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Regulating E-waste Management through Legal Methods- A Special Interview with Fan Yuansheng, Director General of Department of Pollution Control, SEPA

SEPA issued Measures on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution from E-waste (hereinafter referred to as Measures), which will be put into effect as of Feb. 1, 2008. Based on the Law on Prevention and Control of Pollution by Solid Wastes (hereinafter referred to as the Solid Waste Law), the Measures provide requirement on dismantling, use and disposal of e-waste as well as generation and storage activities. To enable readers to know more about the necessity, characteristics and important systems of the Measures, our journalist made an interview with Fan Yuansheng, Director General of Department of Pollution Control, SEPA.

J: Safe disposal and use of e-waste has long been a hot topic drawing widespread concerns. What is the purpose of formulating the Measures?

F: China is a big producer and consumer of electric and electronic products and equipment. According to experts, it is about to eliminate over 4 million TV sets, 5 million washing machines and refrigerators respectively, over 6 million computers and nearly 30 million handsets each year. The generation of e-waste in the next few years is expected to rise dramatically. 

E-waste contains a lot of hazardous substances. Improper storage, dismantling, use or disposal will harm people’s health and environmental safety. In recent years, some backward methods are still used to dismantle, use or dispose of e-waste in some areas, leading to severe environmental pollution and strong social repercussions.

It is necessary to formulate the Measures and legalize activities concerning dismantling, using and disposing of e-waste in a bid to control e-waste pollution.

J: Ministry of Information Industry and NDRC have drafted related laws and regulations targeting management of e-waste. How will the Measures coordinate with other laws?

F: While formulating the Measures, attention was given to connection with related legislation and avoidance of overlapping. Ministry of Information Industry and NDRC have drafted related laws and regulations to restrict the use of toxic and hazardous substances in electronic products and define extended responsibility of producers. The Measures only provide general principle on above aspects. Meanwhile, the Measures define the term use as extracting substances from e-waste for raw materials or fuels, excluding maintenance, retrofitting or remaking of electric and electronic products or equipment according to the provision of Solid Waste Law, which avoided repetition and contradiction with above laws and regulations.

The Measures also establishes punishment according law and invokes applicable laws. The Measures identify that if the higher law such as the Solid Waste Law and Regulation on Environmental Protection of Construction Projects has provisions on punishment, the higher law shall prevail. If punishment requirements are provided in Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security and Measures for Investigating, Punishing and Banning Unlicensed Business Operations and other laws, the polluters shall be transferred to related department for punishment as required. This represents the principle of no repetitive punishment for single violation. 

J: What are the major characteristics of the Measures apart from its smooth coordination with other laws?

F: There are three characteristics of the Measures. First, as mentioned above, it ties in nicely with other regulations and avoids repetition of punishment.

Second, it drives innovation and strengthens supervision. Developed countries generally manage e-waste through permit system. In China where permit system has not been introduced to tackle e-waste, the Measures proposed a system combining EIA and notification of name list of organizations and proprietors engaged in e-waste assembly, disposal and use. This system enables EPBs to add operators of e-waste to the temporary name list and make it public through environmental check of projects involved in disassembling, disposing of and using e-waste. Operators on temporary name list will be included in the list of e-waste disposal and reuse organizations (including proprietors) for announcement and regular adjustment, if they have not breached environmental laws more than twice within three years. Such violations include a) discharging pollutants exceeding national or local pollutant discharge standard; b) dumping or piling up solid or liquid waste at random; c) providing or entrusting e-waste not completely disassembled, used or disposed of to organizations or individuals for disassembly, use and disposal which are not on the list of e-waste operators and d) falsifying environmental monitoring data and operation record.

Only organizations (including proprietors) on the name list (including temporary list) are allowed to disassemble, reuse and dispose of e-waste. The name list allows owners of e-waste to find legal operators safely, allows EPBs to easily identify violators and provide convenience to the public to accuse and prosecute any violations.

Third, the Measures emphasize whole-process management of e-waste targeting the characteristics of e-waste pollution which usually occurs at the stage of reuse and disposal following disassembly (such as acid washing or burning PCBs) so that it may regulate environmental management of enterprises for processing, using and disposing of e-waste. 

J: What are the key systems set up in the Measures to ensure effective regulation of safe disposal and use of e-waste?

F: The key systems include the following:

First, individuals are prohibited from disassembling, using and disposing of e-waste. Individual activities are the main cause of unregulated flow of e-waste and its disassembly products, which lead to indiscriminate use and secondary pollution. Therefore, individual activities must be controlled.

Second, the name list for e-waste operators as mentioned above is also a management system.

Third, delivery responsibility system of e-waste generators. E-waste generators shall provide or entrust the waste to waste operators included in the name list. E-waste generators not only include industrial e-waste owners, producers, sellers and users of waste e-products and equipment, but also include organizations and proprietors that cannot use or dispose of e-waste completely. This system supports the principle of whole-process management of e-waste.

Fourth, record and notification system of industrial e-waste generators. The record on the generation, disposal and use of e-waste kept by e-waste owners is the original evidence for verifying the declared data. According to the Measures, owners of the industrial e-waste shall keep record of the type and amount of industrial e-waste generated and information on storage, disassembly, use and disposal of e-waste by themselves or the third party.

Fifth, a record system for routine monitoring and operation of waste operators. This system will serve as an important measure for EPBs to track waste flows and pollution prevention and control in the process of disassembly, use and disposal. The Measures require the operators to have regular monitoring of their discharges and record the sources, type, weight or amount of each batch of e-waste as they are.

Sixth, the system on technical standard, spot check and punishment. The Measures identify explicit technical requirement on prevention and control of pollution from disassembling, using and disposing of e-waste. It also provides that EPBs above county level shall exercise supervision in the form of spot check. Spot check and monitoring should be conducted at least once a year.

Seven, management of electronic hazardous waste. The Measures identify e-waste containing lead battery, Ni-Cd battery, mercury switch, CRT and PCB capacitors as electronic hazardous waste. Related pollution prevention and control is subject to regulations on hazardous waste management in the Law of People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Pollution by Solid Wastes. However, the Measures also provide transfer of lead battery, Ni-Cd battery, mercury switch, CRT and PCB capacitors in the form of whole set will be exempted from the duplicated form for transfer of hazardous wastes. 

In addition, transitional measures are also formulated in Article 13 for organizations and proprietors that have been involved in disassembly, use and disposal of e-waste before the Measures are put into effect.

J: Strong and targeted punishment is an important guarantee for effective implementation of the Measures. What are major steps in the Measures with regard to punishment? 

F: The Measures strictly abided by the Administrative Punishment Law when setting up articles on punishment. In cases where punishment is defined in higher law, the higher law shall prevail. Administrative punishment created by the Measures established fine of 30,000 yuan at its maximum.

To effectively implement pollution control within a set time period and business closure, the Measures gave interpretation of the application of article 81, the Law of People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Pollution by Solid Wastes on cases causing serious environmental pollution. It specifies 5 scenarios including threat to drinking water sources, pollution of groundwater or heavy metal pollution in soil, environmental pollution caused by spreading, loss or leak of hazardous waste, loss of environmental functions which are irrecoverable and other cases of serious pollution from solid or liquid waste.

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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