Illegal discharge of wastewater is something taken very seriously in developed countries – but not in Hong Kong.
ASB Biodiesel, a HK$1.36 billion facility opened with much environmental fanfare by former Financial Secretary John Tsang in 2013, was found in May to be illegally discharging its wastewater into local storm drains. Wastewater test results showed suspended solids and chemical oxygen demand exceeding standards by around 60 times, and levels of oil and grease “far exceeding standards”, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
ASB Biodiesel is a major biodiesel facility, collecting grease and fat from 10,000 Hong Kong, Singapore and Guangdong restaurants every month while producing over 100,000 tonnes of biofuel every year. But the penalty for its illegal wastewater discharges: just HK$10,000 (US$1,280).
To put that in perspective, a small Kwun Tong restaurant found guilty of a less serious offence (in terms of levels of pollution) in August this year was fined HK$20,000. Meanwhile in the UK, companies falling foul of water pollution laws can expect to shell out serious cash: according to The Guardian, Yorkshire Water was fined £1.1 million (HK$11.5 million) for illegally discharging sewage that polluted the river Ouse near York, while Thames Water was fined £1m (HK$10.5 million) for sewage leaks into the Grand Union canal. Cruise firm Princess Cruises was fined a record £32 million (HK$334 million) for dumping oily waste into the sea off the UK, according to The Telegraph.
Under Hong Kong’s Water Pollution Control Ordinance, the maximum fine for ASB Biodiesel’s offence is HK$200,000 and six months’ imprisonment: even the maximum financial penalty is low as a corporate deterrent, but we have to ask, why was a facility the size of ASB Biodiesel, operating at such dangerously lax standards, fined only 5% of the maximum fine? HK$10,000 is pocket change to a corporation seeking expansion into Chinese state-owned oil territory, and probably a fraction of what the company would have paid its lawyers in handling the charge. Once again, all we can do is call shame on the Hong Kong government for its reluctance to truly stand up to our environment.