Environmental protection group Greenpeace East Asia has found several workshops storing “waste mountains” in Hong Kong’s New Territories, breaching air pollution rules or suspected to be handling hazardous material illegally.
Most are on “brownfield” sites earmarked for new town development, including at Kwu Tung North, New Territories North and Yuen Long South.
In one case, land resumption has been delayed by two months because some tenants are unhappy with the compensation.
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“The government needs a comprehensive brownfield policy to prevent more sites from being used for illegal waste storage and disposal,” Greenpeace campaigner Chan Hall-sion said. “They should make better use of existing land resources before considering alternatives like reclamation.”
She urged the authorities to test the contamination levels at the sites and come up with a plan to clean them before they were used for housing.
Brownfield sites refer mainly to disused agricultural land in the New Territories now occupied by warehouses for industrial, storage and logistics purposes, or used for parking.
A government task force identified such sites as a viable short- to medium-term option to ease the scarcity of land for housing, but has been criticised for doing it on only a limited scale.
Officials countered that some operations on these sites had economic value and relocating them would be a problem.
Greenpeace used satellite imagery and visited the sites before identifying more than 20 hectares with tall heaps of waste or improper handling of scrap.
Among other things, it found scrap metal, circuit boards and plastic piling up and forming so-called waste mountains over more than 1,000 square metres in Ha Tsuen, Lau Fau Shan and Wang Chau. The piles were estimated to be as high as eight metres.
The most extreme case was near Kai Pak Ling Road in Ha Tsuen, where Greenpeace identified nine heaps of waste over 5.5 hectares. The site is part of the Hung Shui Kiu new development area.
A visit by the Post found some of the heaps rising higher than containers stacked on the open storage site.
In checks last month, the green group found that waste had accumulated to form a “mountain” in less than six months. Satellite imagery showed that it did not exist in February.
In a reply to the Post, the Planning Department said recycling waste was a permitted use for sites along Kai Pak Ling Road that were zoned for storage or logistics purposes.
It said it would look into the dumps at a small area zoned for petrol stations and roads, because the approval to use it for storage was revoked in March.
The Environmental Protection Department said it had issued air pollution abatement notices to six sites at Kai Pak Ling Road, Ha Tsuen, Lau Fau Shan and Wang Chau used for recycling or storing aluminium.
They were told to cover the piles of aluminium to avoid dust pollution from the sorting process at the recycling yards.
Businesses on land near Kai Pak Ling Road, zoned for the Hung Shui Kiu new development area, were earlier told they had to move out by the end of July.
But the Lands Department said they now have up to September 30 to go before clearance operations began.
The tenant of one open storage site, who only gave his surname Tang, said issues over compensation were still to be resolved before the tenants could go.
“People are not unwilling to leave. The problem is the compensation is unfair, so we are in talks with the authorities over it,” he said.
Greenpeace campaigner Chan doubted that the authorities could take back the land by the end of this month.
Noting that occupants did not observe the earlier July deadline, she said: “Their operations have continued to expand. It seems like they have no intention of leaving. The deadline may have to be extended again.”
Greenpeace also found at least 17 workshops suspected of illegally storing or dismantling regulated electrical and electronic appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, television sets and computers.
Among them were workshops in Hung Lung Hang West that it found dismantling LCD monitors in 2018. Chan said the site was still in operation and had also started disassembling electric scooters.
The Environmental Protection Department noted that the scooters there were recycled locally but suspected that the workshops might be flouting the rules on handling chemical waste.
It said it was collecting evidence and considering further enforcement action.