Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image


Plastic recycling: temple in Thailand turns used bottles into monks’ robes

Download (PDF, 309KB)

No need to export e-waste with Hong Kong recycling plant at full capacity, officials say

Download (PDF, 567KB)

How big data and covert surveillance are helping tackle Hong Kong’s problem of illegal dumping

Download (PDF, 1.23MB)

China to WTO: Scrap plastic imports banned by year-end

Clear the Air says: HKG Govt includes materials that arrive here from overseas countries, which are then re-exported to China, as ‘LOCAL RECYCLING’

In a previous China ‘OPERATION GREEN FENCE’ many containers of such import/re-export materials got stranded here and the ENB had to drastically republish its ‘local recycling rates’

Now we can see ‘OPERATION GREEN FENCE 11’ = ‘OPERATION NATIONAL SWORD 2017 ‘is imminent

Let’s see how this China initiative affects Hong Kong’s ‘local recycling’ rates where the Government relies on 80 year old scavengers as its recycling policy, which is to ship what they gather to China and sell it.

Hong Kong’s apathetic ENB has no PLAN A =source separation of waste and infrastructure to collect same, yet intends PLAN B =to charge for waste, without first enacting PLAN A, meaning recyclables will get tossed and charged for

We hope Christine LOH enjoys reuniting with the clean air of Santa Monica which has such recycling legislation, Green Bin free collection of food waste at kerb-side and a ZERO WASTE POLICY

Where is our ZERO WASTE Policy in Hong Kong ? well, it’s called an incinerator.

China told the World Trade Organization July 18 that it will ban imports of scrap plastics and other “foreign garbage” by the end of the year, officially taking a step that had been widely rumored in the industry.

The move drew quick criticism from a recycling industry trade group in the United States, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which said it would be “devastating” to the global recycling industry and cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

ISRI said the ban would include most scrap plastics, including PET, PVC, polyethylene and polystyrene, as well as mixed papers and slag.

China’s government said it was taking the action to protect public health and the environment.

“We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials,” China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notification to WTO.

“This polluted the environment seriously.”

“To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid waste list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted,” it said.

Washington-based ISRI said the move could cause severe economic harm in the United States.

“If implemented, a ban on scrap imports will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and closure of many recycling businesses throughout the United States,” ISRI President Robin Weiner said in a statement.

ISRI immediately relayed its concerns to the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and briefed U.S. officials ahead of the July 19 U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in Washington.

The association said one-third of the scrap recycled in the United States is exported, with China being the largest market. That includes
1.42 million tons (3.1 billion pounds) of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495 million, out of $5.6 billion in scrap commodities exported from the United States to China last year, it said.

“Recycled materials are key inputs into the production of new, usable commodities for the use in value-add production,” ISRI said. “The trade in specification-grade commodities — metals, paper and plastics — between the United States and China is of critical importance to the health and success of the U.S. based recycling industry.”

The step had been rumored. ISRI leaders said at a mid-June news conference, after returning from a trip to China, that there were serious rumors of a ban on scrap imports, starting with plastics. That echoed earlier comments from Chinese plastics industry officials.

In a related development, a Chinese plastics recycling group said that a month-long crackdown on plastics recyclers that began July 1 had resulted in inspecting 888 factories by July 14. That’s about half of the 1,792 factories licensed to import waste plastics.

The China Scrap Plastics Association said in its July 17 announcement that Chinese media were reporting that 590 of those factories were found to have rule violations, with 349 put under investigation for those violations.

It said with 383 factories had their production suspended and 53 were closed, and that factories with violations could have their import permits suspended for one year.

China’s WTO filing said the import ban on plastics would apply to products with HS codes 3915100000, 3915200000, 3915300000, 3915901000 and 3915909000.

Hong Kong’s first integrated recycling plant for e-waste part of plans to make polluters pay

Operator looks to increase city’s recovery rate for electronic waste to at least 80 per cent as government implements “polluter pays” laws

The operator of Hong Kong’s first integrated recycling plant for electronics is hoping to increase the local recovery rate of such waste materials once its new facility and collection network become fully operational “on time and on budget” next year.

Packed into yellow steel cages, stacked two storeys high in a Sheung Shui warehouse are 200 tonnes of old bulky television sets, inkjet printers, scanners and refrigerators that the government contractor has been collecting since July. It will reach full capacity at 600.

The junk will be trucked off to the government’s first integrated treatment and recycling facility when it opens in the middle of next year at the Tuen Mun EcoPark – one of several measures to accommodate the government’s new “polluter pays” laws on certain types of electronic waste.

The producer responsibility scheme will include televisions, fridges, washing machines, computer products and air-conditioning units.

Passed in the legislature in March, once in effect, importers or distributors of the appliances will have to pay to help fund collection and disposal of waste electrical goods.

“In Europe, recycling is something expected, but in Hong Kong we’re still learning,” said ALBA IWS director Nigel Mattravers, the government contractor tasked with building and operating the facility and network.

The contractor is building five regional collection centres, including the one in Sheung Shui, to sort, store and record the e-waste, and eight satellite centres for collection only. Apart from helping businesses or NGOs conduct “take-back” services, the public can also drop e-waste off directly at the collection centres.

About 70,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment is disposed of in the city each year, 80 per cent of which is shipped off to regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia, while the rest is handled locally and dumped in a landfill.

The new facility will be able to handle 30,000 tonnes per year but the operator claims it will be able to increase capacity by extending operating hours if necessary.

“Much of this material is handled very badly across the world. At this facility we will recover all the hazardous materials from these appliances and make sure they are properly disposed of … and processed in a safe and environmentally sound fashion,” Mattravers said.

The products will be detoxified, dismantled and turned into secondary raw material such as plastics, alumina, copper or iron, which can be reused for manufacture or landfilled locally “in a clean manner”.

Mattravers said the target was to increase the local recovery rate to at least 80 per cent.

The Environmental Protection Department said reliance on exports to manage e-waste was not sustainable in the long run because demand for second-hand products overseas would decline over time.

Harmful materials found in e-waste, if not properly treated or disposed of, can harm the environment and human health.

ALBA IWS logistics manager Lawrence Cheung said the operator would have strict guidelines on waste collection such as by collecting only from a registered retailer or licensed recycler to avoid collecting illegally imported e-waste.

A two-year investigation by environmental group ¬Basel Action Network last year found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the United States, in violation of the Basel Convention, which bars importation of hazardous waste.
Source URL:

England’s plastic bag usage drops 85% since 5p charge introduced

Number of single-use bags handed out dropped to 500m in first six months since charge, compared with 7bn the previous year

The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest.

More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by ministers as a sign that it is working.

The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish.

Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

The environment minister, Therese Coffey, said: “Taking 6bn plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us,. It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.

“It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent, as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”

The charge was introduced to try to influence consumer behaviour after the number of carriers bags given out by seven major supermarkets in England rose by 200min 2014 to exceed 7.6bn – the equivalent of 140 per person and amounting to a total of 61,000 tonnes of plastic.

Matt Davies, chief executive of the UK’s largest retailer Tesco said: “The government’s bag charge has helped our customers [in England] reduce the number of bags they use by 30m each week, which is great news for the environment.”

Tesco expects its Bags of Help scheme to provide more than £20m in the first year to local environmental projects.

Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down, but plastic drinks bottles and disposable coffee cups are now being seen as a huge challenge in protecting the environment.

The results of the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach cleanup in 2015 showed that the amount of rubbish dumped on UK beaches rose by a third compared with the previous year. The number of plastic drinks bottles found were up 43% on 2014 levels.

“There is always more that we can do,” said Dr Sue Kinsey, a technical specialist for waste at the Marine Conservation Society. “We encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.”

Andrew Pendleton, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The plummeting plastic bag use demonstrates the huge benefits just a small change in our everyday habits can make. It means less damaging plastic finding its inevitable way into our waterways and countryside. This is a massive boon for nature and wildlife.”

He added: “With attention now turning to the millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfill and to oversized boxes and excess packaging as a by-product of online shopping, the government and forward-thinking businesses have a golden chance to cut waste and reduce resource use in a sensible way that consumers welcome.”

At the time of the launch, the government forecast that the charge would reduce use of single-use carrier bags by up to 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street. It is also expected to save £60m in litter cleanup costs.

Plastic facts

• 6bn single use plastic bags would cover an area of about 900,000,000m2, over three times the area of Birmingham.
• 6bn bags laid end-to-end it would stretch about 3m km, or 75 times around the world.
• 6bn bags are approximately equivalent to the weight of 300 blue whales, 300,000 sea turtles or 3m pelicans.

Wong Kam Shing – GOLD BAUHINIA STAR, awarded for ……what ?

Download (PDF, 835KB)

Turn back the e-waste tide: pressure to stop flood of toxic imports from US to Hong Kong

Dump sites in the New Territories are still operating, months after campaigners handed list of offenders to the Environmental Protection Department

Environmental officials in Hong Kong and the United States are coming under increasing pressure to stem a growing tide of potentially lethal electronic waste entering the city amid fears it could replace Guangdong province as the dumping ground of choice for the global digital economy.

Months after campaigners against electronic waste handed the Environmental Protection Department a list of dump sites in the New Territories, the Sunday Morning Post has discovered that most of them are still operating.

The 10 sites were identified by the US environmental watchdog Basel Action Network in May after hazardous materials were tracked using special GPS satellite trackers planted in shipping containers leaving the US.

Clustered in Yuen Long – some of them close to livestock and arable farming – the dump sites, which also serve as wrecking and salvaging yards for computer parts, LCD monitors and an assortment of potentially hazardous material, were visited by the Post late last month


We found evidence to corroborate the network’s contention that much of the material had been imported from the US – the world’s biggest exporter of electronic waste.

A spokesman for the EPD said: “We are in touch with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the indications are that the agency and other US federal agencies are concerned about the flows of used electronics from the United States to countries that have laws restricting their imports.

“The department has just begun exchanging information with the US authorities on how to step up the collaboration on controlling illegal transboundary movement of waste between Hong Kong and the US.”

The move follows a two-year investigation by the network which found that 37 out of 65 items had been exported from the US. Another eight were tracked to mainland China.

The research suggests a significant geographical shift in the movement of electronic waste – the bulk of which a decade ago would end up on the mainland.

Over the last year, the mainland has stepped up controls preventing e-waste from entering via the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border, such that legislators, environmental activists and concern groups suspect that the materials are now stuck in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the EPD said when they received the information from the network in May they began an investigation. “Even if the sites are processing non-hazardous waste, such as printed circuit boards, if the process causes pollution to the environment, the department will also take action in accordance with the law,” he said.


But when the Post visited the sites, unprotected workers – some with cigarettes in their mouths – were seen dismantling materials in three of the sites using substandard and environmentally hazardous recycling methods that could expose them and their neighbourhood to the toxic substances inside the products, including mercury, carbon black (toner powders), lead and brominated flame retardants.

“In the brown fields in the New Territories, everything is out of control,” said district councillor Paul Zimmerman who described the area close to the Shenzhen border as a hotbed of smuggling activity and an open market for commodities stripped from imported electronic materials.

“This kind of activity is happening on a grand scale and its causing mayhem to the area,” he said.

Key identifiers suggested that much of what was being processed there had been imported from the US, including US plugs lying among the debris, and labels indicating the items were American.

A shipping container parked outside was traced back to originating from Florida in the US using an online shipping database.

The import of hazardous electronic waste into Hong Kong is illegal under the Basel Convention, which regulates the flow of hazardous materials across international boundaries. Both Hong Kong and mainland China are signatories, but the US has not ratified the convention,

Hong Kong’s legal definition of “hazardous” waste is uniquely lax, providing loopholes in legislation that make the its free-wheeling container port a popular destination for the products.

“E-waste is classified into two categories under the Basel Convention – non-hazardous e-waste and hazardous e-waste,” an EPD spokesperson said. “Non-hazardous e-waste includes main computer units, computer hard disks, other component parts inside a computer, printed circuit boards, printers and servers etc.”

Network director Jim Puckett estimates around 50 to 100 containers arrive each day containing e-waste and that 90 per cent of the material found at dumps in the New Territories are US exports.

Source URL:

Revealed: the toxic trail of e-waste that leads from the US to Hong Kong

SCMP study of 10 dumping sites shows how shipments from the world’s biggest producer of electronic garbage are despoiling the New Territories and raising serious health and safety issues

The acrid stench of overheating plastic fills the air as a grime-covered worker perched on a bench surrounded by old printers nonchalantly tosses a cigarette to the ground.

It’s dirty work disembowelling the detritus of the digital economy.

Welcome to the New Territories district of Yuen Long, which if environmental campaigners are to be believed, threatens to become ground-zero for the world’s electronic waste.

In recent years a cluster of legally questionable work sites have sprung up to store and dismantle the disgorged contents of the growing number of shipping containers arriving in Hong Kong from the planet’s biggest producer of e-waste – the United States.


Monitors pile up, circuit boards are separated from smartphone cases and LCD screens are smashed to smithereens in scenes that are more Mad Max than Silicon Valley.

In partnership with a Seattle-based environmental group that has monitored the flow of hazardous electronic waste out of the US for two decades, the Sunday Morning Post visited 10 such sites identified by the group using tracking devices planted inside waste products.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) says Hong Kong’s traditional role as a transshipment point for mainland-bound e-waste is changing – bringing danger to not only the health of the ¬often undocumented workers who break down the technology but the wider environment.


Using coordinates passed on by the network, the Post visited sites pinpointed by hidden GPS trackers as the destination of US digital detritus. Seven of the 10 sites – all details of which have been handed to the Environmental Protection Department – were storing electronic waste.

Three were hives of stripping-down activity by workers, few if any of whom were wearing protective clothing.

At one site, which the Post was able to enter in the wake of a delivery vehicle, we found stacks of disembowelled monitor cases and computer parts. At least one of the discarded units carried a US postage label.


A man in a sun hat told us “we dismantle things”. When pressed on what these “things” were, he denied that they were computer parts. “We’re very clean,” he insisted, before asking us to leave.

Close to the entrance of another site within plain view of a Post drone camera were stacks of computer cases. Glass, rubbish, circuit boards and batteries could be seen among the gravel. A faint sound of drilling was audible towards the other side of the site, about half the size of a soccer pitch.

A few metres away, under tarpaulin, four workers pulling machines apart with electric screwdrivers could be seen tossing remnants into plastic bags. No one was wearing protective gear.

There were bags of circuit boards and copper wiring nearby, alongside piles of old laptops, some with floppy discs inside. Printers and scanners were also visible. An appliance marked with the logo of US home surveillance and entertainment technology manufacturer Channel Vision was found on the ground, alongside a US plug.


“These are sizeable junkyards, and that’s a real concern ” said Dr Anna Leung Oi-wah, a biologist at Hong Kong Baptist University who specialises in the health and environmental impact of electronic waste.

Leung visited the same sites earlier this year with BAN director Jim Puckett, who has been campaigning to stop the flow of hazardous waste from developed countries to the developing world for 20 years.

There are also concerns about stuff getting dropped on the floor, or heavy metals getting into the water supply. And what about children playing nearby?

Dr Anna Leung Oi-wah, Baptist University

“Workers can get exposed to mercury in cathode ray tubes, lead is found in circuit boards. If they’re not wearing protective equipment they’ll be breathing in fumes,” she said.

“There are also concerns about stuff getting dropped on the floor, or heavy metals getting into the water supply. And what about children playing nearby?”

Of the 10 sites visited, two were deserted and empty, however remnants of e-waste, including circuit boards and fragments of LCD screens, lay alongside rusty nails.

At one abandoned site broken LCD lamps – from which harmful mercury can leak – were strewn alongside an assortment of discarded computer parts.

Surrounding these sites were rows of shipping containers, one of which with the help of BAN the Post tracked back to South Beach in Florida, backing the network’s claim that as much as 90 per cent of what can be found at these work sites are US exports.

One key fear expressed by environmentalists is the seepage of toxic waste into the ground, contaminating the food chain. A pig farm sat next to one site, a field of crops by another.

In 2003 Leung and Puckett visited the Guiyi cluster of villages in Guangdong province, which had earned the dubious title of becoming the biggest electronic waste dump site in China – and possibly the world.

They saw “mom and pop” workshops dismantling computers and melting down plastic in large containers using what they described as primitive techniques, exposing workers to toxic materials and contaminating the soil and water. Footage of the site shows blackened streams, and soil samples were found to be contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants.

The extent of operations at the Guiyi site generated intense pressure from activists and helped trigger a response from the mainland authorities who tightened controls on the importation of electronic waste.

The crackdown made it much harder for e-waste to transit Hong Kong into mainland China and Puckett’s fear now is that – in part due to the city’s historic commitment to free trade – Hong Kong is becoming the dump of choice for e-waste exporters.

A shrinking market and dwindling returns on old electronic components – which is driving an e-waste export boom – will only make matters worse, according to Puckett.

In addition, the value of waste has slumped because fewer precious metals are used to make products.

Hong Kong district councillor Paul Zimmerman says Yuen Long is a centre for e-waste dumping, dismantling, as well a smuggling hotbed for electronic and other used goods due to its proximity to the Shenzhen border. The activity has sparked fears over fire safety and the dangers of large trucks plying their trade on unsuitable rural roads.


While the importation of hazardous waste to Hong Kong is illegal under the Basel Convention, to which it is a signatory, the city’s definition of what constitutes “hazardous” is allowing potentially dangerous waste to enter, Puckett said.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said: “Non-hazardous e-waste includes main computer units, computer hard disks, other component parts inside a computer, printed circuit boards, printers and servers.”

She added that the sites visited by the Post were under investigation.

The US is the world’s largest producer of electronic waste – thought to generate 3.14 million tonnes of e-waste each year, according to the country’s ¬Environmental Protection ¬Agency.

Hong Kong officials at the EPD have expressed their concerns to the US government.

A spokesman for the US agency said: “We are in communication with Hong Kong’s environmental protection department on the issue of electronic waste management.”

Source URL:

The last straw: brothers battle to rid Hong Kong of plastic drinking straws which pollute city’s waters

Campaigner Gary Stokes and his brother are seeking to reduce plastic waste, in particular in waters surrounding Hong Kong

Environmentalists are on a mission to rid Hong Kong of plastic drinking straws, concerned about the risk posed to marine life after being dumped in surrounding waters.

Gary Stokes, director of Sea Shepherd Asia, and his brother Andy, a graphic designer, are attempting to persuade the city’s bars and restaurants to replace their plastic straws with paper ones.

The pair are selling bright green biodegradable paper straws, which cost four times as much as the plastic variety, to businesses across Hong Kong for no personal profit.

They are also urging consumers to “just say no” to straws when they do not need one. So far the initiative has saved more than 80,000 plastic straws, with support from Hemingway’s in Discovery Bay, Mavericks in Pui O and Why 50 in Sheung Wan.

Gary Stokes said he ultimately hoped to attract corporate sponsors for the campaign, named “The Last Straw”, as well as encouraging a major food outlet such as McDonald’s to sign up.

“Hong Kong is fast-paced and many people have a disposable lifestyle,” he said. “I spend a lot of time on the water and I see the trash. Most of it is plastic. You use a plastic straw for about two minutes and it will be around for 150 years,” said Stokes.

The brothers launched their initiative on World Oceans Day on June 8 in a bid to help protect the city’s waters.

Similar projects have been launched overseas but theirs is thought to be the first major initiative of its kind in Hong Kong.

Plastic is a major contributor to Hong Kong’s landfills, which are expected to reach capacity by 2020. Between 1,200 and 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste are discarded in Hong Kong every day, according to estimates, although there are currently no estimates for the number of discarded straws.

In the US, which has a population about 45 times the size of Hong Kong’s, 500 million plastic straws are used every day.

When they are dumped in the ocean, plastic straws break down into tiny plastic particles and absorb toxins from the water. These particles are often ingested by fish, which
humans then eat.

Plastic straws also wash up on Hong Kong’s beaches, putting land mammals at risk. In recent years, there have been cases of sea turtles getting straws lodged in their nostrils, which often have to be removed with pliers.

Stokes, who campaigns on a wide variety of environmental issues, said he chose to address the issue of plastic straws because they cause significant damage and phasing them out would be “achievable”.

“People want to do the right thing and are prepared to do it, but it is just sometimes they are too busy or they do not know how to,” he said. “They just have to have it delivered to them or organised, they need someone to be the catalyst.

“Humans in general are selfish. They think; ‘how is it going to affect me?’ If everyone has the same mentality, then it will always carry on. We wanted to do straws first because it is more achievable.”

Johan Harmide, owner of Why 50 cafe, said he decided to support the scheme after witnessing the amount of waste on Hong Kong’s beaches for himself while living in
Discovery Bay.

He said he initially offered people the choice between paper or plastic straws, and customers tended to be split 50/50, but he eventually removed all plastic straws and
received positive feedback.

“I am very concerned about the environment here – it is disgusting on the beaches, it is terrible,” he said. “When Gary suggested it, I said right away that I was in. It is a perfect fit for us. I am trying to help inform the people of Hong Kong. We have beautiful beaches but you always find rubbish on them.”

Harmide said he agreed with Stokes’ philosophy that Hongkongers want to support the environment, but the fast-paced nature of city life means they do not always make environmentally friendly choices.

“We are just making the choice a bit easier,” he said. “Two people out of 10 ask why their straw is going a bit mushy, and then when we tell them they just say ‘ah ok’,” he said.

“It’s all good – the drink is gone in 30 minutes anyway.”

Plastic has previously been revealed as the most common material to wash up on Hong Kong’s beaches.

In a study by the Green Council in 2014, Chinese branded rubbish made up a third of the waste, suggesting items had floated over to Hong Kong from the mainland.

Stokes said he was encouraged by the number of Hong Kong businesses signing up to his scheme.

“Plastic is a big problem in the ocean,” he said. “We have one of the worst conservation waste rates per capita. We are certainly up there, which is why landfills are full. We want to provide the solution so people do not have the wiggle room to avoid it. So far the response has been amazing.”

The campaign comes after a group of expatriate residents called on Hong Kong’s supermarket chains to reduce the amount of plastic used for fruit and vegetables.

The Environmental Protection Department said at the time that there was a “strong community consensus” on food hygiene, so a drive to reduce excessive packaging was still on a voluntary basis.

For more information visit