Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)1076
(These minutes have
been seen by the

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 23 January 1998, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present.:

Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin (Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon IP Kwok-him
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Member attending :

Hon LEE Kai-ming

Members absent.:

Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Henry WU
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP

Public officers attending :

Items IV - VI

Mr Rob LAW
Director of Environmental Protection

Mr Benjamin TANG
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and .Lands (Environment)

Items IV and VI

Dr Ellen CHAN
Acting Assistant Director (Waste and Water)
Environmental Protection Department

Item IV..

Mr Edmond HO
Acting Principal Environmental Protection
Officer (Sewage Infrastructure Planning)

Mr Danny TSUI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)3

Mr Peter Winder
Business Manager
Drainage Services Department

Items V and VI

Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)2

Item V

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

Mr Alex Y W NG
Principal Environmental Protection Officer
(Facilities Management)

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)692)

The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 21 November 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2.Members agreed to hold a joint meeting with the Health Services Panel on Friday, 20 February 1998, at 8:30 am to discuss the subject of clinical wastes management.

[Post-meeting note : With the consent of the Chairmen of the two Panels, the meeting would be a Environmental Affairs Panel meeting and members of the Health Services Panel would be invited to attend. The subject of progress report on animal carcass incinerator would be added into the agenda.]

III.Information paper issued since last meeting

No. CB(1)753 - Outcome of review on permit system in respect of marine parks and marine reserves)

3.Members noted the captioned information paper issued since last meeting.

IV.Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme
Nos. CB(1)766(01) and CB(1)831(01))

4.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)3 (PAS/PEL(E)3) briefed members on the outcome of the Administration's consideration of the consultant's recommendations as detailed in the Final Report of the Review of the Trade Effluent Surcharge (TES) Scheme. Regarding public consultation on the Final Report, PAS/PEL(E)3 advised that 110 organizations representing relevant trades and industries such as restaurant, hotel, printing, tobacco manufacture and garage etc. as well as interested parties had been invited to give views among which 47 organizations had responded. The outcome of the consultation was reported to the former LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs in June 1997.

Appeal procedure

5.On recommendations to simplify and streamline TES appeal procedures, the Chairman expressed concern about possible conflict of the role of the Drainage Services Department (DSD) in taking up the responsibilities for sampling and analysis as DSD was the authority for handling appeals. She further queried whether it was equitable to require successful appellants to bear the costs of appeal. Some members supported the proposals to extend the validity period of the results of appeals from the current one year to three years as well as to accept joint appeals. They enquired about potential savings to appellants and the Government upon implementation of the proposals.

6.Addressing the concern about possible role conflict of DSD, PAS/PEL(E)3 explained that under the current system, DSD spent considerable resources in monitoring the work of accredited laboratories employed by the appellant in sampling and analysis. The proposed "grab sampling" method, i.e. taking samples without giving advance notice to the appellant concerned, would simplify the process and reduce cost. Given its nature, it was not appropriate to allow accredited laboratories to conduct "grab sampling". To simplify the process further, DSD would carry out the analysis work as well. Under the simplified system, DSD would agree with the appellant on the sewage outlets from which samples would be taken and provide the latter with copies of the samples. Should the appellant disagree with the results of the analysis, he could appoint an accredited laboratory to make another analysis. An independent appeal board had been set up to consider appeal cases. The Business Manager, Drainage Services Department (BM/DSD) supplemented that, as far as TES appeal was concerned, the onus rest with the appellant to provide evidence to substantiate the claim that the discharged effluent was of a lower strength than that assigned to the trade. This principle would continue to apply under the simplified procedure. DSD would be given the legal authority to carry out sampling and analysis work. The Administration did not envisage difficulties for DSD in-house staff to undertake the tasks. However, consideration would be given to employing outside experts should the workload be found to be excessive for DSD to cope with. He assured members that every appeal case had been and would continue to be considered carefully and there would be no conflict of interest on the part of DSD in taking up the responsibilities.

7.As regards the costs of appeals, PAS/PEL(E)3 explained that the new procedure would improve efficiency and reduce the costs concerned. Under the "grab sampling" method, the manpower input in measurements would be reduced. It was estimated that the cost of each reassessment would be reduced from the present $20,000 - $40,000 to $12,000 - $24,000 depending on the discharge volume. Extension of the validity period of the results of appeals to three years would obviate the need for successful appellants to re-appeal annually and this would further bring down the appeal costs. BM/DSD advised that the TES Scheme was designed to be technically and administratively simple in order to cut down administration costs. The appeal procedures were deliberately set to discourage frivolous appeals. In the light of operational experience, the Administration recognised that there were areas requiring improvements. Draft legislative amendments to effect the proposed changes to the appeal system would be put forward to the legislature.

8.On the responsibility for shouldering the costs of appeal, PAS/PEL(E)3 advised that appellants should continue to bear the costs of appeal irrespective of the outcome. The same principle applied to other public service appeal mechanisms.

9.Elaborating on group reassessments in TES appeal, BM/DSD explained that notwithstanding the Administration's readiness to consider group reassessments by chain business establishments on a case-by-case basis, implementation of the proposal might not be simple as businesses with a common mode of operation could produce effluent of different strengths because of different management or operation environment.

Expansion of the TES Scheme

10.Addressing a member's concern about the proposal of expanding the TES Scheme to cover more trades, PAS/PEL(E)3 advised that according to the consultant, only some 12,000 or less than 6% of businesses operating in Hong Kong were included in the current Scheme. While many of the other trades were considered not producing effluent at a strength higher than that of domestic sewage, it was likely that some strong effluent producers had been left out. The consultant had therefore identified seven trades for possible inclusion in the current Scheme. The Administration, while supporting the recommendation in principle, considered it essential to take a cautious approach before taking forward the proposal. Further study to gather sufficient evidence and data for analysis would be conducted. He assured members that the relevant trades would be consulted prior to any detailed sampling. The Acting Assistant Director (Waste and Water) (AD/W&W (Atg)) added that, subject to resources being available, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) would undertake a detailed study on the proposal in mid-1998 which was expected to be completed in mid-1999.

Proposals not recommended for acceptance

11.A member opined that the Administration had not provided sufficient justifications to turn down the consultant's recommendations listed in para 30 of the information paper and urged it to re-examine their merits for adoption. He was particularly concerned about the proposal of introducing total suspended solids (TSS) as another pollution parameter to complement the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) for measuring effluent strength. The Chairman also enquired about the rationale for not using EPD licence data as a means of agreeing on COD levels.

12.AD/W&W (Atg) explained that COD was commonly adopted as the pollution parameter for sewage charging systems in overseas countries. The consultant had confirmed that COD tests were simpler, less time consuming to conduct and less sensitive to testing interference as compared to other parameters like Biochemical Oxygen Demand. The Administration was of the view that introducing TSS as a new parameter would complicate the charging scheme. Significant amount of extra work would be required in data compilation and analysis without gaining much advantage.

13.As regards making use of EPD licence data in the TES Scheme, AD/W&W (Atg) said that the TES Scheme and EPD's licence control scheme under the Water Pollution Control Ordinance (WPCO) were developed under two different regimes. The former was a charging scheme seeking to recover the cost of treating effluents of a higher strength produced by some polluting trades and industries while the latter was a regulatory scheme to control the standards of discharges by various commercial and industrial establishments. Under the TES scheme, an average COD value was used for a particular trade, whereas WPCO had not stipulated the lowest standard of discharges. In fact, COD values were not relevant to some trades under WPCO. Hence, converging the two schemes would have significant impact on EPD resources and seriously impede the control function of the licence scheme.

Sewage charges

14.Whilst expressing support for the Polluter Pays Principle, some members called on the Administration to seriously consider the viability of temporarily shelving the general Sewage Charge (SC) and the TES in view of the recent economic downturn in order to relieve the financial burden on businesses and industries. A member also urged the Administration to freeze increases in water charges.

15.In response, the Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) explained that the TES Review focused on the features and operational aspects of the TES Scheme and sought to address the concerns raised by the affected trades and industries. Any proposal to revise SC and TES charges would be separately examined by the Finance Bureau (FB) taking into account the present economic situation of Hong Kong. He agreed to relay members' view to FB.

16.The BM/DSD stressed that the Administration noted the effects of economic slowdown on businesses and industries. SC and TES however represented an insignificant proportion of their total operating costs compared to other overhead expenditure. Shelving or freezing these charges would not have any significant impact on the economic viability of businesses and industries. Currently, SC applied to over two million households and businesses but only 6% or 12,000 businesses operating in Hong Kong were included in the TES Scheme. Of the existing 30,000 restaurants, 9,000 were TES payers and the average monthly charge was less than $1,000. Since implementation of the Scheme in 1995, less than 1,000 appeals had been received which suggested that the charges were not a grave concern to affected trades and industries. He added that the sewage charging scheme was introduced with the consent of the former Legislative Council. The decision to increase charges or otherwise rest with the legislature.

Other concerns

17.A member pointed out the difficulties in enforcing the TES Scheme on unlicensed business establishments, in particular, the unlicensed food premises and enquired about measures to address this. In response, BM/DSD said that the Administration had attempted the best endeavour to bring in the TES charging net and impose charges on those trades listed under the Sewage Services (Trade Effluent Surcharge) Regulation irrespective of whether they were licensed or unlicensed establishments.

18.Regarding educational measures to improve the quality of wastewater discharged from trades and industries, AD/W&W (Atg) advised that the Administration implemented on-going educational and promotional programmes such as issuance of guidelines and participating in or organising seminars to enhance the awareness of trades and industries on the importance of better management and installation of appropriate treatment facilities for improving effluent strengths.

V.Landfill charging scheme
No. CB(1)504(02))

19.Members supported the revised landfill charging scheme in general as it was in line with the Polluter Pays Principle and would create an economic incentive for waste producers to reduce, reuse and recycle wastes. They noted that the Administration had held many meetings with members of the trade and consulted various waste collectors' associations in devising the revised scheme. The Administration believed that the revised scheme would address the major concern of private waste collectors about the cashflow problem since they would be required to pay in arrears under an account billing system. As regards the bad debt problem, the Administration was of the view that it was inappropriate for Government to underwrite commercial bad debts.

20.Responding to enquiries on the details of the revised scheme, the Assistant Director (Waste Facilities) (AD/WF) made the following points -

    The Administration intended to retain a charge of $43 per tonne as proposed under the original scheme in 1995. This rate would recover 50% of the costs for providing the services at 1995 price level, generating an annual estimated income of about $100 million;

  1. landfill users would be provided with five payment options to meet their different needs. It was the Administration's intention to maintain a simple and cost-effective charging scheme. Nevertheless the Administration provided the option of pre-paid tickets which would require considerable manpower input to cater for the need of occasional landfill users who did not have a credit account with the EPD. As the Administration did not encourage this payment option, no discount rate would be offered;

  2. users might choose to pay the charge either by waste tonnage or per vehicle load to suit their different modes of operation. To prevent the problem of over-loading of vehicles, the Administration would closely monitor the situation at landfills and should such a problem be detected, concerned departments including the Police and Transport Department would be informed for stepping up enforcement; and

  3. disposal of domestic waste would be exempted from charging. Howevr, private waste collectors using the Refuse Transfer Station (RTS) services to handle non-domestic waste had to pay both the RTS service charge and the landfill charge as they were deemed to be users of the landfill services. Landfill charges would be levied on a per tonnage basis on RTS users under an account billing system. The Administration would endeavour to keep the administration of the charging scheme as simple as possible.

21.On the concern about possible increase in illegal dumping of wastes after the implementation of the charging scheme, AD/WF stressed that the revised scheme, which was devised after thorough consultation with concerned parties, should have addressed the major concerns of the waste collection trade. The Administration had formulated contingency plans to tackle possible illegal dumping problem. Frequent patrols at vacant sites and enforcement of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO) (Cap. 354) would be stepped up. He advised that the maximum penalty under the WDO for illegal dumping of wastes was raised in 1996 to a fine of $200,000 and six-month imprisonment for first conviction. As regards follow-up on the illegal dumping incident at Sheung Pak Nai in Yuen Long, AD/WF said that an offender had been identified and would be prosecuted shortly. Clearance of wastes in the government land concerned was being arranged and discussion was underway with the private land owners to clean up wastes in their respective lots.

VI.Control over importation of wastes
Nos. CB(1)816(02) and CB(1)831(02))

22.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)2 (PAS/PEL(E)2) briefed members on the background and the present position on the control on import and export of wastes in Hong Kong. Members noted that the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention) which applied to Hong Kong provided a framework for controlling transboundary movement of hazardous and non-recyclable wastes by effecting a system of prior notification and consent by the authorities of the states of import, export and transit prior to the commencement of shipments of these wastes. The letter and spirit of the Basel Convention had been enshrined in the relevant provisions of the Waste Disposal Ordinance (WDO) (Cap. 354) which required permits to be obtained from the EPD for the import and export (including re-export) of hazardous contaminated or non-recyclable wastes in Hong Kong.

23.Some members expressed concern about the effectiveness of the permit control scheme. Noting that only 18 permit applications had been received since the implementation of the scheme on 1 September 1996 and that the EPD/the Customs and Excise Department (C & ED) had already inspected about 200 shipments of suspected illegal wastes during the first ten months in 1997, members questioned the effectiveness of the existing legislation in controlling the problem and called on the Administration to review the relevant law and increase penalties for offences with a view to enhancing deterrence. A member also requested the Administration to step up inspection of waste shipments and suspected illegal shipments.

24.Addressing the concern about the effectiveness of the existing policy and legislation in controlling import and export of hazardous and non-recyclable wastes, PAS/PEL(E)2 said that the Administration was satisfied with the implementation of the permit control scheme and considered it adequate in containing the problem of illegal transport of wastes. He advised that the existing maximum penalties under the WDO for importation of such wastes without permits were a fine of $200,000 and six-month imprisonments for the first offence and $500,000 and two-year imprisonment for subsequent offences. The Administration was generally contented with the present levels of penalty imposed by the court. Nevertheless, it would closely monitor the situation, assess the effectiveness of the control scheme, and consider additional measures as and when necessary. As regards prosecution of offenders, AD/W&W (Atg) informed that in 1997, there had been 33 successful convictions including 15 on illegal export of hazardous wastes and five on illegal import of contaminated wastes, 13 on illegal import of non-hazardous wastes for a purpose other than reuse or recycling. The Administration agreed to provide in response to a member information on prosecution and conviction figures and penalties for import or export of waste offences in the past few years.

25.On the monitoring and disposal of waste shipments in Hong Kong, AD/W&W (Atg) advised that the EPD had been working in collaboration with the C & ED to carry out inspections and combat illegal shipments of hazardous contaminated or non-recyclable wastes. The EPD also closely monitored waste disposal sites to guard against any illegal disposal of imported wastes. The permit control scheme had been widely publicised to the local waste traders, the shipping industry and Hong Kong's major waste trading partners. The Administration was maintaining close liaison with a number of competent authorities outside Hong Kong on the prevention, detection and prosecution of illegal waste import or export activities.

26.In this connection, PAS/PEL(E)2 stressed that the Basel Convention did not prohibit legal trade in non-hazardous wastes for the purpose of recycling. Whilst the movement of hazardous wastes was placed under stringent permit control, legitimate trading and recycling of non-hazardous wastes should be allowed to continue in order to conserve raw materials. Indeed, Hong Kong was enjoying a booming waste trade amounting to $20 billion in 1996. He added that, given Hong Kong's free port status and busy import and export activities, it was impossible to inspect every in-coming and out-going shipment. Nonetheless, the Administration would step up efforts in detecting illegal waste import or export activities and improving exchange of intelligence with other countries.

27.Regarding the concern about illegal imported wastes stranded in Hong Kong, AD/W&W (Atg) confirmed that the problem had been put under control with the implementation of the permit control scheme on 1 September 1996. All illegal imported wastes had been ordered to be returned to the place of origin as soon as possible, the latest within 30 days as stipulated in the Basel Convention. Moreover, the Basel Convention required the establishment of a financial guarantee for return trips. The return of rejected wastes could be effected even if the exporter refused to ship them back.

28.The Chairman noted that currently, non-hazardous wastes containing at least 80% recyclable items were allowed to be imported into Hong Kong for recycling purpose whereas the respective standard adopted by the Mainland was 95%. She was concerned about the adoption of different criteria for 'recyclable wastes' by Hong Kong and the Mainland. AD/W&W (Atg) replied that there were no statutory percentage limits in Hong Kong but she also understood that the Mainland's standard was 95%. She added that since 1 April 1996 the Mainland permitted the import of nine types of recyclable wastes including waste paper, scrap metals etc. In late 1996, plastic was also added to the list. In line with the Basel Convention, Hong Kong would notify and obtain the consent of the appropriate authorities prior to issuing permits for shipments or trans-shipments of controlled wastes. Waste shipments destined for China but falling short of the requirements stipulated by the Mainland would not be issued with permits for export or trans-shipment in Hong Kong. PAS/PEL(E)2 supplemented that the Basel Convention parties examined the classification of hazardous wastes and other issues regularly to keep pace with changes in technology and other developments. The Administration is considering a Convention proposal to ban the export of hazardous wastes from countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and European Union to developing countries for disposal or recycling, which if implemented, would help to remove the source of most hazardous wastes passing through Hong Kong.

29.There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
6 March 1998