Beijing apparently plans to extend these restrictions to include e-waste. Furthermore, the topic of electrical and electronic waste recycling in Asia is generally of great importance and relevance.
In no other region of the world is there as much electrical and electronic waste as in Asia. In 2014 alone, the continent produced 16 million tonnes of e-waste. And the upward trend continues unabated, as a recent study conducted by the United Nations University (UNU) shows. Between 2010 and 2015, the volume of e-waste in East and Southeast Asia increased by 63 per cent. In China, e-waste production more than doubled to 6.7 million tonnes during the same period.
Dr Woon Eden Yi-teng, Vice Chairman Asia at ALBA. Dr Woon will talk about the growing recycling business in China and present ALBA’s model for the environmental service sector. ICM talked to him in the run-up to the conference.
Dr Woon, China’s economic growth has slowed down somewhat recently, but is still at a high level. How do you assess the current economic development for the economy as a whole and in particular for the recycling sector?
Even if the Chinese economy is no longer experiencing the strong growth it experienced over the last 20 years, compared with other Asian economies, its growth rate is still high. The current economic policy is characterised by the concept of “new normality” and aims to rebuild the entire Chinese economy. As such, industries which are no longer competitive will be replaced and a higher level of added value will be achieved. It is no longer a matter of pure expansion, but rather, of innovation. “New normality” leads to an economic model driven by innovation, a model which is based on sustainable, socially equal and “green” growth. And this presents enormous growth opportunities for the recycling sector, particularly as this sector is still a relatively new part of the Chinese economy. In China, the recycling demand has experienced huge growth from 2015 to 2016 – by 3.7 per cent in quantity and a huge 14.7 per cent in value.
The Chinese government has announced that it will no longer import certain types of waste. To what extent will import restrictions also have an impact on the e-waste recycling industry?
Even with restrictions placed on imports, the national recycling economy still must deal with the huge amounts of waste continuing to be produced in China as a matter of priority. The Chinese authorities are currently revising the regulations governing the import of residue fractions. Their focus lies on scrap, plastic and paper. As iron scrap and plastic are parts–or fractions–of electronic waste, every modification will have its effects. The objective of making these modifications is to–as far as is possible–only allow residue fractions which have been sorted and clearly defined, without any residual waste, to be imported into China. As such, there will be increasing requirements placed on users/recyclers who want to put their partial fractions on the Chinese market. This means that preparation processes for electronic waste will become higher end – if no other takers are found to take on the current quality standards.
How advanced is the recycling of e-waste and end-of-life vehicles in China?
At the moment, the standards of quality in the recycling of end-of-life vehicles (ELV) and e-waste vary greatly across China and Hong Kong, depending on regional legislations and how these regions organise collection. In some regions, it is possible to find extremely advanced plants that correspond to European standards – such as ALBA’s new WEEE processing plant in Hong Kong which will soon be officially opened. Here in Hong Kong, just as in quite a number of regions across Mainland China, the more stringent regulations governing producer responsibility are having an impact. However, on a day-to-day basis, it is still possible to see incorrect e-waste processes in many instances. As such, there is plenty of room for improvement.
The recycling rate for scrap cars is still low compared to other industrial nations. In the majority of areas where legislation is less strict, trade and the simplest forms of manually dismantling equipment prevail. We anticipate that the Chinese government will make the regulations on e-waste, just as for ELVs, stricter, and that they will particularly encourage these recycling operations to be implemented.
What are the main priorities for the future orientation of Chinese recycling policy?
There are two approaches, as we see it: On the one hand, there’s a need for legal and industrial standards to be implemented in the recycling industry in order to set a clear framework for the collection, sorting, and processing of as many types of waste as possible, including household waste. This requires comprehensive monitoring. This is the best way to further develop an effective corporate structure. On the other hand, the government should expand the “polluter pays” principle, as well as the responsibility of the producer, to include all types of waste. On this point, education for the public is vital, and even more important than punitive measures. Both approaches contribute towards achieving these key objectives: less environmental pollution, the use of existing resources, and the reduction of CO2 emissions.
What kind of know-how from foreign recycling companies is currently in great demand in China?
There is a high demand for advanced technology to be implemented in order to automate the recycling process and to lower its environmental impact. For example, municipal solid waste presents a particular challenge as over 70 per cent is currently being dumped without any prior treatment, and as such it has an extremely damaging impact on the environment. Third generation recycling technology implemented by ALBA for household waste offers significantly more advantages compared to landfilling (first generation) and waste incineration (second generation). This process involves the initial separation of harmful substances, with the valuable substances being recovered. The rest is converted into “Green Coal” – a type of substitute fuel. This is then employed in power plants for example by means of energy recovery. In this way, we can offer an effective solution for both of the mega-trends in China – too much waste and too few resources.