Hong Kong urged to look into high-profile case of electronic waste illegally shipped to Philippines as Greenpeace loses track of cargo

Hong Kong authorities have been urged to look into a high-profile case where a container holding tonnes of electronic and plastic waste illegally shipped to the Philippines from the city was sent back last week.

But as an environmental group found the cargo did not return to Hong Kong – arriving in Shanghai instead – officials would need to take even more initiative to investigate.

“They didn’t catch it this time,” Greenpeace senior campaigner Kate Lin said. “Hong Kong customs and the Environmental Protection Department have a responsibility to investigate what went wrong.”

The government should have prevented the container from ever leaving the city, Lin said, because its contents were restricted under the Basel Convention, an international treaty preventing the transfer of hazardous waste to developing countries, applicable to Hong Kong.

Greenpeace campaigners in Hong Kong urge authorities to investigate the case. Photo: Greenpeace Hong Kong Office

Greenpeace campaigners in Hong Kong urge authorities to investigate the case. Photo: Greenpeace Hong Kong Office

According to the global NGO, Hong Kong is the world’s largest transit port of plastic trash, with 280,000 tonnes of waste a year passing through. Government inaction and Hong Kong’s status as a free port have exacerbated the city’s waste trade, it said.

The shipping container, loaded with 25 tonnes of crushed electronic materials, was sent by Hong Kong-based company Hin Yuen Tech Env and arrived at Mindanao Container Terminal in the southern Philippines in January.

According to the Philippines government, the company declared false information on the customs docket, describing the cargo as electronic accessories. The cargo was discovered in May.

Greenpeace said the firm did not have the required licence from the Environmental Protection Department to export restricted waste. The origin of the trash, either from Hong Kong or imported from overseas, was unknown.

The department has not been able to confirm the details of the case or explain how the company was able to export the trash.

“We have not yet been able to verify any of the companies or persons involved in the matter,” a department spokesman said. “Once illegal export of waste has been confirmed, we will take appropriate actions according to the law.”

But Lin said Greenpeace, which had been monitoring the ship SITC Nagoya’s movements through a tracking website, lost track of the container after the vessel left the Philippines on June 3 and arrived in Shanghai on June 7.

The Philippines sent the container away on June 3. Photo: Greenpeace Hong Kong Office/ Froilan Gallardo

The Philippines sent the container away on June 3. Photo: Greenpeace Hong Kong Office/ Froilan Gallardo

It did not stop in Hong Kong although according to the export declaration, obtained by Greenpeace, the container’s consignee was a company based in the city.

Greenpeace was unsure if the container was loaded onto a new ship and sent to Hong Kong or elsewhere, or if it was still in Shanghai.

When the Philippines found the smuggled cargo, it immediately vowed to send the container back as it was shaking off its reputation as a dumping ground for foreign trash.

“We’re sending the s*** back,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a May 25 tweet.

Like the Philippines, China is also cracking down on accepting foreign waste. The world’s second largest economy had imported more than 70 per cent of the world’s plastic waste between 1988 and 2016 until it issued a ban in 2017.

Greenpeace said China’s move meant that waste was starting to be redirected, often through Hong Kong, around Southeast Asia.

The Hong Kong government should work hard to prevent trash exported or transited from the city being returned as the international community reduced the waste trade, the NGO said.