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ASE and TSMC and the wisdom of going green
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-12-24 12:05 PM
ASE Group’s K7 plant in Kaohsiung has been ordered by the city’s Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) to shut down its operations following the disclosure that it was discharging untreated effluent into the Houjin River outside the plant in Nantse Industrial Park. The EPB found the plant’s violations of water pollution laws to be severe enough to warrant closing the plant until its wastewater effluent meets environmental standards.

ASE’s K7 plant accounts for nearly 10% of the group’s total revenues and about one-third of earnings among its plants in the Kaohsiung area. The plant employs more than 5,000 workers, and if the shutdown lasts more than three months, it will not only eat into ASE’s bottom line, it could also precipitate the departure of valuable clients.

ASE is the world's largest IC packaging and testing plant, a key link in many production chains in Taiwan's semiconductor industry, and a sudden stoppage in the plant’s operations is certain to affect the domestic economy and employment at the plant. It will also disrupt the global supply chain to some extent, and factories overseas will be keeping close tabs on how Taiwan’s government handles this tricky issue.

Be that as it may, ASE’s wanton discharge of untreated sewage directly into local waterways cannot be ignored. If this first step toward real protection of the environment in Taiwan is not taken, the victims will be many – the people of Taiwan and the land that nurtures them, as well as generations to come.

One does not have to look very hard to find examples of how ASE should have been handling its wastewater. TSMC is another giant in Taiwan’s chip industry with a global reputation for quality and innovation. In Taiwan, TSMC also serves as a benchmark for handling waste products from chip production.

As the company explains it, TSMC optimizes its production processes to minimize consumption of raw materials as well as output of waste products. This approach yields two very useful and non-conflicting benefits: it serves to protect the environment, and also contributes greatly to TSMC’s efforts to minimize costs.

The first step in TSMC’s overall strategy for handling water pollution is reducing the amount of pollutants in process wastewater. If there are less pollutants in the water, it’s easier to clean the water – that’s simple enough. The second step is a strict front-end wastewater categorization strategy that improves treatment efficiency. TSMC’s extensive wastewater treatment system identifies and handles 20 different categories of effluent. Once the types of wastewater have been categorized they are given the kind of treatment best suited to remove the pollutants. Once this is done, water that meets standards for re-use is recycled, while water which still contains pollutants is treated to neutralize their effect. Effluent water quality must be better than or compliant with governmental standards before being discharged into the environment.

TSMC recycles more than 85% of its treated wastewater for re-use, significantly reducing the company’s drain on local water resources. The cleanest water is reused in manufacturing, while second-grade water goes to uses such as cooling-tower water. Wastewater that cannot be recycled is discharged to treatment facilities for final wastewater treatment.

TSMC says its water conservation measures reduced its operating costs by NT$400 million (US$13.255 million) in 2010.

After 20 or 30 years of improvements, TSMC is understandably proud of its wastewater treatment system. The company also offers its experience and expertise in handling effluents to others in industry, often inviting outsiders to visit and inspect its facilities. This approach to wastewater handling and environmental protection is a practice other companies would do well to emulate.

TSMC also requires all new factories and buildings in its system to obtain national green building certification as well as certification from LEED NC U.S. Green Building certification, the highest standards in environmental protection requirements. TSMC's high-tech operations compete hard in the market, even as the company strives to take good care of the environment.

Now the question is, if TSMC can do this, why can’t ASE? It’s not that ASE is incapable of doing it. ASE has the technology, the facilities and the funds to do a world-class job of cleaning up waste products and protecting the environment. In the past, the company enlisted the help of some of the best in the industry in setting up facilities for treating wastewater and by-products of operations. The Materials and Chemical Research Labs (MCL) at ITRI in Hsinchu lists ASE among its showcase clients in treating pollution. As the MCL website notes, “Our industrial clients, to name a few, are TSMC and ASE of the IC industry, AUO of the flat panel industry, SAS of the solar cell industry and Epistar of the LED industry.”

At one time, ASE had the facilities and the will to ‘do the right thing’ in handling its waste. So what happened? ASE got greedy. Anxious to beef up the bottom line, ASE simply decided that it would make more money and leave it to others to bear the consequences of pollution.

The only question now is: does ASE have the will? Hopefully ASE has learned a lesson from its tangle with authorities, and hopefully decision-makers at other companies who have slacked off on their responsibility to the environment and the people of Taiwan will take note of ASE’s experience.

It is way past time for polluters to ‘clean up their act.’ Time and patience are getting short, and both industry and the public need to pay attention to their impact on the world around us and the value of environmental responsibility. The simple fact is, taking care of the environment is taking care of ourselves. Companies that ignore that fact in blindly chasing profits are setting themselves up for a fall.

Those who choose to pollute need to take a closer look at green technology and its place in modern technology. As the experience of TSMC and many others shows, taking the green path in production involves costs in some ways, but it also brings savings that can offset or even overmatch costs. Going green is good for the earth, and it is also good for industry. For those whose eyes are constantly on that bottom line, remember: when applied properly and conscientiously, green technology makes dollars, and it also makes sense.

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