In 2004 a growing number of used electronic items was being shipped to Hong Kong for temporary storage or, in a few cases, dismantling in the New Territories before re-shipment to the Mainland or other developing countries in Asia for recycling. This raised complex issues related to enforcement.

The EPD does not want to discourage proper recycling. However, the potential damage of improper handling of CRTs needed to be addressed, as did illegal shipments of such hazardous waste. To effectively control the problem, the department established direct communication channels with the source countries to collect and share intelligence about questionable shipments. We also conducted joint operations with the Customs and Excise Department, Marine Police and Mainland authorities against offenders. After a series of vigorous enforcement actions, the problem was contained and showed signs of tapering off in mid-2005. Furthermore, Mainland China banned the use of second-hand CRTs, monitors and televisions in the manufacturing of similar products from late 2005, a move that will likely contribute to diminished international demand for waste computer monitors and televisions and a decrease in such illegal shipments to Hong Kong.

EPD field officers check and record a shipment of imported electronic waste.

We still had to deal with residual court cases related to illegal shipments in 2005 and they proved difficult to prosecute. Some defendants argued the electronic waste was not waste but valuable goods and won their cases. The EPD has responded with the argument that once an article is abandoned by the original owner, it is waste irrespective of whether it is still workable or can be sold for value. This was accepted in the Magistrate's Court in a number of cases in 2005 and has helped us to polish our approach in prosecuting illegal shipments of hazardous electronic waste that are transported under the guise of second-hand goods.

Lifestock Waste

Some of our most difficult enforcement work concerns livestock waste. Pig farms produce highly noxious levels of waste. Farmers are supposed to treat the waste and arrange for proper disposal. However, some farms continue to dump their waste into rivers and streams in the New Territories, creating serious pollution problems. Considering there are 265 pig farms in Hong Kong with a maximum capacity of 426 000 pigs, even a few bad apples can have ruinous results.

A section of Yuen Long Creek flooded with livestock waste.   Mainland experts visit a wastewater treatment facility at a local pig farm.

Over the years the EPD has stepped up enforcement, conducting midnight raids to catch farmers dumping waste. However, some farmers have responded by making our job more difficult. They have combined discharges with other farms to make investigations more laborious, put up illegal fences on riverbanks to keep our officers away and thrown stones at officers, claiming they thought they were robbers. The EPD therefore has refined its enforcement work to tackle the problem from several different angles.

On-site enforcement will continue but we are also trying to reach out to farmers. A major workshop was held in July 2005 with experts from the Mainland, who shared their experiences in managing pig farms and wastewater. The workshop at the Kadoorie Agricultural Research Centre of The University of Hong Kong was well attended by farmers. In addition to seminars and discussion sessions, the experts also visited several local pig farms to address their farming practices and wastewater treatment systems. The event aimed to develop better awareness and knowledge among farmers, an approach that has helped us to reduce offences in other areas (see box).

PROSECUTIONS

Hong Kong has seen a steady decline in complaints and prosecutions relating to pollution. Since the peak year of 2000, complaints have dropped 22 per cent (23 per cent if complaints handled by Police are excluded) and prosecutions more than 80 per cent. In 2005 alone, complaints fell nine per cent (11 per cent if complaints handled by Police are excluded) to 24 086 (20 676 if complaints handled by Police are excluded) and prosecutions were down 49 per cent to 300.

Many factors may be contributing to the decline. The EPD's partnership programmes, described in Chapter 4, have certainly helped. We have formed partnerships with the construction trade, restaurants, vehicle repair workshops and property management companies to promote better compliance with environmental laws. Since 2000, when partnerships were in their infancy, complaints against these four industries have dropped 22 per cent to 6 017 and convictions a dramatic 90 per cent to 111. Deepening public concern for the environment, and demand from overseas markets, may also be prompting operators to reduce their pollution.



See Data

EPD staff visit an automatic refuse collection system at a housing estate.

The public can also help us enforce livestock waste disposal by putting greater pressure on polluters to comply. In September we launched the Livestock Waste Information System on our web site. Residents can click on the site to see the location and distribution of major livestock farm clusters in the North and Yuen Long Districts and assess their impact on river water quality by comparing on-line samples taken upstream and downstream of farms. They can also learn about livestock waste controls, complaints and enforcement actions. By making the problem more transparent to the public, we hope to secure their understanding and support for our control activities.


  The EPD web site provides information on locations of livestock farms.

Dumping at Sea

EPD field officers inspect a barge loading operation.

A final example of our work is the use of technology in controlling dumping at sea. All marine dumping barges are required to have on-board automatic self-monitoring systems that record where they dump their loads. Only certain areas are designated for dumping to protect marine ecology. The EPD collects the data periodically and if a ship has dumped outside the permitted area – short dumping – it is prosecuted.

However, in 2004 potential flaws in the system emerged. A dumping permit holder and ship operator were prosecuted for short dumping more than ten times due to incorrect setting of their equipment. In court, the defendants successfully challenged the accuracy and reliability of the equipment and consequently they were acquitted. To tackle this issue and improve the use of technology in enforcing short dumping, the department has since been developing a real-time system. This new system will link up to EPD offices, enabling us to detect short dumping and take immediate action. It will go on trial in 2006 and should significantly enhance our enforcement in this area.

Every year the EPD's enforcement team faces new twists on old problems, and new problems. As a result we are constantly refining and updating our efforts to promote better compliance by polluters. The department has adopted new technology, new techniques and a more sophisticated approach to prosecuting cases. Our ability to adapt and respond has not only built up our enforcement capabilities. It has also helped us to improve Hong Kong's environment by ensuring irresponsible operators are prosecuted and responsible ones are supported in their efforts to comply with environmental laws.

CONTROLLING RESIDUAL POLLUTION

Pollution control is often characterised by rapid advances in the early stages and frustratingly slow progress in controlling the residual pollution. This has been the case for the Sham Tseng nullah. This water stream was heavily polluted in the past so the EPD devoted resources to tackling downstream pollution from villages, restaurants and a market. 90 per cent of the polluting flow was removed. However, a squatter area upstream continued to pollute the water with unsightly toilet waste.


EPD and DSD work jointly to provide sewers to a squatter area to clear up Sham Tseng nullah's residual pollution load.
Sham Tseng nullah's water quality has improved significantly since nearby residential developments and roast goose restaurants were connected to public sewers.

The EPD has worked with the Drainage Services Department (DSD) to resolve the problem. Although the conditions in the squatter area cannot fully meet the DSD's operational and technical requirements, they have agreed to lay sewers as best they can. It is hoped the work will be completed in 2009 and help clear up the nullah's residual pollution load.

   

SUPPORTING WASTE AND AIR EFFORTS

The Government has given priority to reducing waste and air pollution, as outlined elsewhere in this report and in the "First Sustainable Development Strategy for Hong Kong" released in May. The Environmental Compliance Division is supporting these priorities in two ways. We are beefing up enforcement ahead of the imposition of construction waste charges. We have also been involved in negotiations to use licence controls to limit power plant emissions.

Construction waste charges come into effect in January 2006. We have deployed additional resources to cope with fly-tipping - the illegal dumping of waste - during initial implementation. This is a precautionary measure and we do not anticipate fly-tipping will be a serious problem as landfill charges will be charged to the waste producers, not the waste haulers.

A total cap on air pollutants emissions in a specified process licence was imposed for the first time in 2005. The cap applied to the Castle Peak Power Station and is part of an overall effort to reduce power plant emissions. The emissions cap will be extended to other power stations upon licence renewal.

Castle Peak Power Station has a total cap on air pollutants emissions imposed in its specified process licence.
A truck stops in front of the weighbridge office at a landfill.
 
   

LOOKING AHEAD

  • Enhance partnership programme and enforcement actions to stop the malpractices of persistent problematic livestock farmers.

  • Prepare to implement a new control scheme on clinical waste from 2007, upon enactment of an amendment bill and the passing of subsidiary legislation in 2006.

  • Test a real-time monitoring system to detect short dumping at sea and take immediate action.




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