Development of “Zero Waste” Cities in China

by Wanjing Lu 03 Mar. 2020

This post describes recent developments of solid waste management in China. 

By the end of 2019, 200 large and medium-sized cities in China produced 1.55 billion tons of general industrial solid waste and 46.403 million tons of industrial hazardous waste[1], 18.3% and 15.8% higher than what was produced in 2018[2]. This staggering amount of waste production is of increasing significance to the public and, as such, China decided to address this issue by introducing the concept of a “zero waste city”. The concept of a “zero waste” city includes 100% recycling of municipal solid waste and 100% recovery of all resources from waste materials. However, transforming currently over-consuming cities into “zero waste” cities is challenging. Therefore, this article mainly aims to explore measures that will be taken (or already are been taken) by the Chinese government to address this tough issue and how these measures will influence companies’ business in China.

Solid_Waste_China

Image created by: Wanjing Lu, Enhesa

Pilot Cities: Are they the future?

Back to the beginning of 2019, the State Council of China published the Work Plan for “Zero Waste” Cities Construction Pilot (“无废城市”建设试点工作方案). The Work Plan aims to continuously promote the source reduction and resource utilization of solid waste, minimize the number of landfills, and minimize the environmental impact of solid waste to develop eco-cities. Therefore, on 30 April 2019, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced 11 pilot cities for “zero waste” construction, including the Economic and Technology Zone of Beijing (北京经济技术开发区), the Ecology City of Tianjin (中新天津生态城), the Shenzhen City in Guangdong province, and the Baotou City in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. By December 2020, companies located in pilot “zero waste” cities may anticipate that the city-level government will issue waste prevention and control policies or measures[3]. The potential upcoming policies aim at:

  • reducing industrial solid waste generation intensity;
  • enhancing the integrated use rate of industrial solid waste;
  • controlling the total storage quantity of industrial solid waste;
  • establishing green designs, green supply chains, extended producer responsibility, or green facilities in manufacture-oriented cities; and
  • strengthening supervision over the generation, transport, use, and disposal of hazardous waste.

As a first step in this process, China is taking measures to reduce overall solid waste imports, restrict solid waste imports by increasing administrative requirements for companies, and prevent and control solid waste pollution.

Pilot_Cities_China

Image created by: Wanjing Lu, Enhesa

Certain Types of Solid Waste Can No Longer Be Imported

To strengthen solid waste import control, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued the Notice on Adjustment of the Lists of Waste Subject to Import Control (关于调整《进口废物管理目录》的公告)[4], which comes into effect on 1 July 2018. As of 1 July 2019, 8 types of solid waste - such as waste steel, copper waste and scrap, and aluminum waste and scrap - were moved from the List of Solid Wastes that Can be Used as Raw Materials Subject to Import Restrictions (限制进口类可用作原料的固体废物目录) to the List of Solid Wastes Prohibited from Being Imported (禁止进口固体废物目录).

China is Implementing New Controls on the Import of Solid Waste 

As of 1 August 2018, China requires companies importing solid waste usable as raw materials to register at the General Administration of Customs. Also, companies must have the imported solid waste inspected by the registered institutions before shipment [5][6][7][8]. As of 1 January 2019, companies importing solid waste to China can only go through customs procedures at the designated ports, which means the Chinese government has limited the import ports for solid wastes.

China is Moving Forward Domestically on Proposals to Prevent and Control Solid Waste

China is taking measures to prevent and control solid waste environmental pollution domestically, as well as internationally by way of import restrictions. For instance, the Chinese government plans to amend the Solid Waste Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Law for better management and supervision of solid waste including industrial solid waste. The Solid Waste Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Law (Draft Amendments),  is under review by the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress (as of July 2019)[9].

The amendment proposes an improved solid waste pollution prevention and control monitoring and supervision system by achieving the following:

  • introducing the solid waste pollution prevention and control credit history (信用记录) system that discloses non-compliance information on the https://www.creditchina.gov.cn/ (national credit information platform);
  • setting the aim of no longer importing any waste from other countries or regions; and
  • allowing the enforcement authority (generally referring to ecology and environment bureaus) to use enforcement measures of seal (查封) and seizure (扣押) on illegal solid waste and relevant equipment or premises.

 Secondly, the draft amendments would strengthen prevention and control of industrial solid waste by:

  • requiring facilities generating industrial solid waste to establish a whole-process environmental pollution prevention responsibility system, keep a waste management logbook (台账), and check the qualification and technical capacity of waste transport, use, and disposal contractors;
  • requiring facilities that generate industrial solid waste to obtain the Pollutant Discharge Permit (排污许可证) and manage the waste according to the Permit; and
  • requiring facilities to conduct clean production audits to reduce the volume of generated industrial waste.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued different types of Technical Specifications for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Discharge Permit regarding different industries in 2019. And there will be more to come in 2020. For example, see the:

  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Industrial Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste Storage, Recycling, Treatment and Disposal, HJ 1033-2019, which came into force on 13 August 2019;
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Waste Resources Processing Industry, HJ 1034-2019, which came into force on 13 August 2019;
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Food Manufacturing Industry – Convenience Food Manufacturing Industry, Food and Feed Additives Manufacturing Industry, HJ 1030.3-2019, which came into force on 13 August 2019;
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Inorganic Chemical Industry, HJ 1035-2019, which came into force on 13 August 2019;
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Polyvinylchloride (PVC) Industry, HJ 1036-2019, which came into force on 13 August 2019;
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Wood-based Panel Industry, HJ 1032-2019, which came into force on 24 July 2019; and
  • Technical Specification for Application and Issuance of Pollutant Permit Electronics Industry, HJ 1031-2019, which came into force on 23 July 2019.

Technical_Specs_China

Besides the central government, governments at all levels are working on preventing and controlling solid waste. Baotou City, for example, plans to establish an online solid waste monitoring platform in 2020 to achieve real-time monitoring and management[10]. The online platform applies to both general industrial solid waste and hazardous waste, particularly bulk industrial solid waste (大宗工业固体废物). The platform aims at:

  • achieving a closed-loop utilization of solid waste regarding the utilization and disposal of general industrial solid waste such as fly ash and smelting slag;
  • monitoring the full process of hazardous waste, from generation to disposal; and
  • promoting the trading platform for bulk industrial solid waste.

Summary

As the world moves towards sustainable development, responsible and effective waste management becomes one of the key issues for China. The transition to a zero-waste circular economy is still a big challenge that requires drastic improvement and even a new vision. The Chinese government is currently working on the fourteenth Five-year Plan (“十四五”规划), which highlights green development. Therefore, there is a strong belief that the launch of the “zero waste” city will be a good start to minimizing solid waste generation and maximize recycling in urban areas. The amendment of the Solid Waste Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Law would further require companies to prevent and control solid waste pollution by imposing newly required administrative procedures and regulating business operations. Public disclosure of non-compliance actions would also be a good practice, as it  generates national concern.

Businesses operating in China should be aware of these new initiatives to control solid waste, from pilot “zero waste” cities to proposed regulatory controls that aim to reduce waste over the next decade. 

Footnotes

[1] 2019 National Large and Medium-sized City Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Annual Report. Ministry of Ecology and Environment, 31 December 2019, available online: http://www.mee.gov.cn/ywgz/gtfwyhxpgl/gtfw/201912/P020191231360445518365.pdf (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[2] 2018 National Large and Medium-sized City Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Annual Report. Ministry of Ecology and Environment, 2 January 2019, available online: http://www.mee.gov.cn/hjzl/sthjzk/gtfwwrfz/201901/P020190102329655586300.pdf (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[3] Guidance on Developing Implementation Plans for Pilot "Zero Waste" Cities and the Index System for Constructing "Zero Waste" Cities, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, 8 May 2019, available online: http://www.mee.gov.cn/xxgk2018/xxgk/xxgk06/201905/t20190513_702598.html (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[4] Notice on Adjustment of the Lists of Waste Subject to Import Control, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, 25 December 2018, available online: http://www.mee.gov.cn/xxgk2018/xxgk/xxgk01/201812/t20181227_687488.html (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[5] List of Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies for Solid Waste Imported as Raw Materials Approved for Filing (First Batch), General Administration of Customs, 7 November 2018, available online: http://www.customs.gov.cn/customs/302249/zfxxgk/gkml287/index.html?callbackUrl=/tabid/1165/InfoID/32270/Default.aspx (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[6] List of Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies for Solid Waste Imported as Raw Materials Approved for Filing (Second Batch), General Administration of Customs, 2 January 2019, available online: http://tianjin.customs.gov.cn/customs/302249/302266/302267/2167823/index.html (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[7] List of Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies for Solid Waste Imported as Raw Materials Approved for Filing (Third Batch), General Administration of Customs, 26 June 2019, available online: http://www.customs.gov.cn/customs/302249/zfxxgk/gkml287/index.html?callbackUrl=/tabid/1165/InfoID/36145/Default.aspx (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[8] List of Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies for Solid Waste Imported as Raw Materials Approved for Filing (Fourth Batch), General Administration of Customs, 28 November 2019, available online: http://www.customs.gov.cn/customs/302249/zfxxgk/gkml287/index.html?callbackUrl=/tabid/1165/InfoID/36145/Default.aspx (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[9] Solid Waste Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Law (Draft Amendments), Standing Committee of National People's Congress, 5 July 2019, available online: http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/c36715/25844.shtml (Accessed 15 January 2020).

[10] Baotou Promotes for the Construction of “Zero Waste” City, available online: http://www.mee.gov.cn/home/ztbd/rdzl/wfcsjssd/sdjb/201907/t20190715_710679.shtml (Accessed 15 January 2020).