BEING in earnest

 Xie Zhenhua describes China’s implementation of the Basel Convention

China was among the first countries to join the Basel Convention. We have not only actively participated in its international activities, but also earnestly carried out its various duties. Our efforts in implementing it can be summarized as:

1. To promulgate and issue laws and regulations on waste management.

In October 1995, the National People’s Congress adopted the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes of the People’s Republic of China. The guiding ideology and principles in making this Law well reflect the tenet of the Basel Convention to minimize hazardous wastes to the greatest extent possible. The Law set down fundamental management systems, such as a system of waste registration, a permit system for dealing in hazardous waste, a system of reporting sheets on their movements, and so on – all of which are being implemented.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the state advocated cleaner production measures in some industries, thereby reducing wastes. The Central Government adopted the economic policy of encouraging their comprehensive use, which helped to raise the utilization rate for solid wastes to 43 per cent. Cities are now building their own centralized disposal facilities for hazardous wastes and municipal solid wastes.

2. To issue the National Catalogue of Hazardous Wastes.

In January 1998, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) – the Government department responsible for implementing the Basel Convention – together with the Commission of Economy and Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, and the Ministry of Public Security, issued the National Catalogue of Hazardous Wastes, which listed 47 different types, their sources and the hazardous substances they contain. Methods, labels and standards for identifying hazardous wastes are now being established.

3. To implement the permit system for waste imports.

China has been practising the environmental management of waste imports ever since 1991. In April 1996, SEPA, with five other ministries and commissions, jointly issued the Provisional Environmental Management Regulation on the Import of Waste – which lists 10 kinds of wastes which can be used as raw materials but whose import is restricted. These include: waste steel, waste copper, waste aluminium, waste plastics, waste ships and waste electronic hardware equipment. All the wastes on the list can only be imported after the local and central environmental departments complete their examination and give approval.

Those wanting to import wastes must commission technical units to evaluate the possible environmental impact, examine countermeasures, and compile an Evaluation Report. SEPA examines all the Waste-Import Applications and Evaluation Reports on Environmental Impact, and gives permits for importing wastes to those who meet the necessary criteria. The potential importer can then go on to the next procedure, reporting to the commercial inspection department at the port and the customs office, which give their permission if the cargo meets their respective requirements.

4. To find and punish cases of illegal transboundary movement of wastes.

Certain industrialized countries began illegally transporting wastes to China at the end of the 1980s. By the early 1990s, this had developed into a trend and the number of cases was increasing. China then adopted resolute measures to prevent imported pollutants and protect the environment. In 1993 imported chemical industrial wastes were found in Nanjing, and in 1995 municipal wastes were imported to Nanchang. In both cases, the environmental department charged the parties involved to return the wastes to the lands of origin. Cases of illegal import of ‘foreign wastes’ were also identified, and dealt with, in some regions in 1996. These Government actions greatly enhanced the public’s environmental awareness and curbed the increasing trend of illegally importing wastes.

China itself produces hazardous wastes for which it has no treatment facilities, and which therefore need to be exported to other countries for disposal. On these occasions, it always strictly abides by the procedures specified in the Basel Convention and respects the laws of the waste-importing countries so as to ensure that they are disposed of properly. Over the past five decades, SEPA has handled more than 30 instances of exporting hazardous wastes (with a total amount of more than 70,000 tonnes) to industrialized countries for disposal.

5. To establish a Center for Technology Transfer and Training on Hazardous Wastes.

SEPA established the National Center for Technology Transfer and Training on Hazardous Wastes in the Qinghua University in March 1993 to strengthen China’s management of hazardous wastes and better implement the Basel Convention. This Center was later developed into an Asia-Pacific Center for Technology Transfer and Training on Hazardous Wastes, a plan proposed by China and ratified by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention. The Center provides technical consultants and technology training and transfer in hazardous waste management and disposal to over 42 countries and regions in Asia-Pacific. So far, it has operated well and played its due role in improving the management and disposal of hazardous wastes in the region.
Together with other Parties to the Basel Convention, China will make its contribution to preserving the Earth we live on

China still lags behind industrialized countries in hazardous waste management and overall environmental protection targets because of the constraints imposed by its levels of economic development, technology and management, among other factors. It has not yet set up either a sound hazardous waste management system, or centralized waste disposal facilities. And the capability of the people managing hazardous wastes needs to be improved.

In order to realize the goal of zero-discharge from major industries, China will focus its efforts on:

  • Strengthening law enforcement.

  • Controlling pollution by hazardous wastes and improving their comprehensive use and disposal.

  • Drafting and issuing the National Program for Centralized Hazardous Wastes Disposal Sites in the Tenth Five Year Period.

  • Selecting priority projects for controlling solid wastes.

  • Using economic incentives to promote waste minimization.

  • Further promoting cleaner production.

  • Intensifying international cooperation and exchange of waste management information.

Throughout, China will take effective action to minimize hazardous waste and its movement across boundaries, and to dispose of it in suitable sites in an environmentally harmless way. Together with other Parties to the Basel Convention, China will make its contribution to preserving the Earth we live on

Xie Zhenhua is Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, China.

PHOTOGRAPH: Yang Zi Jiang/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Celebration and challenge | Informal diplomacy | Being in earnest | International Declaration on Cleaner Production | Clean = competitive | Not on Planet Earth! | The Basel Convention | At a glance | Competition | It’s a waste | Move these poisonous mountains | Broad, global and dynamic | A monumental challenge | UNEP Chemicals | Latin lessons | Sasakawa Environment Prize | Of potholes and ozone holes | Will we learn?

Complementary articles in other issues:
Liu Yi: Taking firm steps (Ozone) 1997
John Whitelaw: Implementing the plan (Chemicals) 1997