Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)988/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 8 January 1999, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members absent :

Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Public officers attending :

For Item IV

Mr Howard CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)1

Mr TSE Chin-wan
Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (Air)
Environmental Protection Department

Dr LAM Kwok-lun, Alain
Acting Principal Environmental
Protection Officer (Air Policy)
Environmental Protection Department

Mr Eddie T P POON
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health
and Welfare (Health and Welfare)

Dr Cindy LAI
Principal Medical and Health Officer
Department of Health

For Item V

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

Assistant Director of Environmental
Protection (Waste Facilities)
Environmental Protection Department

Dr Ellen CHAN
Principal Environmental Protection
Officer (Facilities Planning)
Environmental Protection Department

By invitation :

For Item V

Hong Kong General Association of Recycling Business

Mr LEUNG Pui-lun

Mr LEUNG Yiu-cheong

Mr LO Yiu-chuen

Mr LUI Hon-chu

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1)659/98-99)

The minutes of meeting on 26 October 1998 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to discuss the following subjects at the next Panel meeting scheduled for 5 February 1999 -

  1. Quality of Dongjiang water; and

  2. Stages I and II of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme.

(Post-meeting note: With the concurrence of Chairman, the above-mentioned subjects would be discussed at a joint meeting with LegCo Panel on Planning, Lands and Works on 5 February 1999 at 10:45 am. The regular Panel meeting would be held before the joint meeting at 10:00 am to discuss the monitoring of mud disposal sites at Tsing Yi, Lantau and Tung Lung Chau.)

III Information papers issued since last meeting

3. Members noted that no information paper was issued since the last meeting.

4. The Chairman said that members of the Panel were sad to learn of the traffic accident on 7 January 1999 in which five staff members of the Environmental Protection Department were killed. Members requested representatives of the Administration to convey their condolences to the victims' families and agreed that the Chairman should write on behalf of the Panel to the Director of Environmental Protection expressing sympathy for the families of the deceased.

(Post-meeting note: A consolatory letter signed by the Chairman of the Panel was sent to the Director of Environmental Protection on 11 January 1999.)

IV Control of indoor air pollution
(LC Paper No. CB(1)710/98-99(01))

5. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands(Environment)1 (PAS/PEL/(E)1) briefly took members through the information paper.

Levels of pollutants

6. Mr LAU Kong-wah was disappointed that the information provided by the Administration had failed to explain the effect of prolonged exposure to different levels of pollutants on health. He was particularly concerned about the high level of formaldehyde found in one restaurant under survey which was nine times the proposed indoor air quality objective.

7. The Assistant Director (Air), Environmental Protection Department (AD/EPD(A)) explained that the restaurant in question was recently renovated. Formaldehyde mainly came from glue applied to stick wooden cardboards together. Research by overseas health organisations indicated that prolonged exposure to formaldehyde would increase the probability of cancer in animals but there was insufficient evidence that it would cause cancer on humans. As such, formaldehyde was classified as a probable carcinogen. The measured concentrations of formaldehyde in restaurants under survey should have no immediate adverse health effects on a normal healthy person although the highest concentrations measured might cause nuisance such as mild irritation of eyes.

8. The Principal Medical and Health Officer, Department of Health (PM & HO) said that the carcinogenic effect of most pollutants on humans could not be clearly ascertained since all research experiments were conducted on animals. Exposure limits of various pollutants were stipulated under the labour laws to protect workers in their working environment. While acknowledging that these pollutants would have potential harmful effects and should be reduced at source, PM & HO was of the view that there was no cause for undue alarm since most pollutants would not pose an immediate health risk. She considered it more important to provide clear information to the public about the source and harmful effects of pollutants. PAS/PEL(E)1 supplemented that a public education and publicity campaign would be launched to increase public awareness and understanding of the importance of indoor air quality.

9. On Professor NG Ching-fai's concern that renovation workers seldom wore masks to protect themselves from dust and other pollutants, AD/EPD advised that Occupational Exposure Limits stipulated in the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance and enforced by the Labour Department protected the health of employees. For emissions such as benzene and formaldehyde, the wearing of mask by employees would not be useful from the angle of protection. 10. Elaborating on the survey results which indicated that the level of bacterial count in shopping malls was higher than in restaurants, AD/EPD(A) said that cleanliness of air was closely related to the adequacy of ventilation and the effectiveness of dust traps of the ventilation systems. The ventilation systems of shopping malls under survey were clearly inadequate as evidenced by the high carbon dioxide levels. The high level of bacterial count could be due to the lack of maintenance of the dust traps.

Code of Practice and the 3-level indoor air quality objectives

11. Members supported the early introduction of guidelines on the control of indoor air quality. They were particularly concerned about the air quality in newly refurbished premises where emission levels of formaldehyde and other pollutants were exceedingly high. They considered that some form of warning should be given to the public to draw their attention to the potential danger.

12. AD/EPD(A) pointed out that the survey results indicated that poorly performing or inadequate ventilation systems were the most common causes of indoor air pollution. The levels of pollutants in newly renovated buildings would decrease with time and with improved ventilation. He agreed with members on the need to make known the results of the survey on indoor air quality and formulate indoor air quality objectives. The consultants of the Study on Indoor Air Pollution in Offices and Public Places had proposed a set of indoor air quality objectives which had been used in the survey. A draft Code of Practice (COP) had also been prepared by the consultants. The COP would define and specify the procedures, measures and methodology that should be followed to evaluate indoor air quality as well as to achieve indoor air quality objectives. It would act as a guide for the public and as a reference document for professionals in the public and private sectors. The Chinese version of COP was under preparation and would be ready in time for public consultation. AD/EPD(A) further said that the proposed control strategies on indoor air quality would be implemented in a progressive manner. Under the proposed control system, building owners/management would be required to employ suitably qualified personnel to check and certify that indoor air quality of their buildings were in compliance with the standards. Certificates would be issued to building owners who were expected to display them in a conspicuous part of their buildings.

13. PAS/PEL(E)1 elaborated on the proposed 3-level air quality objectives as follows-

  1. Level 1 represented very good indoor air quality that a premium class and comfortable building should have. This level should be comparable to the best available indoor air quality standards;

  2. Level 2 represented the recommended indoor air quality standards that provided protection to the public at large including the very young, the aged and pregnant women; and

  3. Level 3 represented the indoor air quality required to protect workers and employees.

14. Members sought further clarification on the proposed 3-level indoor air quality objectives, including the availability of simple devices for measurement, the types of pollutants that should be measured, the frequency of measurement, and the responsibility for taking measurement and the time-table for implementing the proposed control system. Members were concerned about any additional costs incurred to building owners upon the imposition of the 3-level indoor air quality objectives.

15. In response, representatives of the Administration made the following points -

  1. The Administration's initial thinking was that building owners should employ suitably qualified personnel to check and certify that the indoor air quality of their buildings or premises complied with the standards;

  2. Based on the results of the survey, the pollutants which were of concern to the public included carbon dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, nicotine, respirable suspended particulates, bacteria etc. The determination of indoor air quality should therefore be based on the levels of these pollutants;

  3. To ensure compliance with the standards, the measurement should best be done professionally by qualified personnel of approved laboratories;

  4. It was expected that the introduction of the 3-level indoor quality objectives would encourage building owners and property management to aim at the best standards in order to enhance the prestige which in turn would boost the market value of their premises; and

  5. The Administration planned to consult professional bodies, relevant organisations, as well as the general public on the draft COP and the proposed strategies commencing in the first quarter of 1999. The consultation period would last about two to three months.

16. Mr LAU Kong-wah queried the effectiveness of a self-regulatory system given that owners of buildings with poor ventilation would be reluctant to make measurement in anticipation of unsatisfactory results. It could be expected that only buildings which had attained the proposed level would display the certificate for public knowledge. Dr LEONG Che-hung also envisaged difficulties in administering the proposed control system since air quality varied with the degree of ventilation which could be adjusted by the building owners or management. While being tested, the ventilation systems could be adjusted to facilitate compliance with the air quality objectives. In other times, owners/management would be tempted to re-adjust the ventilation systems to save electricity. PAS/PEL(E)1 said that the present thinking was to control indoor air quality on a self-regulatory basis, making use of existing legislation and system. However, the Administration would take into account public views before deciding whether to adopt a voluntary or statutory control system and on the need to establish a separate department to enforce the control of indoor air quality. The Inter-departmental Indoor Air Quality Management Group would be responsible for launching public consultation.

The ban on smoking in public places

17. Dr LEONG Che-hung said that difficulties in enforcing the law on the ban on smoking in public places were evidenced by the absence of prosecution actions since its operation. The provisions of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance had not clearly designated the authority to enforce the ban. He called on the Administration to devise effective ways to deal with the problem. Dr LEONG's concern was shared by the Chairman who pointed out that there had been numerous complaints from the public about the failure of property management to take action against smoking in designated non-smoking areas within their premises. The Chairman was also concerned about the effect of nicotine on persons subject to prolonged exposure to a smoking environment, e.g. employees of bars and restaurants. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Health and Welfare) (PAS/HW) advised that under the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance, Cap. 371, all indoor areas open to the public in shopping malls, department stores, supermarkets, and banks had been designated as no smoking areas with effect from 1 July 1998. Enforcement of the relevant provisions rested primarily with the management of the premises through persuasion and warning though police would come and assist in the event of un-cooperation on the part of smokers who refused to extinguish their cigarettes after repeated warnings. PAS/HW said that smokers in no smoking areas would likely extinguish their cigarettes when being persuaded by the property management or member of the public. This could explain the lack of prosecution action against smoking in public places since the commencement of the relevant provisions. If the persons continued smoking, the property management was empowered under the Ordinance to take down the name of the person and require him or her to produce proof of identity or to leave the no smoking area. Where the person refused to co-operate, the property management could remove the person from the no smoking area by the use of reasonable force if necessary or detain him/her while awaiting police assistance. PAS/HW said that public toilets inside shopping malls were also no smoking areas, while restaurants might be designated as no smoking areas if the managers so decided. The provisions of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance however did not apply to private clubs. To broaden the scope of the ban on smoking in public places, a regulation requiring restaurants with 200 seats and above to designate at least one-third of the floor area as no smoking area was being drafted and would soon be introduced into the Legislative Council.

18. Notwithstanding the Administration's explanations, members remained doubtful of the effectiveness of enforcement of the ban on smoking. Dr LEONG, Mr CHAN Wing-chan and Mrs Miriam LAU pointed out that the management of premises like restaurant managers and ferry staff might not be aware of their powers under the law and the means to enforce them. Mr Bernard CHAN said that even if the management was aware of its power, it would be difficult to enforce the ban on smoking without the co-operation of members of the public. He considered it necessary to take stricter enforcement action on the part of Government and to promote public education. Dr LEONG and Mrs Miriam LAU pointed out that in view of the trivial nature of the smoking offence, the police would be reluctant to give priority in taking action against smoking offences. They suggested that measures should be introduced to facilitate the management of premises to enforce the ban.

19. In response, PAS/PEL(E)1 explained that the previous approach to control indoor air quality was through implementing a series of ordinances and regulations which spread over a number of Government departments. To better co-ordinate this effort and to facilitate further development of a comprehensive framework to improve indoor air quality, the Administration had set up an inter-departmental Indoor Air Quality Management Group which was chaired by the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau. As far as the legislation on smoking was concerned, it remained the responsibility of the Health and Welfare Bureau but the Bureau would be represented at the Indoor Air Quality Management Group. Both the Health and Welfare Bureau and the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau were represented on the Inter-departmental Indoor Air Quality Management Group which was set up to co-ordinate the development on control of indoor air quality.

20. PAS/HW advised that before the ban on smoking in designated public places took effect on 1 July 1998, the Administration had written to property management companies and retail associations, the Hong Kong Association of Banks and other relevant parties, advising them of their duties and power in the enforcement of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance. In response to Dr Raymond HO's remark that it would not serve the purpose to designate a certain area of restaurants as no smoking area since there was no boundary on diffusion of cigarette smoke, PAS/HW said that while taking into account international trend, the Administration had to have due regard to local situation and considered it appropriate to take a step-by-step approach. Further consultation with the public and with the Legislative Council would be needed in this respect. Upon enactment of the proposed regulation, the Administration would write to restaurateurs and proprietors of food establishments advising them of the requirement to designate no smoking areas in restaurants. In response to Mr CHAN Wing-chan, the Administration would advise the number of letters to be issued and provide a copy of the letter.Admin.

21. The PM & HO said that smoking was a main cause of indoor air pollution and had proven adverse effect on health. There was a need for different departments to co-ordinate the implementation of anti-smoking policies. Apart from enactment of legislation, it was important for parents, teachers, and health workers to be concerted in their efforts to prevent the younger generation from getting into the habit of smoking. This was in line with the theme of the "Growing Up Without Tobacco" of the 1998 World No-Tobacco Day of the World Health Organisation.

22. Members requested the Administration to provide the timetable for implementation of the indoor air quality programme and agreed that the Panel would further discuss the issue after the Administration had consulted the public on the proposed control strategies.

V Waste Reduction Framework Plan

Meeting with the Hong Kong General Association of Recycling Business (the Association)
(LC Paper No. CB(1)710/98-99(02))

23. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr LEUNG Pui-lun briefed members on the submission of the Association. He stressed that the waste recycling business had generated employment for a lot of people in Hong Kong, in particular the aged. He urged the Administration to show more concern about the difficulties faced by the recycling industry.

24. In reply to members' enquiry on the operating costs for recycling waste paper, Mr LEUNG said that these were around $250 to $300 per ton of which about $100 to $150 was paid to waste collectors. As the selling price of recycled paper was only $350 per ton, and with the present economic crisis, the waste recycling industry was no longer making profit. Most waste paper companies were operating at a loss. Mr LEUNG estimated that each company ran the business at a deficit of about $20,000 to $30,000 per month.

25. As regards the employment situation of waste recycling industry, Mr LEUNG provided the following information -

  1. There were about 500 waste recycling companies in 1995 but the number had dwindled to about 300 in 1998;

  2. Each waste recycling company employed on an average about 20 to 30 waste collectors. There were currently about 4,500 waste collectors, as compared to 9,000 in 1995;

  3. Waste collectors who used to earn $400-$800 per month in the past could only earn $100 to $300 per month now;

  4. About 20,000 people were engaged directly or indirectly in waste recycling trade;

  5. The selling price of recycled paper was around $650 to $800 per ton in 1995 as compared to $350 in 1998; and

  6. The recycling industry handled about 3,000 tons of metal scraps, 2,000 tons of waste paper and 300 tons of plastic waste per day.

Meeting with the Administration
(LC Paper Nos. CB(1)710/98-99(03), 430/98-99(04) and 559/98-99(03))

26. Regarding the proposal of the Association to set up waste management transit centres to be managed by non-profit-making organisation, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment) 2 (PAS/PEL(E)2) said that since the Association's submission was received shortly before the meeting, the Administration would need time to consider the proposal in detail. According to PAS/PEL(E)2, the proposal was broad-brushed. Operation details and the extent of Government involvement would need to be discussed with the trade and the departments concerned. While the Administration was prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the Association's proposal, the idea of setting prices for waste and recycled papers by Government was not favourable. PAS/PEL(E)2 informed that the Administration had two formal and one informal meetings with the trade representatives. A visit was made to some typical waste collection / recycling facilities in late December 1998. The next meeting with the trade would be held on 11 January 1999. He noted members' concern on the need to discuss with the trade expeditiously on the proposal to establish waste management transit centres.

Waste management costs

27. Referring to the cost for collection and transportation of municipal waste of around $370 per ton as provided by the Administration, Mr LAU Kong-wah queried why this was substantially lower than the previously estimated cost of over $600 per ton, as provided in the consultation document on waste reduction in 1996.

28. PAS/PEL(E)2 said that the said cost of $370 only referred to the cost for collection and transportation of municipal waste per ton by the two municipal services departments. The figure did not include other costs such as land cost, operation cost as well as landfill costs. He provided additional information on the cost of waste management as follows -

Item of cost (per ton of waste) 19971996
- Transportation and collection $370$285
- Capital and operation cost of refuse transfer stations $250$200
- Capital and operation costs of strategic landfills $110$115
- Opportunity cost of strategic landfills $ 90$ 85
- Recurrent cost of EPD in supervising refuse transfer stations and strategic landfills $ 10-
Total$830 $685

29. PAS/PEL(E)2 agreed that the costs involved in the process were extremely high. The Administration was concerned about these costs which would continue to rise at the current rate of waste generation. One of the features of the Waste Reduction Framework Plan was to make the waste management system more efficient and cost effective. At members' request, PAS/PEL(E)2 agreed to seek information from the municipal services departments on a detailed breakdown on the costs of refuse collection and transportation. He added that there might however be difficulties in apportioning some common costs since the environmental hygiene section of the two municipal services departments provided other services in addition to those relating to waste.

Operation of landfills

30. Members sought further information on the operation of landfills. In response, PAS/PEL(E)2 advised that landfills were managed under modified design-build-operate (DBO) contracts which were typical of environmental facilities. The post-construction part of the landfill contracts included an operation period of between 15 to 25 years, followed by an after care period of 30 years. Thus, the same company designed, built and also operated the facility for the whole life of the site to ensure the proper handling of leachate and gaseous substances produced. These contracts were awarded on a tender basis and contained formula for charging. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) had resident site staff to supervise the operation of the contractors. The Assistant Director (Waste Facilities), Environmental Protection Department (AD/EPD(WF)) added that EPD conducted daily site supervision of landfills to ensure that proper procedures were carried out and that requirements for handling leachate and gaseous substance were met. Regular reports on the monitoring of landfills were made and could be made available for members' reference. As to the construction costs of landfills, a lump sum payment pre-determined in the contract was paid to the contractors on completion of works. Hence, the costs of construction and operation were known for the whole lifetime of each landfill, other than for adjustment in line with inflation. In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide information on DBO contracts for the existing landfills, the reasons for awarding post-construction contracts with a duration of 30 years, the operating costs of landfills, the formula for charging, and the ways in which the Administration monitored the operation and charging of landfills.Admin.

31. Miss CHOY So-yuk pointed out the high cost for disposing of waste in landfills. She considered that it would be a better use of public money to redeploy the resources spent in disposing of waste in landfills to assist the recycling trade financially.

32. PAS/PEL(E)2 advised that Hong Kong was a signatory to international agreements, including agreements on subsidies. Hong Kong would breach its international obligations if it subsidised trades or materials which were traded in the international market. The Chairman requested and the Administration agreed to further explain in writing the international obligations relevant to waste management and subsidies.Admin.

Members' general concerns

33. Members were sympathetic to the difficulties faced by the recycling industry and urged the Administration to seriously consider the proposal of setting up waste management transit centres. Professor NG Ching-fai stressed the need for more transparency in landfill management. He reminded the Administration to take note of the motions passed by the Legislative Council on the review of waste management policy and on sustainable development in planning waste strategies. Mr CHAN Wing-chan said that the contributions of waste collectors in reducing and recycling waste should be recognised. Miss CHOY So-yuk reiterated her stance that it would be more worthwhile and cost effective to assist the recycling trade than to use public resources in dumping waste at landfills. Mr LAU Kong-wah pointed out that if the waste recycling trade disappeared altogether, Government would need to spend huge sums of money in disposing of waste. Mrs Miriam LAU echoed this view and said that if the waste recycling business was considered providing a kind of social service, the Administration should give exceptional consideration to assist the industry which was facing a survival problem.

34. PAS/PEL(E)2 said that the Administration accepted that the recycling industry had a role to play in meeting socio-environmental policy objectives. Whether this should be considered a justification for ensuring the survival of the industry would be another question. Any industry or business which employed people could put forward a similar argument by stating that in the absence of Government subsidies the business would have to be closed, resulting in loss of jobs and consequential increases in applications for social security. The present situation should be assessed carefully. It was not the Government's policy to interfere in private business relationship particularly if it involved requests to negotiate with private companies to lower costs. If Government was to interfere in what might be a restructuring of industry, the knock-on implications would be quite significant. Hence any proposals put forward by the recycling trade had to be considered in the context of the existing environmental, economic, trade, competition and fiscal policies. PAS/PEL(E)2 added that the Administration had no particular view on the assertions of the trade on its various costs since no documentary evidence had been provided by the trade.

35. Some members did not accept the Administration's explanations. Mrs Miriam LAU called on the Administration to actively verify the costs put forward by the trade in order to really understand its predicament and to find out ways to resolve its problems. Miss CHOY So-yuk was disappointed that Government was ready to and did invest heavily in landfills but was adamant in its refusal to grant any form of subsidies to the waste recycling industry, albeit in a short-term to help the trade to tie over the present difficulties.

36. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration -

  1. to seriously consider providing assistance such as subsidies, loans or credits etc. to the waste recycling industry to enable it to tide over difficulties in the interim;

  2. to provide a written response to the submission of the Hong Kong General Association of Recycling Business; and

  3. to provide a report after deliberating with the trade representatives on 11 January 1999 so that members could discuss at the next Panel meeting on 15 January 1999 on the way forward.

(Post-meeting note: The Administration provided a paper on the discussion with the trade at the meeting on 11 January 1999 which was circulated under LC Paper No. CB(1)755/98-99)

VI Any other business

37. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:55 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
8 March 1999