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Greenpeace Seizes Illegal Toxic Waste Shipment in
Hong Kong

September 22, 1997, Hong Kong Greenpeace activists from China and Australia today occupied the freighter Zim Sydney, which shipped three containers of illegal Australian hazardous computer scrap (1) into Hong Kong's Kwai Chung Container Terminal. They have vowed to stay onboard the ship until Hong Kong and Australian authorities agree to return the contaminated cargo to Australia.

The activists hung banners from the top of the vessel reading "Stop Toxic Trade" in English and Hong Kong - First Asylum Port for Foreign Garbage in Chinese.

Because of weak hazardous waste legislation, Hong Kong has become a favoured transhipment port for toxic waste. Waste traders often sneak their illegal cargoes through the territory into China and to adjacent countries under the guise of recycling. It is likely that this shipment was destined for southern China. Hazardous waste can only be exported from Australia if the transhipment port and recipient country agree to accept the cargo (2).

Hong Kong laws are so weak that we are issuing an open invitation for waste traders from around the world to ship poison through Hong Kong to our Asian neighbours, said Clement Lam Hau Keen of Greenpeace China. Stringent laws are urgently needed to ban both the import and transhipment of all hazardous waste, Lam stressed.

Amongst other substances, computer scrap contains toxic lead, cadmium, barium, mercury, and deadly Polychlorinated Biphenyls. Circuit boards, cables and plastic casings are often coated with brominated flame-retardants, which release dioxins when burned. Dioxins are arguably the most poisonous substances on earth.

The waste was loaded into containers at the notorious HiTechnology Metal Recyclers and transferred to Port Botany in Sydney on September 12. From there it was illegally exported onboard Zim Sydney without an Australian government permit and without "Prior Informed Consent" as required under Australia's Hazardous Waste (Exports and Imports) Act (2).

The Australian government has become the dirty old man of Asia," said Simon McRae of Greenpeace Australia. "Australia must keep its toxic waste at home and stop poisoning the people of Asia.

In 1989 the world community adopted the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal (3). The Convention was designed to stop rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from dumping hazardous waste on the rest of the world. However many countries, including Australia, continue to use the loophole of recycling to avoid high disposal costs and stringent environmental standards at home. They ship their hazardous cargoes to less-industrialised countries where labour costs are lower and environmental regulations either weaker or more difficult to enforce.

"It is time for Australia and other industrialised countries to stop using Asia as a garbage dump." said Lam. "We appeal to the OECD countries to honour their international commitments and keep their toxic waste at home."


(1) The fourth Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention will take place in Malaysia from October 6-10. At this meeting the countries will adopt a hazardous waste list that will prohibit the trade in toxic substances from OECD to non-OECD countries for recycling and recovery. Hazardous computer scrap is included on this list.

(2) The Basel Convention also requires Prior Informed Consent (PIC) -- OECD countries shipping hazardous waste to non-OECD countries must first get the agreement of the recipient country and of any countries that the waste will be transhipped through. Additionally, the shipping country must notify the Secretariat of the Basel Convention of all hazardous waste shipments. China's National Environmental Protection Agency also required PIC so this shipment, if destined for mainland China, is illegal under Chinese law.

(3) In 1989 the international community established the Basel Convention to deal with the increasing trade of hazardous waste between countries. The Convention made it clear that the bulk of hazardous waste was generated in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries and the prime destination was non-OECD countries. By 1994 the Parties to the Convention agreed to immediately ban hazardous waste trade from OECD to non-OECD countries for final disposal. They also agreed that shipping hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries for recycling would be banned by 1998. However, Australia is opposed to the recycling ban on hazardous materials.

Full Story in Chinese