No,Thanks China Bans the Import of Certain Classes of Waste

2018-07-10 17:59:38 China Pictorial2018年6期

by Zi Mei

On June 17, 2017, China declared to the World Trade Organization(WTO) that by the end of the year, it would no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste. And by the end of 2019, it will gradually stop importing the solid waste that can be replaced by domestic resources.

Due to Chinas ban on foreign waste import, many countries including the U.S., Britain and South Korea could face a garbage crisis. In March 2018, a U.S. official even raised concerns at the WTO, declaring that “Chinas import restrictions on recycled commodities have caused a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials.”

“Restricting and banning the import of solid waste is an important measure China is taking to shift to a new development concept, improve environmental quality and safeguard the peoples health,” explained Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman of Chinas Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Biggest Importer

In the 1990s, when Chinas economy shifted into high gear, its demand for raw materials greatly increased. Compounded by indifference about the environmental cost and weak oversight, Chinas annual scrap imports multiplied tenfold from 4.5 million tons to 45 million tons in the two decades from 1995 to 2016.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been an eager exporter. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2016, China imported US$5.6 billion worth of scrap metal, US$1.9 billion worth of waste paper(13.2 million tons) and US$495 million of waste plastic (1.42 million tons). The big market fueled development of a large industrial chain. Robin Wiener, president of the ISRI, estimated that 155,000 jobs in the U.S. involve waste exporting to China.

And 27 countries in the European Union directly or indirectly shipped 87 percent of their recycled plastic to China. British newspaper The Guardian reported that the U.K. exported 2.7 million tons of waste plastic to China annually, accounting for two thirds of the countrys total volume.

“The U.S. is the worlds largest exporter of waste,” said Dong Zhanfeng, vice director of the Department for Environmental Policy at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning.“Before the ban, China was the largest receiver of American waste—as much as 40 percent of its total exports. The U.S. blamed China at the WTO because it hopes to continue transferring its trash to alleviate its burden with dangerous domestic waste and a massive volume of regular trash. Also, the U.S. wants to shirk its responsibilities in global environmental governance.”

Of course, scrap trade does have its benefits. “For developed countries, trash can become cash,” Dong noted. “And China did not have to cut its trees and dig its oil for some raw materials it needs. Actually, in the early period of Chinas reform and opening up, the import of waste had some positive impacts on Chinas social development and lowered production costs. But this process was at great environmental sacrifice.”

Environmental Costs

Along with authorized imported waste, a great deal of foreign garbage was smuggled into China annually. Behind the 400-percent profit rate of some in the recycling industry were huge costs to the environment and public health.

Last July, Chinas Ministry of Ecology and Environment carried out a one-month campaign to check 1,792 companies engaged in processing and utilization of waste and found that 1,074 of them, as high as 60 percent, violated environmental protection regulations. “Solid waste importing just creates more and more problems, especially when imported waste is mixed with banned rubbish and even hazardous substances,” said Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment Li Ganjie.“Furthermore, the reprocessing and uti- lization of imported waste leads to great damage to the environment.”

Once dubbed the “Global Electronic Waste Town,” Guiyu in Guangdong Province recycled old electronic products by crudely dismantling imported electronic trash, which caused serious pollution to the local air, water and soil. Back in the mid-1990s, Guiyus underground water was too polluted to drink. In 2009, a physical check of the villagers under Guiyus jurisdiction showed that 80 percent of primary and junior high school students suffered from respiratory diseases. And a survey in 2011 showed that 25 percent of local newborns had too much chromium in their bodies.

“We have spent nearly a decade upgrading the industrial structure, curbing pollution and aiding the victims, so Guiyus situation is improving,”said Professor Du Huanzheng, founder of the environmental improvement project for Guiyu and director of the Institute of Recycled Economics at Tongji University in Shanghai. “But some damage to both people and the environment is irreversible.”

“Banning hazardous waste and restricting solid waste imports are important measures China is taking to improve its environment and protect public health,” said Dong Zhanfeng. And according to the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, every country has the right to ban the entry of foreign hazardous waste and other sorts of waste. China is a party to the convention.

Erik Solheim, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, believes the ban on foreign garbage is the right choice for China. He stressed that China has the full right to protect its people from the plague of foreign rubbish.

Opportunities Behind Challenges

Many countries dropped into trash pandemonium after Chinas announcement of the ban, as did some of Chinas domestic enterprises. For example, in the recycled plastic market, domestic suppliers could hardly fill the gap of several million tons, which drove the price of used plastic per ton in China to 8,000 yuan, 50 percent up compared to 2015.

But the ban will force both the domestic and international recycling industry to upgrade.

“After the ban, related companies will have to turn their eyes to the domestic market,” Dong predicted.“But Chinese companies vary in terms of scale and level, and their techniques lag far behind some of their foreign counterparts. Consequently, enterprises using high technology and innovative techniques will enjoy a better future and those without such advantages will shut down or transform. So, in the short term, the ban will cause a negative impact on some companies, but in the long run, it will be good for the whole industry and facilitate a technological upgrade.”

“We need to improve our skills in recycling and utilizing our own waste, while banning imported waste,” notes Professor Liu Jianguo with the School of Environment at Tsinghua University. “A key reason that developed countries have formed an extensive industry involving solid waste exports is that they use very strict systems for waste sorting. This export-oriented solid garbage classification enhances the scale and effectiveness of efforts to recycle waste paper and plastic. So strict waste sorting can enhance environmental protection and economic growth as well. We need to promote it actively with greater efforts.”

Michael J. Schneider, spokesperson from Remondis, Germanys largest environmental services provider, noted that Chinas ban has exerted great pressure on related enterprises in Germany and other European countries, but at the same time, put them on the alert. He believes that this will push the economic decision-makers of Germany and the Eurozone to reassess their own recycling industries and take the necessary measures to adapt.