Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)1293
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 20 February 1998, at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present.:

Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin (Chairman)
Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Henry WU
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Member attending :

Hon WONG Siu-yee

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public officers attending :

Items IV and V

Mr Rob LAW, JP
Director of Environmental Protection

Acting Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)

Mr Benny WONG
Assistant Director (Waste Facilities)
Environmental Protection Department

Mr Conrad P K LAM
Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Special Waste Facilities)

Item IV

Mr Patrick C K LEI
Principal Environemntal Protection Officer
(Waste Policy and Services)

Mr LAU Chin-man
Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare

Deputy Director
Hospital Authority

Mr Kenneth WOO
Senior Executive Manager
Hospital Authority

Principle Medical and Health Officer
Department of Health

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Connie SZE-TO,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)935)

The minutes of meeting held on 19 December 1997 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.Members agreed to hold a joint meeting with the Transport Panel on 20 March 1998, at 8:30 am to receive a briefing by the Administration on the progress of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Taxi Trial Scheme. The regular Panel meeting would be held immediately after the joint meeting at 9:00 am to discuss the following items -

  1. Progress report on Phase I of the Environmental Impact Assessment for Stage II of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme;

  2. Water pollution problem at Shing Mun River; and

  3. Water pollution at Dongjiang.

(Post-meeting note: With the consent of the Chairmen of Panels on Environmental Affairs and Transport, the joint meeting and the regular Panel meeting were re-scheduled for 26 March 1998. With the concurrence of the Chairman of the Panel on Planning, Lands and Works, a joint meeting will be held on 1 April 1998, at 10:45 am to discuss item (c) above.)

3. Chairman informed the meeting that in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Provisional Legislative Council, each Panel shall at least make one report to the Council during the session. The report for the Panel would be circulated to members for comments and endorsed at the next Panel meeting.

III Information papers issued since last meeting

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)889 - Quarterly Progress Report No. 16 on the High Priority Programme of the Sewage Services Trading Fund; and

PLC Paper No. CB(1)942 - Report on the outcome of the 8th meeting of the Hong Kong - Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group)

4.Memmbers noted the captioned information papers issued since last meeting.

IV Progress report on clinical waste management

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)957(01))

Clinical waste disposal facility

5. Given that the modern waste-to-energy incineration technology was generally agreed to be the new direction for Hong Kong's waste management strategy, members questioned the need to modify the Chemical Waste Treatment Centre (CWTC) at Tsing Yi for treating clinical waste instead of expediting the introduction of waste-to-energy incineration into Hong Kong. The Chairman queried the cost-effectiveness of the proposal in view of the decreasing quantity of clinical waste produced, and the need to dispose of all types of clinical waste by incineration since some were bio-degradable without posing hazards to the environment. A member supported the proposal to incinerate clinical waste at the CWTC and urged the Administration to speed up the implementation process.

6. In response, the Assistant Director (Waste Facilities) (AD/WF) said that the Administration recognized the important role of modern waste-to-energy incineration in the overall waste management strategies for Hong Kong. A 18-month feasibility study was commissioned in September 1997 to examine specific issues related to the introduction of the technology into Hong Kong. It was the Administration's intention to provide these facilities as soon as possible. As regards overseas experience, Singapore had taken four years to construct such facilities. Provided that the project went smoothly it would take at least four years to build the facilities in Hong Kong. However, in view of the complexity and the size of the project as well as the extent of preparatory works including undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies on identified sites for incinerators, land resumption, clearance or possibly reclamation works, it might take as long as eight years before the facilities could be provided. Whilst the Administration would explore the possibility of co-incineration or co-siting clinical waste incinerator with the proposed waste-to-energy incinerator as a long term arrangement, interim measures for treating clinical waste had to be considered as the present ways of disposal by landfilling and incineration at existing facilities including slaughterhouses and hospitals were not entirely satisfactory. Subject to funding approval, it was estimated that temporary measures for proper clinical waste disposal at the CWTC could be put in place by early 1999 and the longer term modifications to the CWTC would take one to two years to complete. In terms of timing, the current proposal would provide a proper disposal facility for clinical waste earlier.

7. On the growth of clinical waste, the Administration advised that due to increased waste segregation by the Hospital Authority (HA), the estimated daily clinical waste would only be around 16 tonnes in 2011 which was much fewer than the previous estimation of 25 tonnes made in 1993. At present, about ten tonnes of clinical waste were produced daily of which around six tonnes were generated from public hospitals and Government clinics. The Administration did not anticipate any problem for the CWTC to treat clinical waste in terms of capacity. The CWTC could accept 15 tonnes of clinical waste per day and handle waste up to the year 2008 at least.

8. As regards the need to dispose of clinical waste by incineration, AD/WF remarked that incineration was the most secure disposal method for clinical waste. The Deputy Director, Hospital Authority (DD/HA) explained that some clinical wastes, such as sharps and syringes, which were potentially infectious and hazardous, required segregation for incineration to safeguard public health and safety. Other wastes, such as human body parts and excised organs, necessitated special disposal treatment from an aesthetic point of view. Existing guidelines were available for the medical professionals to assess whether a particular kind of waste should be defined as clinical waste and segregated for proper disposal.

9. Members stressed the importance of public consultation on the proposal to dispose of clinical waste at the CWTC. Some members expressed concern about possible adverse impacts on the vicinity and urged the Administration to consult the local community as early as possible before proceeding with the proposal. In response, the Administration advised that the trial burn of clinical waste conducted in November 1996 confirmed that it was technically feasible to incinerate clinical waste at the CWTC. The proposal should create no adverse environmental impact as the CWTC had been closely monitored by the Administration to ensure compliance with the stringent emission standards in treating chemical waste. The Kwai Tsing District Board (KTDB) had been consulted on the proposal in early 1997 and urged the Administration to conduct further in-depth studies. Taking into consideration KTDB's view and the need to ensure the technical viability of the CWTC for treating clinical waste, the Administration intended to carry out a supplementary EIA to confirm the feasibility of the proposal and examine the associated environmental, health and traffic impacts. Further consultation with the KTDB and the Advisory Council on the Environment would be conducted when the EIA results were available. The Administration stressed that it was open-minded and would consider public views on the proposal.

10. On the cost of providing the clinical waste disposal service, a member expressed strong reservations about the Administration's intention to recover in addition to waste treatment cost, the cost for modification of the CWTC from clinical waste producers. He considered it inequitable for clinical waste producers to pay for the modifications cost for the CWTC since this would only be a temporary measure. Moreover, the cost to be borne by waste producers would be substantial given their relatively small number.

11. The Acting Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) explained that charging for disposal of clinical waste was in line with the Polluter Pays Principle and it was the Administration's policy objective to recover by phases the full capital and operating costs for providing the service. The Administration would take note of members' views before finalizing the proposed clinical waste charging scheme to be submitted to the legislature for approval. AD/WF added that the Administration had conducted preliminary consultation with the medical sector on the proposed charging scheme and would meet with relevant parties to discuss the details.

12. Responding to a member's enquiry, AD/WF advised that the existing operator for the CWTC would be responsible for undertaking necessary modification works and running the clinical waste disposal service at the CWTC. The Administration considered the proposed arrangement suitable and cost-effective. It would carefully examine financial proposals submitted by the CWTC operator and closely monitor its performance. He assured members that the financial proposals would be subject to vetting and approval of the Central Tender Board.

Interim arrangement on the management of clinical waste

13. A member enquired about the interim arrangements for handling clinical waste before proper disposal facilities were put in place. He was particularly concerned about the co-operation and co-ordination among responsible parties and Government departments in managing clinical waste from production to disposal.

14. The Administration informed that among the ten tonnes of clinical waste generated daily, three tonnes were disposed of at hospital incinerators and crematoria managed by the Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs), three tonnes at landfills with trench burial under an administrative permit system and the remaining mixed with domestic waste for disposal at landfills. During the interim period the existing arrangements would continue under which the PMCs would collect human body parts and human tissues which would be incinerated at hospital incinerators and PMCs' crematoria. The Administration recognized the importance of formulating a comprehensive clinical waste management strategy for Hong Kong. In addition to expediting the provision of proper disposal facilities, it had also proposed to introduce by phases a legislative control scheme covering collection, transportation and disposal of clinical waste. Co-operation from the medical profession and co-ordination among Government departments were essential to the success of the control scheme. AD/WF noted the member's concern and undertook to provide further information on the existing arrangements, in particular about transportation of clinical waste. EPD

15. Elaborating on the existing arrangements adopted by the medical profession in handling clinical waste, DD/HA advised that HA had drawn up a code of practice on the management of clinical waste for public hospitals. The Hong Kong Medical Association also issued guidelines for reference by private hospitals and clinics. As regards clinical waste produced by individuals, such as outpatients, control was relatively difficult. Nonetheless, the problem of disposal should not be serious as the quantity of waste produced was very small. Dr LEONG Che-hung added that the medical profession had been very co-operative in ensuring the proper handling of clinical waste. Potentially infectious and hazardous clinical waste was segregated in accordance with existing guidelines and put into specially designed "strong boxes" for collection by waste collectors for disposal.

V. Progress report on animal carcass incinerator

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)957(02))

16. AD/WF briefed members on the latest developments concerning the provision of a disposal facility for animal carcasses. He advised that the preliminary proposal was to build a stand-alone animal cremator for treating animal carcasses. Alternative sites for the cremator under consideration included Tuen Mun Area 38 and some other sites in North District. The Administration would also examine the possibility of co-incineration or co-siting an animal cremator with the proposed waste-to-energy incinerator. He stressed that the Administration would consider the timing, costs and site constraints of various options in deciding the way forward.

17.Members questioned the cost-effectiveness of the proposal given the estimated high cost of $100 million for constructing the animal cremator, the small quantity of animal carcasses required disposal, the long time taken to provide the facility and the possibility of building waste-to-energy incinerators for incinerating different types of wastes.

18.In response, AD/WF reiterated that the Administration's long-term waste management strategy was to adopt modern waste-to-energy incineration technology for disposal of various types of municipal wastes in Hong Kong and it would endeavour to provide waste-to-energy incinerators as early as practicable. Nevertheless, it considered it highly desirable to provide a disposal facility for animal carcasses as an interim measure in recognition of the present unsatisfactory disposal arrangement by cremation at slaughterhouses and landfilling from environmental, hygienic and aesthetic standpoints. Although the quantity of animal carcasses was relatively small, incineration in compliance with modern environmental standards was considered the most preferred disposal method. As regards the feasibility of incinerating animal carcasses at the CWTC, AD/WF explained that since the design requirements and emission standards for animal cremators were different from those of the CWTC, a purpose-built animal cremator had to be provided.

19.On the selection of sites for waste disposal facilities, the Administration remarked that it was always difficult to gain acceptance from the local community in siting these facilities in their vicinity albeit confirmation from EIA studies of no adverse impact. Owing to reservations of Panel members in building an animal cremator in Tuen Mun Area 38, the Administration searched for alternative sites in North District in October 1997. North District was selected because of its close proximity to the main source of animal carcasses - the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse (SSSH) which would be completed in 1999. This would minimise adverse environmental impacts due to transportation and the transport costs. However, preliminary assessment revealed that none of the identified sites in North District were readily available and preparatory works for some sites would be costly and time consuming.

20.Some members considered North District a better location than Tuen Mun for siting the cremator. Noting that the SSSH was situated close to the Shek Wu Hui Sewage Treatment Plant (SWHSTP), they suggested siting the animal cremator in the vicinity of these two facilities to facilitate treatment of polluting discharges from the cremator and manufacture of by-products from animal carcasses.

21.In response, AD/WF explained that Tuen Mun Area 38 was chosen as the site for constructing the centralized incineration facility for disposal of both animal carcasses and clinical waste in 1995. Although EIA studies confirmed that there should be no adverse environmental impact on the locality, the Tuen Mun District Board objected to the project. As regards siting the proposed animal cremator adjacent to the SWHSTP and SSSH, AD/WF pointed out that the suggestion was not advisable from the environmental and hygienic stand-points since the cremator would then be in close proximity to the Sheung Shui Water Works Treatment Plant. The Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Special Waste Facilities) added that the Administration had no plan to provide a by-product plant within the SSSH as the existing plant in Kennedy Town Abattoir, which would be demolished in 1999, had proved economically unviable.

22.In conclusion, AD/WF stressed that the Administration would further study the identified sites and conduct an EIA at the most suitable location. Local consultation on the selected site would also be conducted. He assured members that whether it was cost-effective to provide an animal cremator would be a major factor to be considered by the Administration in determining the implementation of the project.

23.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:20 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
8 May 1998