Waste exporters should improve recycling economy

By Zhou Zheng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/7 23:48:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

On July 18, 2017, China notified the WTO it would stop importing four categories of solid waste covering 24 types of material, including polyvinyl chloride by the end of the year. The General Administration of Customs has also acted against the smuggling of "foreign waste."

The world's largest garbage exporters including the US and the UK were shocked by China's decision.

"This action by the Chinese government seems Draconian and against the spirit of international trade, especially as many companies, including our members, have worked hard to improve quality," Adrian Jackson, president of the Recycling Association in the UK commented following the notification. Some also pressed China to reconsider the decision, and some claimed that China's move would damage the industry chain of the recycling economy.

The ban was long overdue and welcomed by Chinese people. Importing such waste filled material shortages in China in recent years. However, large amounts of dirty or even hazardous waste items were mixed in the solid waste that was used as raw materials. This has polluted China's environment and harmed the health of Chinese people.

The decision is a wake-up call for the main waste exporters. Countries such as the US and the UK have maintained a clean environment at the cost of other countries' environmental interests. The model of transferring pollution does not work anymore.

The UK is worried about dealing with the accumulating recyclables because two-thirds of this garbage was shipped to China previously. The US is seeking to export its waste to countries in Southeast Asia, but the market capacity of those countries is limited compared with China.

China did not damage the structure or industry chain of the recycling economy. On the contrary, countries worldwide and the recycling sector should see the opportunities. Developed countries rely on developing countries to digest their waste since the recycling cost in developed countries is very high. International cooperation in the recycling economy is needed so each country can deal with its own waste and reduce costs.

The recycling economy in China started at the end of the 20th century. One advantage of China in this field is that factories usually gathered at industrial parks, making it easier to achieve cooperation among different industries.

At the beginning of the new century, many ecological demonstration parks were built in China, together with pilot areas, cities and bases. The recycling economy's upgrading at industrial parks has made significant progress.

The National Development and Reform Commission has set a goal for the recycling economy, under which more than 75 percent of national industrial parks and more than 50 percent of province-level industrial parks should adopt the recycling economy model by 2020.

Many industrial parks in East China's Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province have already established mature environmental industry chains. The benefits of this situation are self-evident. By promoting the utilization of domestic materials, China can reduce its dependency on resources from abroad.

Many countries already have some form of cooperation when it comes to recycling, but it is not enough. Consultancy  McKinsey & Co forecast that the recycling economy will lead the fourth industrial revolution. Many countries see this as a chance to make an economic transition. China has built long-term and stable cooperative relationships with Germany and Japan in this field. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting listed the recycling economy as one of its important topics. It called for improved research and communication among governments and research institutes to share their successes, unify the evaluation system and exchange technologies.

Chinese companies have incentives to import "trash" because of the high profits involved. Take used clothing as an example: the profit from reselling these garments can be 10 times the cost, even if half of the used clothes have to be trashed.

The cost of garbage disposal is lower in China not because the nation lacks environmental protection laws. China has enacted environmental regulations and standards for both traditional industries and renewable resource industries.

The requirements for companies are very stringent. The problem is that some regions and companies disobey the laws and regulations to keep down production costs. Moving to an industrial park means paying higher rent, as well as meeting requirements for technology and equipment. The government must impose tougher penalties to push up the cost of breaking the law.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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