China pollution

China needs urgent overhaul to treat billions of tonnes of waste, says top lawmaker

Polluters must help pay to treat the massive amount of industrial, agricultural and household waste produced on the mainland, says new chairman of the legislature

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 November, 2017, 9:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 November, 2017, 9:00pm

China needs to improve law enforcement and make polluters pay to treat billions of tonnes of rural, industrial and household waste, the country’s top legislator said in a report to parliament late on Wednesday.

Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, said China generates nearly four billion tonnes of waste a year from livestock and poultry as well as 200 million tonnes of household waste in large and medium-sized cities.

China also produces 3.3 billion tonnes of industrial waste every year, including tailings from mines, with the accumulated volume now amounting to 60 billion to 70 billion tonnes nationwide, he said.

“There are currently many weak links in the management of hazardous waste in our country and it needs to be improved urgently,” Zhang said in an address.

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Rural waste is “an even weaker link”, he said, with basic environmental infrastructure seriously insufficient. He added that 57 per cent of villages lacked basic disposal and treatment systems while nearly 40 per cent of animal waste is not properly disposed of or utilised.

Inspection teams sent out earlier this year to look at the enforcement of China’s solid waste laws had found that local authorities were not taking enough responsibility for the problem. Local governments also needed to improve the way rules were enforced, he said.

China is expected to require as much as 10 trillion yuan (US$1.5 trillion) in investment in environmental infrastructure over the 2016-20 period and will spend nearly 60 billion yuan on upgrading and extending sewage systems. Domestic and overseas firms have been positioning themselves to take part.

But Zhang said new financing methods were required, including new taxes and payment mechanisms for polluters, with governments and society now bearing too much of the burden on treatment costs. Public-private partnerships should also be set up to invest in waste treatment, he said.

What Hong Kong needs to do to recycle more: sort waste properly and see it as a chance to make money, not a problem

China introduced new rules earlier this year aimed at improving recycling rates in key industries like electronics, plastics, textiles and household appliances. It also banned imports of solid waste, which amounted to nearly 50 million tonnes a year.

But as it cracks down on illegal, polluting backstreet recycling plants, it has struggled to create the incentives to encourage industrial-scale recycling enterprises to fill the gap, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in August.