PLC Paper No. CB(1)193
(These minutes have been seen by the
Administration and cleared with the Chairman)
Ref: CB1/PL/EA/1

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Tuesday, 3 June 1997,
at 10:30 am in Conference Room A
of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai (Chairman)
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling (Deputy Chairman)
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Hon MOK Ying-fan

Member attending :

    Hon LEE Kai-ming

Members absent :

    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP

Public officers attending :

All items

Mr Benjamin TANG
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (Environment)
Mr Rob LAW
Director of Environmental Protection

Item III

Mr Raymond TANG
Assistant Director of Marine
Mr David HALL
Principal Environmental Protection Officer (Sewage Infrastructure)

Item IV

Dr Mike CHIU
Assistant Director of Environmental Protection
Mr Lawrence LAU
Senior Environmental Protection Officer

Item V

Mr Stanley WONG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands
Ms Elley MAO
Principal Economist
Commissioner for Census and Statistics
Mr Bosco FUNG
Government Town Planner/Territorial and Sub-regional
Chief Assistant Secretary for Housing

Item VI

Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning,
Environment and Lands (Environment)
Officer in Charge (Facilities Planning)
Environmental Protection Department

Attendance by invitation :

Hong Kong Marine Conservation Society

Ms Brenda SHAW
Research Officer
Mr Frazer McGilvray
Scientific Project Officer

Clerk in attendance:

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I Confirmation of minutes of meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1668/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 4 March 1997 were confirmed.

II Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1699/96-97)

2. Members noted that a letter signed by 29 restaurants commenting on the Final Report of the Review of the Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme had been issued since the last Panel meeting held on 6 May 1997.

III Marine debris

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)1397 and 1749/96-97, and the paper entitled "The Findings of the Hong Kong Marine Conservation Society Marine Debris Survey" tabled at the meeting and circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1782/96-97)

3. Dr Brian DARVEL urged the Administration to take a strong, immediate and proactive leadership position in dealing with the problems identified in the Marine Debris Survey Report (the Report). He opined that a highly visible, co-ordinated and comprehensive campaign would be much more effective than a piecemeal approach. Since prevention was important, as a first step the public should be educated to respect the environment. In this regard, he called for a new Clean Hong Kong Campaign that would explicitly include the marine environment in its scope.

4. In reply to members’ questions, representatives of the Society supplemented the following information -

  1. The major sources of marine debris included recreational use of beaches, the fishing industry, and the shipping industry.

  2. In 1996, the average fine imposed for convictions for littering reported by USD was $388. The average fine imposed for convictions reported by RSD during the fiscal year 1995-96 was $365. The average fine imposed for convictions reported by MD in 1996 was $460. It was obvious that although legislation was in place, fines were not acting as a suitable deterrent to stop people polluting. Sometimes the fines could be as low as $10.

5. The Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that according to a survey on marine debris conducted a few years before, a significant portion of marine debris came from stormwater drains after heavy rainfall. At the Chairman’s request, the Administration would provide the survey report to the Panel.

6. Members agreed that there was room for improvement in Government efforts to combat the problem of marine debris. In particular, they agreed that public education was very important and that the focus of the Clean Hong Kong Campaign should be adjusted as new needs arose. Should education fail, there might be need for more stringent measures, such as significantly higher fines for littering. They however felt that some measures recommended in the Report might be too draconian and needed careful examination. A member opined that sewage screening process and provisions should be improved to prevent land-based debris from entering into the sea. He also called for the establishment of an inter-departmental task force to tackle marine debris.

7. In response, representatives of the Administration thanked members and the Society for their input and made the following points -

  1. As elaborated in the Administration’s information paper, the Administration had already been taking various measures and putting in extra resources to minimise marine debris pollution. Hong Kong was the only place in the world that provided door-to-door marine refuse collection service to vessels in typhoon shelters and in the harbour. The Marine Department (MD) also regularly carried out joint operations with the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD) to collect refuse on the beaches. In fact, as a result of the above efforts, the problem of marine debris had already been reduced.

  2. The Clean Hong Kong Campaign had all along been playing a significant role in educating the public not to litter. However, its effect was somewhat offset by the changes in population structure, namely, by the influx of new immigrants from China.

  3. The maximum penalty was already a fine of $10,000 or six-month imprisonment. The defendant also had to appear in court to defend himself. In fact, USD and RSD had already informed the judiciary that the majority of penalties levied for littering were not only insufficient as deterrents but also did not fully cover the cost of mitigation. Judges however still tended to impose fines nearer the minimum, rather than the maximum, of the range allowed in most cases as they considered littering a lesser offence than crimes like theft. Since there was need to respect judicial independence, there was little the Administration could do.

  4. Care should be exercised in adopting the Society’s proposal to implement a public register of legal notices, offences, and fines related to marine and land-based littering as it might have broad implications on the Bill of Rights Ordinance and the Personal Data Privacy Ordinance.

  5. All sewage in Hong Kong received at least preliminary treatment by screening. At members’ request, the Branch would liaise with the Drainage Services Department (DSD) to see if it was technically viable to adopt finer screens, and to provide information on measures taken to prevent land-based debris from entering into the sea.

    (Post-meeting note: The information was circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1894/96-97)

  6. Apart from the Clean Hong Kong Campaign Committee which had representatives from various departments, departments concerned were also identifying measures to efficiently deploy existing resources through the Inter-departmental Working Group on Marine and Littoral Refuse, which was chaired by the Director of Marine and comprised representatives of USD, RSD, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD) and the Branch.

8. Dr DARVEL found the response from the Administration unsatisfactory and expressed regret over the seemingly defensive attitude of the Administration. His views were echoed by a member. In concluding the discussion, members urged and the Administration agreed to take into consideration recommendations of the Society and views expressed at this meeting when they finalised the Waste Reduction Plan presently undergoing public consultation. The Administration also agreed that more could be done and undertook to liaise with relevant departments in working out more improvement measures with resources available.

IV Pollution of Shing Mun River

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1715/96-97)

9. The Assistant Director of Environmental Protection (ADEP) briefed members on the paper from the Administration informing members of the environmental problems of Shing Mun River, the improvement measures taken and further possible measures arising from a consultancy study to tackle the problems.

10. In reply to members’ questions, DEP and ADEP supplemented more information as regards the following aspects of the River’s problems -

  1. The source of pollution

    The River’s environmental problems had to be solved by stages starting from the source of pollution. With the implementation of the Water Pollution Control Ordinance (WPCO) and the Livestock Waste Control Scheme (LWCS), the pollution load discharged to the River had been reduced by 86% from 9,000 kg of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) per day in 1987 to 1,200 kg BOD per day by the end of 1996. This remaining BOD loading was contributed mainly from unsewered domestic premises in the Shing Mun River catchment area. In this regard, a sewerage connection scheme was being implemented in the catchment area in phases to resolve the problem. Co-operation from the villagers concerned to meet the target completion date of 2003 was however necessary. Before completion of the scheme, the River’s environmental problems could hardly be thoroughly solved.

  2. The root of the problem

    The River’s major problem was its configuration and low natural water flow, which had turned it into a sediment basin. Whilst the pollution load discharged into it from land-based sources had been substantially reduced, the organic and heavy metal contents in the sediments contributed continuously to its pollution load, exerting a high oxygen demand on the overlying river water and posing a threat to the development of the natural ecology within the River. Moreover, the sediments accumulated in the upstream stretch of the river, when exposed during low tide, were aesthetically offensive and caused a considerable odour nuisance to the local community. Until the most suitable and environmentally acceptable sediment improvement measures identified under the current study had been fully implemented, the odour problem would likely persist.

  3. The solution

    Dredging all the sediments might not be an environmentally acceptable improvement measure because the sediments were found to be contaminated with toxic metals and the removal operation might result in a greater environmental impact. Moreover, sediments would simply accumulate again if the source of pollution was not under complete control. Disposal of the large quantities of sediments was another concern. As the sediments would take up considerable capacity, disposal of them in the contaminated mud dumping pits near East Sha Chau might not be a feasible option. In addition to the dredging option, the Administration was thus looking at the in-situ treatment of sediments known as "bioremediation". Since it was a relatively new technology and had not been conducted in Hong Kong in a scale comparable to Shing Mun River, in order to ascertain its applicability in practice, a pilot field trial would be arranged should the technique be suggested. It was however envisaged that as a result of the varied nature of the sediments, the recommended improvement works would be a combination of various techniques with regard to their effectiveness and environmental acceptability.

  4. The target

    Despite some normal fluctuations in the Water Quality Index (WQI) of the River from 1994 to 1996 as a result of a number of factors such as population growth and climatic changes, the River’s water quality had seen significant overall improvement. In fact, the WQI had improved from a "Fair" to a "Good" grading and been maintained within that range since 1992. The Administration aimed to further improve the water quality of the River so that it could become a secondary contact recreation zone by the turn of the century.

11. Some members were not satisfied with the progress of the improvement measures. A member opined that as in the case of Shenzhen River, thorough large-scale improvement works targeted at improving the River’s hydraulic efficiency should be implemented to improve its environmental conditions. He also urged the Administration to expedite the sewerage connection scheme. In his view, instead of relying on villagers to connect to the sewerage system themselves, statutory measures should be taken. Another member opined that if the pollution problem of the River could not be resolved, it might be better to reclaim land from it. He also proposed the introduction of an odour index to monitor the condition of the River.

12. In response, DEP and ADEP made the following clarifications -

  1. The Shenzhen River project was aimed at alleviating flooding, not pollution. There were still considerable quantities of pollutants going into the Shenzhen River from a lot of contamination sources on the Shenzhen side.

  2. Villagers in the catchment area were already required under WPCO to connect to the sewerage system.

  3. The River served an important role in preventing flooding in Shatin and could not be filled.

  4. Odour nuisance was already covered in air pollution control legislation. However, since subjective judgement was involved and there was difficulty in identifying the source, such legislation was mainly targeted at industrial sources.

13. Noting that the consultancy study would complete in September 1997, members agreed that the Panel should follow up the issue in the new legislative session.

V Demographic projections

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1715/96-97 (02), (03) and (04)

14. The Commissioner for Census and Statistics (C for C&S) briefed members on the Administration’s paper entitled "Hong Kong Population Projections 1997-2016". In response to members’ questions, he supplemented the following information -

  1. The continuation of the current fertility rate at such an extremely low level would imply some 40% of women remaining childless at the end of their reproductive ages. Such a high percentage was most unlikely in an Eastern culture and a slight fertility rebound was thus expected. This rebound would be related to the catching-up of some low-order live births which were postponed due to the uncertain political situation in Hong Kong in the past few years.

  2. The assumption on net movements of Hong Kong residents holding permanent Hong Kong identity cards was made on the basis of the anticipated levels of emigration and returnees. For the level of emigration, the figures were projected by taking into account past immigrant visas issued by major receiving countries provided by the Consulates and by referring to the departure figures. It was however envisaged that although the number of returnees in recent years was high, it would level off as migration stabilized. In any case, notwithstanding certain number of returnees, there would be net outflow.

  3. It was difficult to tell whether the inflow of Chinese immigrants would be able to offset the decline in fertility rate and the outflow of Hong Kong residents. However, in the 1996-based population projections, immigrants from China did contribute the largest proportion of the projected population growth. Also, given that there would be greater concentration in the younger ages among the immigrants, immigration from China would have an impact on the age structure of the population.

  4. The reason for the population projections to show an unbalanced sex ratio in some age groups might be the inclusion of foreign domestic helpers, who were mainly females, in the projections. However, there were other social and economic factors to consider. For example, a higher ratio of male in returnees and a higher ratio of female in immigrants from China. C&SD would analyse the phenomenon in conjunction with other departments.

  5. It was projected that population growth would slow down after 1999 as the number of returnees would peak off while emigration would remain at a level of 43,000 per year. C&SD believed that their population projections were already the best that could be made taking into consideration all relevant factors. It had to be admitted that there was always a degree of uncertainty about long-term population projections, due mainly to variation in rates of migration.

15. Members emphasised that demographic projections were relevant to each and every policy branch in planning their respective spheres of work. The Chairman also urged the various policy branches to be more gender-sensitive in mapping out policies. In response to their comments, representatives of the Administration made the following points -

  1. Policy branches/departments were already taking up-to-date population estimates compiled by C&SD into account in mapping out policies. Moreover, the Government would closely observe population developments and their background factors. If some unexpected events that would significantly affect the projection assumptions and hence the population trends occurred, a review would be made to see if any ad hoc revision to the projections would be appropriate. Apart from providing the projections, C&SD also analysed various population phenomena in the Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics. It also provided additional data at request and sat on policy decision committees to offer expert advice.

  2. Noting that there was an aging trend of the population from results of the previous population censuses/by-censuses, the Housing Department (HD) had already produced more housing for the aged in anticipation of the old people’s housing needs, so that their average waiting time for public housing was at present approximately two years if they did not specify the type of flat and district required. In recognition of their needs, the Housing Branch was also actively securing resources to provide housing for them in the urban area.

  3. The Health and Welfare Branch had already been alerted of the projected unbalanced sex ratio so that they could take this into account when planning new hospitals.

VI Any other business

16. In reply to members’ questions on the Draft Waste Reduction Plan (the Plan), representatives of the Administration supplemented the following information -

  1. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) was already liaising with HD and the two Municipal Councils for the promotion of waste separation and recovery at public housing estates. The programme indeed already started in certain estates in May and June 1997 and might be further expanded to cover waste other than paper. The Administration also recognised the need to arrange reuse and recycling for waste separated. Under the Draft Waste Reduction Plan, Government would promote and contribute some funding to set up material recovery and recycling projects under the Waste Avoidance, Minimisation ad Materials Recovery Programme. Pending finalisation of the Plan, a definite implementation timetable was not available.

  2. The construction of a special facility for treating animal carcass was still under consideration. At the moment, some animal carcass was treated in a small incinerator at Kennedy Town Abattoir, while the rest went to landfills. However, EPD had already prepared a code of practice regarding the disposal of animal carcass at landfills. No problem would arise if the proper procedures were followed.

17. The meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
3 September 1997

Last Updated on 18 August 1998