On Feb. 25, 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao signed a State Council decree on Regulations on Recovery and Disposal of Waste Electric and Electronic Products (hereinafter referred to as Regulations), which will be put into effect as of Jan. 1, 2011. Supervisors from Office of Legislative Affairs, the State Council and MEP answered reporters' questions on related issues.
Q: Why is there a need to formulate such a Regulation?
A: Now China has become a big producer and consumer of electric and electronic products with quite a number of products seeing the peak period of elimination and write-off. The 2006 Year Book of Statistics reported that China had 490 million TV sets, 220 million fridges, 260 million washing machines, 150 million air conditioners and 80 million computers as of 2006, which added up to 1.2 billion pieces of electric products. The abandoned number of the above five types of products in 2006 posted 4.6 million TV sets, 2.1 million fridges, 2.5 million washing machines, 1.4 million air conditioners and 2 million computers, a total of 12.6 million sets. In addition, there have been a large number of obsolete mobile phones, copycats, fax machines and printers.
Currently, there are three channels in China absorbing waste electric and electronic products. First, these used products are collected by street vendors or by manufacturers and distributors by means of trade-in sales. These products fill the second-hand market and are sold to low-end consumers. Second, these products are transferred to specific regions and groups such as the western region and schools funded by Project Hope in the name of donation. Third, they are used for dismantling, processing and extracting noble metal and other raw materials. Current problems of environmental pollution mainly arise from the third channel, for numerous private workshops adopt crude method to extract noble metal for short-term profit such as open burning and soaking in strong acid. They discharge waste gas, liquid and residues at will, causing serious pollution to air, soil and water environment and harming people's health. Although local governments at all levels have shown much concern about environmental and health problems caused by waste electronic products, there still lack strong and effective measures. Thus it is imperative to enhance management of electronic waste processing through legal method and promote sustainable development.
There are many useful resources among waste electric products including copper, aluminum, iron and various noble metal, glass and plastics, which show much value for reuse. The cost of obtaining resources through renewable sources is much less than that from processing and smelting ores and raw materials and it helps to conserve energy. Enhancing recovery and use of e-waste has a great significance for developing circular economy and overcoming the obstacle set by shortage of resources. As a big consumer and producer of electric and electronic products, China's move to regulate recovery and disposal of e-waste will prevent and reduce environmental pollution, facilitate comprehensive use of resources and the development of circular economy and help to build a resource-efficient society and safeguard public health.
Q: What is the scope of adjustment?
A: The Regulation sets requirements on recovery, disposal and related activities concerning abandoned electric and electronic products listed in the Catalogue of Waste Electric and Electronic Products for Recovery and Disposal (hereinafter referred to as Catalogue). NDRC is now working with related departments of the State Council on the types of products to be first incorporated into the Catalogue, which will then be submitted to the State Council for approval within the preparatory period for the implementation of the Regulation. The Catalogue can be supplemented or adjusted as needed in the future and applied to a wider range of products.
The defined activities for disposal of waste electric and electronic products refer to dismantling of such products for extraction of substances as raw materials or fuel, a method in which the products' physical and chemical property is changed to reduce the number of generated e-waste, reduce or remove the harmful substances and put them to the landfill in line with environmental standard. Product maintenance, retrofit and reuse of products that have been maintained or retrofitted are not included. Given management of old electric and electronic products involves product safety, protection of intellectual property, cracking down on illegal activities and destroying stolen goods, the purpose of management is to protect the legitimate rights and interests of consumers buying second-hand e-products. This is quite different from managing recovery and disposal of e-waste, promoting comprehensive use of resources, protection and improvement of the environment and safeguarding people's health. Therefore, the Regulation does not include management of second-hand e-products and disposal of e-waste as referred to in the article which excludes product maintenance, retrofit and reuse of repaired or retrofitted products.
Q: Why e-waste is subjected to multi-channel recovery and centralized disposal?
A: Recovery of e-waste concerns every household and relatively stable recovery channels have been formed on a voluntary basis including sales (trade-in), maintenance, relocation services and refuse collection system, etc. Ministry of Commerce and other departments are taking measures to guide and regulate recovery of waste materials. The Regulation maintains existing multi-channel recovery system.
Unregulated dismantling and extraction of raw materials is the major reason that e-waste may cause serious environmental pollution and harm people's health. So such activities must be controlled. According to article 12 of the Law of People's Republic of China on Administrative Licensing, administrative licensing may set for special activities related to public security, ecological protection and those having direct impact on human health and security of life and property which need to be approved in accordance with legal conditions. The Regulation set a permit system for e-waste disposal, allowing companies with e-waste disposal licenses to dismantle products, extract raw materials and dispose of the remains in line with environmental standard. That is the centralized system for disposal. The licenses are approved by competent environmental protection departments of municipalities. Conditions for approval include the following: with complete facilities for e-waste disposal; schemes for proper use or disposal of e-waste that cannot be fully disposed of; with sorting, packaging and other equipment fit for e-waste being treated; with professionals specialized in safety, quality control and environmental protection.
Now that it is difficult to eliminate existing massive handicraft workshops engaged in dismantling and disposal of e-waste or transform them into qualified companies in a short period of time, it is necessary to have centralized process shifting dispersive activities to treatment centers in local areas and finally to professional disposal companies. The Regulation provides that centralized disposal sites for e-waste can be established upon approval of provincial people's government. The disposal sites should have in place complete facilities for concentrated disposal of pollutants, conform to national or local technical standard for pollution discharges and prevention and control of pollution from solid waste and observe provisions of the Regulation on comprehensive use of resources, environmental protection, labor safety, human health protection and technological and process requirements. Concentrated e-waste disposal sites should abide by national and local plans for industrial districts, strike a balance between local plan of land use and such plans for urban and rural development and quicken the steps for industrial upgrade.
Q: What is special fund for e-waste disposal? Why do we need to set up this system?
A: According to the Regulation, the government will establish a fund for e-waste disposal to subsidize collection and disposal of e-waste. Manufacturers of electric and electronic products, consignees or agents of imported e-products should fulfill their payment obligations as required.
The fund system was proposed according to related laws and regulations and China's national conditions. It also borrowed from international practice on producer responsibility system. First, the Law of People's Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Pollution by Solid Wastes specifies that polluters should be responsible for prevention and control of pollution from solid waste. Producers, sellers and users of products are responsible for preventing and controlling pollution from solid waste they generate. Second, some incentive measures are needed to promote producers to assume the responsibility of e-waste collection and disposal and to support industrialized operation of such companies. Third, some practices of other countries show producers also pay for waste collection and disposal and special organizations are retained to do the work.
To ensure fairness and transparency of fund collection and use, the Regulation requires that opinions of e-product manufacturers, disposal companies, industrial associations and experts should be given full consideration when setting standards for charge and subsidy.
Q: What are the roles for producers, sellers, waste collectors and disposers?
A: 1. E-product manufacturers are responsible for a green way of production, which has been defined in the Law of People's Republic of China on the Promotion of Clean Production. Foreign experience has proved that producers may reduce the use of polluting materials at source by accomplishing green design and green production, which is the fundamental solution to electronic pollution. The Regulation stipulates that e-products made by producers or imported by consignees or their agents shall follow national regulation on pollution control from e-products, adopt design schemes helpful to resource utilization and environmental sound disposal and use materials free from or at low level of toxicity and hazard and easy for recovery and reuse. The labels or instructions of such products should indicate concentrations of toxic and hazardous substances and tips for recovery and disposal.
2. The Regulation provides that sellers, maintenance organizations and after-sales services shall put e-waste recovery and disposal marks at notable spot of their businesses. Collected e-waste should be disposed of by licensed companies.
3. According to the Regulation, collectors of e-waste shall provide diversified and convenient recovery services for e-product users. E-waste collectors should obtain license as required before processing abandoned products. Unlicensed collectors should turn recovered waste to qualified dealers for disposal. Recovered e-products, once resold after repair, must comply with national mandatory requirements on human health, life and property security and be marked as "second-hand" in prominence. The management measures are to be worked out by Ministry of Commerce.
4. The responsibilities of waste disposers are as follows: first, they shall obtain license before dealing with e-waste. Second, e-waste disposal shall abide by national requirements on resource utilization, environmental protection, labor safety and human health protection. Use of eliminated technology or technical process for waste disposal is prohibited. Third, waste disposal companies shall establish a routine environmental monitoring system for e-waste disposal. Fourth, disposers should establish a system for data management and report basic information to local environmental department. The data should be kept for at least three years.
In addition, organizations and individuals dealing with e-waste collection, storage, transport and disposal shall observe national regulations on environmental protection and sanitation management.
Q: How will the government supervise and manage e-waste disposal?
A: The government will supervise and manage e-waste collection and disposal in four aspects. First, government encourages and supports scientific research, technology development, study of technical standard and demonstration, promotion and application of new technologies, techniques and equipment related to e-waste disposal. Second, the competent departments for resource utilization, quality inspection and supervision, environmental protection and information technology under the State Council will develop related policies and technical specifications for e-waste disposal according to their own functions as defined. Third, environmental protection departments at provincial level shall work with other departments at the same level in charge of resource utilization, commerce, industry and information technology to draft local plan for e-waste disposal and submit the plan to Ministry of Environmental Protection for the record. Fourth, local people's government shall incorporate construction of infrastructure for e-waste disposal into urban and rural development plan.
Q: Why will the Regulation take effect as of Jan. 1, 2011?
A: International experience and domestic conditions show that a preparatory period for implementation is needed. During this period the following work shall be done. First, to popularize knowledge on resource conservation and utilization and environmental protection; second, to formulate Catalogue of Waste Electric and Electronic Products for Recovery and Disposal, measures on collection and use of e-waste disposal fund and charges and subsidy for different types of products; third, supervision departments, producers, sellers, collectors and disposers should get ready for it. The two years since the promulgation of the Regulation will be a time for preparation and transition. The Regulation will take effect as of Jan. 1, 2011.
(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)