Environmental Management of E-waste in China

Environmental Management of E-waste in China

Chapter 13 Environmental Management of E-waste in China Xiaolong Song*,†, Bin Lu‡ and Wenjie Wu*,† * Research Center of Resource Recycling Science a...

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Chapter 13

Environmental Management of E-waste in China Xiaolong Song*,†, Bin Lu‡ and Wenjie Wu*,† *

Research Center of Resource Recycling Science and Engineering, Shanghai Polytechnic University, Shanghai, China, †Shanghai Collaborative Innovation Center for WEEE Recycling,, Shanghai, China, ‡State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China



The huge amount of electronic waste (E-waste, also called WEEE) has aroused global concern regarding the environmental performance of treatment activities. Within E-waste, there are not only recyclable materials such as metals and plastics, but also hazardous substances such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants in E-waste. Inappropriate treatment strategies cause serious environmental pollution, occupational hazards, and loss of value from both recyclable resources and reusable components (Lu et al., 2017). It is necessary to develop an effective management system for E-waste to balance the resource recycling and environmental burden. As one of the biggest electronics manufacturing countries and emerging economies in the world, China produces, consumes, and exports huge amounts of e-products (Wang et al., 2013a,b). China is the most populous country in the world, so the demand of e-products is very high, and it has a big role also in the refurbishment, reuse, and recycling of E-waste (Balde et al., 2017). China generated 7.2 million metric tons (Mt) of E-waste in 2016. The amount of E-waste is expected to grow to 15.5 million Mt by 2020 (Awasthi and Li, 2017). The development of China’s E-waste treatment industry has gone through four stages: (1) before 2005, some disassembly and disposal sites were formed spontaneously; (2) from 2005 to 2009, China launched the construction of a demonstration enterprise for the treatment of waste household appliances; (3) from 2009 to 2011, under the policy of Household Appliances Old for New Rebate Program (Old for New Program), more than 100 designated disassembly plants of waste household appliances emerged; (4) since 2012, 109 qualified plants have been formed under the promotion of the WEEE fund Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-816190-6.00013-3 © 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.



Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

system. The fund system has become the main driving force for the further formation of E-waste treatment systems (CHEARI, 2018). Informal recycling of E-waste has caused severe damage to environment and the health of unprotected workers. Due to the environmental and social concerns surrounding improper recycling of E-waste, the Chinese government has taken relevant actions to restrict the import and improper treatment of E-waste, and has established domestic collection and recycling systems in order to promote environmentally-sound treatment (Wang et al., 2013a,b). China implemented the Old for New Program for household appliances, originally piloted from June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010 and then extended to the December 31, 2011, for proper E-waste collection and treatment in advanced recycling facilities. Shortly afterward, China issued WEEE regulations that covered five types of household appliances (televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, and computers). In general, Chinese E-waste regulations are focused on the extended producer responsibility (EPR), polluter-pays and 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) principles. Nevertheless, these new regulations are still inadequate (Awasthi and Li, 2017). In this chapter, the status of E-waste management in China is analyzed in detail from the government policy, industry development, and scientific support perspectives. Laws and updated regulations, which are consistent with the status to promote the development of formal E-waste recycling industry, are introduced and examined. Meanwhile, the Chinese current E-waste generation, recycling capacity, and treatment techniques are discussed as well as the overview of reuse at the parts/components levels. Promoted by the efforts of the government and the formal sector, the Chinese E-waste management system has been improving for the past ten years, particularly in EPR and use of a “Fund Policy.” However, there are still some challenges for E-waste management in China. In order to solve these problems, we finally put forward some specific suggestions and prospects.

2 E-waste Generation and Treatment 2.1 Estimation of E-waste Generation China’s E-waste usually come from three major sources: households, institutional sources (including schools, hospitals, and governmental agencies and businesses), and equipment manufacturers (Li et al., 2006; Lu et al., 2015). The generation estimation can provide fundamental information to help construct a sustainable management system of E-waste (Li et al., 2015). There are various approaches used to estimate the generation of E-waste (Yang et al., 2008; Walk, 2009; Yoshida et al., 2009; Steubing et al., 2010; Chung et al., 2010, 2011; Dwivedy and Mittal, 2010a,b; Gutierrez et al., 2010; Polak and Drapalova, 2012; Araujo et al., 2012). These approaches can be classified into

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the following models: input-output model, time-series model, factor model, econometrics analysis, and direct waste analysis. The input-output model is the most promising so far and frequently used with multiple model variations, which has been applied to estimate E-waste generation in many regional and country studies by quantitatively evaluating the sources, pathways, and final destinations of material flows. In this model, information on a product lifespan and a delay (equivalent to the lifespan) for the e-product to become E-waste is always needed to complete the estimation. This model can be develop into other approaches such as market supply method (including the classic market supply method, the market supply A method and the Stanford method), consumption and use approach, time-step method, material flow analysis (MFA) method, use-phase analysis, Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER) model, and Carnegie Mellon method. The time-series model, in which “time” is used as a predictor variable, involves the use of historical data and their distribution to extrapolate future waste trends. It can be also applied to fill in the gap of past unknown years from available datasets. The advantages of the time-series model are its flexibility and limited requirement of data. In many cases, only data for two variables are needed: time and the past pattern of the key variable that is to be predicted. Waste data measured at any type of meaningful intervals, such as annual, monthly, or even daily waste data can be used in such estimations. On the other hand, the simple model leads to the neglect of the other potentially influential explanatory variables, so the changes in the future cannot be reflected appropriately (Wang et al., 2013a,b). The time-series model including several approaches, such as curve estimation techniques, exponential smooth, linear extrapolation, trend analysis, and periodic approaches (Walk, 2004). This category of approaches are usually used to make the generation estimations of municipal solid waste in various temporal and spatial scales, and some case studies on E-waste can also be found (Masui, 2005; Huisman et al., 2007). The factor model uses factors such as socioeconomic and other explanatory variables to explain and predict waste arising, which aims at making predictions on waste quantities and unveiling hypothetical causal relationships between factors for the prediction of waste generation at the same time (Walk, 2004). The explanatory variables include population, household size, residency type, age groups, employment, income level, electricity consumption, tipping fees, education, culture, geography, climate, and so on (Chung, 2010). The weight of the factors may be different in various case studies. It is the least-explored method due to complex factors interaction and high uncertainty in time-series. There are several previous studies focused on the generation estimations of E-waste (Saphores et al., 2009; Chung et al., 2011). The econometrics analysis makes estimations of the waste based on econometric indicators, such as gross domestic product (GDP) (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2009). The econometrics analysis can be regarded as the combination of the time-series model and the factor model. Some Nordic nations, such as


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Denmark (Danish Environmental Protection Agency, 2006) and Norway (Statistic Norway, 2004), make estimations of E-waste using this model. Direct waste analysis uses E-waste figures obtained from collection channels, treatment facilities, and disposal sites. Records of E-waste receipts from local waste facilities are the source of information that can be obtained by field determination at major end-disposal facilities (Chung, 2011). The Hong Kong government used this model to estimate E-waste disposal figures in the city (Environment Bureau, 2010). In China, previous research on the estimation of the E-waste generation volume mainly considers five types of E-waste: televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, and computers. In addition to the five main E-wastes, the China Household Electric Appliance Research Institute (CHEARI) estimated the generation of nine other categories of E-waste using the market supply A method. With growth in ownership and greater replacement of obsolete equipment, there has been a dramatic increase in the generation from domestic households in China, from 402.43 million units in 2015 to 500.04 million units in 2017. The total weight of generated E-waste reached approximately 4.06 metric tons in 2015 and 5.38 million tons in 2017 (Table 1). It is worth noting that the weight of the five main types—televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, and computers—accounts for a large proportion. In 2017, the five main E-waste accounted for 62.4%, while other nine E-wastes accounted for 37.6%. However, in terms of the amount of E-wastes, waste cell phone is the largest category, reaching 232.75 million units in 2017, accounting for 46.5% of the E-waste (CHEARI, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018). In fact, if smuggled and counterfeit mobile phones are taken into account, the actual amount of waste cell phones will be greater. Li et al. (2015) estimated the generation of retired cell phones in China, by comparing some relevant methods. The result of sales and the new method shows that there are 47.92 million cell phones that were retired in 2002, and this number reached 739.98 million in 2012.

2.2 Collection of E-waste The informal collection sector plays a key role in the separation of waste material components, or entire items for reuse in China (Streicher-Porte et al., 2010). Due to the long-term development of the waste collection industry, the majority of E-waste is currently collected in traditional patterns. Collectors ride electric tricycles along streets to collect E-waste, which is then gathered and transported from disperse sites to licensed recycling plants. With the unceasing fusion between internet technology and traditional industries, a website-based collection pattern for E-waste has gradually appeared in recent years. E-waste recyclers, e-product producers, and internet companies are all involved in the website-based collection. In 2015, Green Ecomanufacture (GEM), a dominant E-waste disassembling and recycling plant in China, officially launched its website-based collection project: HUISHOUGE

TABLE 1 The Theoretical Generation of Representative E-waste in China 2015



Amount (×104 units)

Weight (×104 tons)

Amount (×104 units)

Weight (×104 tons)

Amount (×104 units)

Weight (×104 tons)















Washing machine







Air conditioner







Personal computer














Electric water heater







Gas water heater

































Cell phone

18 721


18 291


23 275


Single-machine telephone








40 243


37 657


50 004



Data from China Household Electric Appliance Research Institute (CHEARI), 2016. White Paper on Chinese WEEE Recycling Industry in China (2015). Beijing; China Household Electric Appliance Research Institute (CHEARI), 2017. White Paper on Chinese WEEE Recycling Industry in China (2016). Beijing.


Copier Fax machine

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Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

(China Association of Circular Economy, 2015). This project aims to collect E-waste based on website and mobile apps. It combines online trading and offline logistics in practice. In addition, a series of internet companies participate in the collection of E-waste, such as Baidu Recycle, AIHUISHOU and TAOLV (CHEARI, 2016). The website-based collection model would improve E-waste classification, promote the transformation of informal sector to formal ones, increase the resources that currently have only low values to be recycled, help information supply, extend a producer’s responsibility, and develop the industry of renewable resources recycling. However, the mode is still at the developing stage. Collection centers, resource categories, pricing mechanism, access standards, and supervision program of recycling plants, and supporting technologies, need to be improved (Song et al., 2016)

2.3 Formal Recycling of E-waste Formal E-waste recycling plants have developed rapidly in China since 2009. By June 2018, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) had announced that 109 formal E-waste recycling plants qualified for funding subsidy. These plants are located in 29 provinces, but are mainly distributed in central and eastern China. With the rapid increase and comprehensive coverage afforded by these licensed recycling plants, the layout of the formal sector for recycling E-wastes has been preliminarily completed. In the formal sector, recyclers are mainly employing the best available recycling technologies, including manual dismantling, mechanical treatment, deep recovery, and ultimate disposal. (Zeng et al., 2017a) In China, there are statistics on the formal recycling of the five main types of E-waste due to the need for fund subsidies. Based on these statistics, 42.35, 70.45, 75.43, 79.35 and 77.95 million of these five types of E-waste have been formally recycled in consecutive years from 2013 to 2017 (MEE, 2017). According to the amount of theoretical generation, the formal recycling rate has risen from 38.6% to 62.2% (Fig. 1). Within the five types of E-waste, the proportion of waste televisions is the largest. For instance, in 2013, 92% of the total amount of the E-waste formally disassembled by licensed plants was waste televisions, while the other four kinds accounted for 8% in total. The reasons are as follows: licensed plants are enthusiastic about disassembling televisions due to the high subsidy involved. The other types of E-waste, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, have relatively high collection costs and so it is uneconomical for licensed plants to purchase them from collectors. In 2017, the recycled amount of the five kinds of E-waste reached about 77.95 million units, of which televisions accounted for 52.8%, refrigerators accounted for 10.1%, air conditioners accounted for 5.0%, washing machines accounted for 17.1%, and personal computers accounted for 15.0%, respectively. It can be seen that the proportion attributable to waste televisions

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FIG. 1 The amount of generation and formal recycling of five main E-wastes in China from 2013 to 2017.

FIG. 2 The proportion of the formal recycling of five main E-wastes in China from 2013 to 2017.

decreased obviously due to the adjustment of the fund subsidy standard from 2016 (Fig. 2). Informal disassembly and disposal activities of E-waste are also transforming to formal recycling in China. Guiyu, a small town located in southeastern China, is known across the world for polluting the environment as a result of its illegal E-waste disassembly (BAN, 2002). As a consequence, this region has become a typical representation of the informal sector for recycling E-waste. Since the middle of 1990s, farmers living in Guiyu, have been engaged in recycling activities (He and Xu, 2014). However, these informal workshops adopted primitive methods such as open burning, open dumping, and acid washing,


Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

caused serious environment pollution and threatening human health (Heart and Agamuthu, 2012). In October 2005, Guiyu was included in the first group of circular economy pilot projects for recycling waste household appliances. In December 2010, Guiyu established a circular economy park with the theme of E-waste disassembly and treatment, hoping to transform informal recycling activities to formal ones through centralized disassembly and pollution treatment. By 2015, construction of the park had made substantial progress: of 5169 disassembly households, 2028 had been banned. Furthermore, 29 companies (composed of 758 modified disassembly households from the 3141 rectified households) had entered the zone to perform formal disassembly and treatment (EID, 2015).

2.4 Reuse of E-waste Reuse is not included in the formal E-waste management policies in China. The Administration Regulation for the Collection and Treatment of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment clearly states that reuse was not taken into consideration in the regulation. So there are very few reuse issues addressed in the current formal guidelines and standards, which are carried out by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), in cooperation with the National Development and Reform Committee (NDRC) and MOF. Prior to the Administration Regulation for the Collection and Treatment of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment, reuse was once referred to as an important part of E-waste management in the Technical policy on waste household appliances and electronic products, which was enacted in 2006. It said that reuse should be encouraged prior to materials recovery in the disassembly process, with the necessary pollution prevention facilities. However, in practice this technical policy was always neglected, which is why it was not included in the framework of the Administration Regulation for the Collection and Treatment of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment. In principle, the collection and marketing of used products is within the purview of ministries beyond MEE (Tan et al., 2014). The Administrative Measures on the Distribution of Used Electrical and Electronic Products developed by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) in 2013 is a specific regulation focusing on the collection and sale activities of used electrical and electronic products. This regulation encourages an information system of used electrical and electronic products to be set up by collectors, sellers, and administrative organizations. However, no environmental performance related issues are referred to in this regulation, and the regulation is independent from the E-waste management system. There are also some standards on the reuse of E-waste that are independent from the E-waste management system of MEE. There is only one national standard concerned with reuse of E-waste in China, GB/T 21474-2008, Guideline for the assessment on the reuse and recycling system of waste electrical and

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electronic equipment, and it is a recommended standard rather than a mandatory one. This standard introduces functional, safety, and environmental requirements for reused components and parts. The environmental requirement is worth mentioning here. The standard requires that reuse of components should not cause more negative environmental impacts than the use of new components. Although there is no further definition or guideline on how to evaluate and compare the environmental performance of reused components to that of new ones, it is still an advanced standard even compared with the leading reuse standards in the EU. To summarize, reuse is still not an essential part of E-waste management in China, and only a few scattered regulations or standards concern the reuse of e-products. Reuse of E-waste is popular in China, although it is outside of the E-waste management policy scope. There are no statistics on reuse of E-waste in China. In general, reuse occurs at both the product and parts/components levels. The Gini coefficient in China was as high as 0.462 in 2015, indicating that the product level reuse rate should be also high, given the significant wealth gap. Specifically, there are still large gaps in income, living standards, and living space between rural and urban areas, and between the eastern and western areas of China. Currently, reusable parts of E-waste can always find a user in rural or western areas (Chi et al., 2011). In principle, product-level reused e-products should follow the Administrative Measures on the Distribution of Used Electrical and Electronic Products, but in practice this regulation is not effective due to a lack of detailed rules for implementation. Consequently, the reuse of e-products is still uncontrolled because the black market for secondhand e-products is more profitable than the conventional market (Yang et al., 2008). Component reuse is also highly popular in China. Reusable components are mostly used for remanufacturing and not repair as found in developed countries. There are two reasons for this. One is that there are many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other types of producers in China, providing fertile ground for reusable components to be reassembled to equivalent grade or lower quality requirement products. In other words, the component market is large enough to accept disassembled e-products. The other reason is that the remaining economic value of the functioning components is usually higher than the inherent recoverable material value (Chi et al., 2011) because of the low disassembly labor cost (Wang et al., 2012) and proper disassembly technologies (Zhou et al., 2016). Component reuse is always an important end-of-life choice in the informal recycling sector. However, reusable components maybe also come from formal recycling plants in some areas according to field investigations, as there are no clear regulations to restrain the resale of nonhazardous components. In general, the reuse of E-waste, and especially the reuse of components, renders the value chain and material flows of E-waste essentially different from those of developed countries, and thus a unique management system is required (Chi et al., 2011). To identify which types of parts or components are actually


Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

reused, an investigation has been undertaken of recycling plants and online B2B (business-to-business) shops (Lu et al., 2018). The findings show that a product part is at a higher level than a component, and is usually an assembly of components. A part always has a specified function, especially as a piece of a complex product. The lack of proper control of reuse activities has caused many security and environmental issues in China. The most serious problem is safety due to uncontrolled quality, e.g., reused parts or components may leak electricity, which can cause burns or fires. Another security problem is information disclosure risk of information communication and technology (ICT) products. Personal information can be disclosed in the absence of related regulations. Apart from safety and information security problems, the variation in environmental impacts of reused products and components are usually obscure. The larger electricity consumption of reused products may cause higher environmental impacts, but the extended lifespan is usually regarded as environmentally friendly. To summarize, reuse of E-waste is popular in China at both the product and component level. Additionally, for nearly all types of E-waste, there are parts or components available to be reused in practice. However, without specific and feasible regulations governing the reuse of E-waste, security and environmental issues continue to cause problems in the reuse process.

2.5 Development of E-waste Treatment Techniques Before 2000, most of China’s E-waste was manually disassembled and burned in the open in backyards or small workshops (Zhou and Xu, 2012). The techniques for recycling E-waste are often primitive and there are no adequate facilities to protect the environment and human health. These include stripping of metals in open-pit acid baths to recover gold and other metals, removing electronic components from printed circuit boards (PCBs) by heating over a grill using honeycombed coal blocks as fuel, chipping and melting plastics without proper ventilation, burning cables for recovering metals, and also burning unwanted materials in the open air, disposing unsalvageable materials in the fields and riverbanks, toner sweeping, dismantling electronic equipment, and selling computer monitor yokes to copper recovery operations (Wong et al., 2007). The Chinese government has made great efforts in resolving E-waste problems in past years and has made some progress in treatment techniques and equipment. Several demonstration projects adopting advanced techniques and equipment have been established. However, these plants focus on only one or several kinds of E-waste. There are very few plants engaging in recycling of whole E-waste. Briefly, the E-waste is first dismantled. Then detachable components are sent to production lines for resource recycling. Components containing hazardous materials, such as toner cartridges, cabinet refrigerators, and cathode ray tube TVs, are disposed in special processing lines to prevent the

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leakage of harmful substances. PCBs, wires, and other components are treated by automatic production line containing shearing and separation. Although there is still a significant gap between laboratory methods and industrial operations, technical development is provided for large-scale recycling of E-waste (He and Xu, 2014). China has developed three levels of E-waste recycling processes. Informal E-waste recycling is done with manual dismantling and materials recovery homemade equipment. The majority of E-waste disposal remains at this level. Formal, small-scale plants recycle a small proportion of E-waste volume, but they use processes that generate environmental pollutants, thus are not supported by the government. The third level is large-scale or national pilot companies that are permitted and supported by the government (Zeng et al., 2017). Looking ahead, many key techniques and equipment for an integrated recycling system of WEEE have yet to be developed. The orientation of further development for integrated processing of E-waste includes: (1) an integrated system of green disassembly and recycling, such as multifunctional disassembly, low cost crushing, and highly efficient separation for huge electrical equipment such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and televisions; clean recycling of rare metals from small electronic products such as mobile phones; development of key technologies and equipment to eliminate secondary pollution; (2) promotion of value-added products, for instance, elimination and recycling of hazardous materials; electromagnetic purification technology and directional crystallization technology to improve metal purity; high-value utilization of nonmetallic materials (He and Xu, 2014).


E-waste Laws and Regulations

Considering the environmental issues of E-waste, the Chinese government has issued a variety of environmental laws, regulations, standards, and norms related to e-products production and E-waste recycling. Fig. 3 shows the legislation framework of E-waste management in China. Table 2 lists the relevant regulations associated with E-waste management. Currently, three laws relate to E-waste management, namely Law on the Promotion of Cleaner Production, Law on the Promotion of Circular Economy, and Law on the Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Solid Waste. These laws do not have detailed stipulations, but provide a legal framework on E-waste management. All of them require that pollution prevention principles should be adopted during the whole life cycle of E-waste management so that negative environmental impacts can be minimized. In general, Law on the Promotion of Cleaner Production puts forward some principles regarding the design and production of e-products and treatment of E-waste; Law on the Promotion of Circular Economy specifies provisions on the “3Rs” of e-products during the production, consumption, and other life stages; and the Law on the Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Solid Waste requires that

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FIG. 3 Legislation framework of E-waste management in China.

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TABLE 2 Related Regulations of E-waste Management in China Date of Issued

Effective Date

Administrative measures on the collection of renewable resources



Encourage environmentally friendly processing of renewable resources collection; establish modern renewable resources collection system

Administrative measures on the prevention and control of environmental pollution by WEEE



Prevention and control of environmental pollution caused by the disassembly, recycling and disposal of E-waste; specify responsibilities of relevant stakeholders

Administration regulation for the collection and treatment of waste electronic and electrical equipment



Multichannel collection and centralized recycling of E-waste; qualification for recycling plants; establish special fund to assist formal disassembly

Administrative measures on the qualification of WEEE treatment



Stipulate the licensing condition and procedure, qualification application, approval and related supervision activities for E-waste treatment

Administrative measures on the distribution of used electrical and electronic products



Stipulate the purchase or sale of used electrical and electronic products

The restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment



Propose a compliance management list; set a conformity assessment system


Key Points


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E-waste treatment plants should first receive a license from local environmental protection agencies so that they can safely deal with hazardous and toxic materials contained in E-waste. However, these three laws do not have any items regarding E-waste collection, making it difficult to build up an effective E-waste collection system at the regional level (Lu et al., 2015). China passed the Ordinance on Management of Prevention and Control of Pollution from Electronic and Information Products in 2006 and the Administration Regulation for the Collection and Treatment of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment in 2009. Generally, the two documents are unofficially referred to as China RoHS Directive and China WEEE Directive (Ongondo et al., 2011). In January 2016, China published the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment. It supersedes the Ordinance on Management of Prevention and Control of Pollution from Electronic and Information Products to become the new and current edition of the China RoHS Directive. The new RoHS Directive proposes a compliance management list to restrict the use of hazardous substances. In addition, it develops a conformity assessment system to the restriction of the use of hazardous substances. For the e-products contained in the compliance management list, it must comply with the national or industry standards, and must be managed in accordance with the conformity assessment system for the use of hazardous substances. The Administration Regulation for the Collection and Treatment of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment came into force in January 2011. It proposed to implement EPR, conduct centralized disassembly of E-waste, and establish qualification for recycling plants. In order to support the implementation of the China WEEE Directive, a series of supporting policies have issued, such as WEEE Treatment List, development planning, qualification and EPR pilot project. The WEEE Treatment List (first batch) came into force on January 1, 2011, which included five types of E-waste: televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, and personal computers. With the development of China’s E-waste recycling industry, expanding the scope of the WEEE Treatment List has become a real demand. In 2013, the NDRC and MOF jointly evaluated the implementation of the first batch of the treatment list and studied whether adjustments to the catalog were necessary. After extensive consultation and research, the WEEE Treatment List (2014 edition) was officially released in February 2015. In the new edition, E-waste has been extended to fourteen categories based on the original five types. The added categories are rangehoods, electric water heaters, gas water heaters, printers, copiers, fax machines, monitors, cell phones, and single-machine telephones. According to the China WEEE Directive, the provincial environmental protection department and other relevant departments must compile a regional development plan of E-waste treatment, and submit to the MEE. In September 2010, the MEE, NDRC, Ministry of Industry and Information (MIIT), and MOFCOM jointly issued the Notice on Organizing the Formulation of the

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Development Plan of the WEEE Treatment Industry (2011–15). It put forward that each provincial administrative unit should formulate the general direction, goal, principle, work focus, and relevant policy measures for the development of E-waste treatment industry. The administrative measures on the qualification of WEEE treatment stipulates the licensing condition and procedure, qualification application, approval, and related supervision activities for E-waste treatment. To guide and standardize the local environmental protection departments to further verify application for qualification of E-waste treatment plants, the MEE formulated the Qualification and Licensing Guideline for E-waste Treatment Plants, released on December 9, 2010. The guideline notes that the plants shall comply with the requirements of regional development plan of E-waste treatment, and have a complete E-waste treatment facilities (including independent factory, storage area, processing area, processing equipment, data information management system, pollution control facilities). Apart from strengthening the supervision of E-waste disassembly and recycling processes, the Chinese government has begun to control the pollution sources and to utilize resources more effectively from the perspective of ecodesign. Since July 2014, the MIIT has begun to establish eight demonstration industries to coordinate the ecodesign of industrial products. The aim is to transform industrial pollution control from end-of-pipe treatment to whole life cycle management. The first batch of ecodesign pilot enterprises was published in June 2015. It included seven e-products producers mainly producing televisions, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, personal computers, dust collectors, air cleaners, relays, and leadacid batteries. The MIIT launched a pilot project of EPR in the electronic industry in June 2015 (MIIT, 2015). The pilot project covered three aspects: establishing the collection system, promoting resource utilization, and carrying out collaborative innovation. Based on the reverse logistics of producers (including voluntarily relying on marketing channels and networks of maintenance), a recycling system for obsolete e-products can be established or third parties can be authorized to recycle the products. In addition, enterprises can be guided towards technology innovation (including substituting and reducing the utilization of hazardous substances, designing products that can be easily disassembled and remanufactured, and disassembling and recycling obsolete products). Moreover, this work explores the application of new technologies, e.g., big data, internet of things, cloud computing, throughout the lifecycle management of the e-products to promote a transition of the electronic industry. In January 2016, the first batch list of pilot enterprises were released, including 15 e-product producers, two third-party institutions, and multiple cooperative units. This is the first time that the government has carried out the related exploration work on the EPR at a ministry level.


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In December 2016, the Chinese State Council issued the Promotion Plan on EPR Principle to determine four categories of products to implement EPR: electrical and electronic equipment, automotive, lead-acid battery and packaging.. For electrical and electronic equipment, the relevant departments will develop EPR policy guidelines and evaluation criteria to guide producers to carry out ecodesign, preferentially select secondary materials, and actively participate in E-waste collection and recycling (Chinese State Council, 2016). This should in particular strengthen the management of the WEEE fund by establishing a “fixed income support, self-balancing” mechanism and develop the fund into an incentive mechanism for EPR. The objective of the China WEEE Directive and related policies is to standardize the E-waste collection and treatment activities, to promote the comprehensive utilization of resources and the development of circular economy, to protect the environment and ensure the health of humans. However, these are not clearly defined in the environmental management of E-waste. According to the National Hazardous Waste Inventory, the components collected from disassembled, crushed, and smashed E-waste, including lead-acid and Ni-Cd batteries, mercuric oxide cells, mercury switches, CRTs and capacitors, as well as waste PCBs are recorded as “Hazardous Waste 49.” Even though PCBs are regarded as a type of hazardous waste, the metallic and nonmetallic materials obtained by simply crushing PCBs are not deemed hazardous so dismantling plants can process or directly resell these materials. This indicates that a key aspect of E-waste pollution control is still not being effectively supervised. The competent departments and treatment plants pay due attention to disassembly and funding subsidy. However, there remains scope to improve the effectiveness of environmental management in terms of reuse, safe disposal, and possible environmental risks of end-disassembled parts.

4 E-waste Fund Policy China is the first developing country to set up “Fund Policy” for E-waste management. The Administrative Measures on the Levy and Subsidy of WEEE Treatment Fund was officially implemented on July 1, 2012. According to “Fund Policy,” the e-products that are sold and used in China are the objectives for the fund collection. Therefore, the domestic producers and consignees or agents of imported e-products should fulfill their payment obligations of the fund. Moreover, the imported units are included for the fund collection while the exported ones are excluded (Yu et al., 2014). Currently, the producer and importer of e-products should pay 13, 12, 7, 7, and 10 CNY, for each television, refrigerator, air conditioner, washing machine, and personal computer, respectively. By keeping an audit of E-waste disassembly, the licensed plants can acquire funding. The MOF started to adjust the existing funding subsidy in 2015 according to changes in the treatment costs and the profits from E-waste. The newly

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TABLE 3 Fund Levy and Subsidy on E-waste Disassembly in China


Levy Standard (CNY)

Subsidy Standard (CNY)



60 70

Note CRT TV over 14 inch and less than 25 inch CRT TV over 25 inch; other TVs




50 L  volume  500 L

Air conditioner



Refrigerating capacity 14 kW

Washing machine



Single tube washing machine, dehydrator (3 kg

Double tub washing machine, vertical axis auto-washing machine, drum type auto-washing machine (3 kg

Subsidy standard of panel computer and palm computer to be separately formulated

Personal computer


established subsidy standard came into force on January 1, 2016. Compared with the old standard (formulated in 2012), the new 2016 standard is predominantly characterized by a reduction in the subsidy available for disassembling televisions and personal computers and an increase in the subsidy for disassembling air conditioners (Table 3). In China, E-waste management is closely linked to many departments. From the production, import, and consumption of e-product to the collection, transportation, disassembly, recycling, and disposal of E-waste, the administrative departments directly involved include the MEE, MOF, MIIT, MOFCOM, State Administration of Taxation (SAT), and GAC (General Administration of Customs). In the whole process of implementing the Fund Policy, the SAT and GAC are responsible for the levying fund. The MEE is responsible for checking the type and number of E-waste items disassembled by the treatment plants and then this data is submitted to the MOF. Based on the fund subsidy standard, the MOF then checks and pays the subsidy to the treatment plants (Fig. 4). Since the “Fund Policy” came into effect in July 2012, its annual amount of collection has been stable. The amount collected from 2013 to 2017 was 2.81, 2.88, 2.72, 2.61, and 2.81 billion CNY respectively. By contrast, the amount of subsidy has gone up first and then down. The fund subsidy increased


Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

FIG. 4 Operation model of the “Fund Policy” in China.

FIG. 5 The amount of fund levy and subsidy from 2012 to 2017.

from 0.75 billion CNY in 2013 to 5.40 billion CNY in 2015, and then decreased to 4.71 billion CNY in 2016 and 0.07 billion CNY in 2017 (Fig. 5). The main reason for this change was that there is an imbalance between fund levy and subsidy, which resulted in the delay of fund payment (CHEARI, 2018). Since implementation of the “Fund Policy,” the formal recycling system of E-waste in China has been improved greatly. As one important part of the

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“Fund Policy,” the selection of formal plants is carried out successively. Five batches of treatment plants of E-waste have been certified. The total number of formal plants has increased to 109. The implementation of “Fund Policy” is the first time a market mechanism has been adopted rather than administrative means for E-waste recycling in China. Within the policy, the price offered to holders for their stored E-waste is used as regulation means for E-waste collection, which is a market long-effective mechanism. Next, the stable and effective collection of E-waste can keep licensed plants in sustained operation and profit which can encourage plants to be more active in formally collecting E-waste (Yu et al., 2014). However, there are still some challenges with the “Fund Policy” in China. Currently, the iterative procedure of fund audit wastes many government resources (Zeng et al., 2017a). It is tedious and time-consuming to audit the subsidy, leading to serious delay of subsidy payments (Cao et al., 2016). As the subsidy cannot generally be appropriated in time, it becomes difficult for some plants to circulate capital. Also, the imbalance between fund levy and subsidy is not properly solved. In addition, the E-waste fund merely provides a disassembly subsidy based on the amount of E-waste disassembled. Under such circumstances, licensed plants in the formal sector are mainly concerned with E-waste disassembly to obtain the subsidy. Moreover, after implementation of the “Fund Policy,” several treatment plants raised their collection prices to compete for discarded e-products, thus making E-waste collection an irrational competition. At present, the “Fund Policy” is still in its infancy, and needs to be constantly improved (Yu et al., 2014). In create stability of the total fund, the subsidy standard should be adjusted according to the development of the E-waste recycling industry. As to fund auditing, it can be expected to standardize the E-waste recycling activities and improve the efficiency of recycling processes by comprehensively considering the relevant indexes including recyclable resource productivity and amount of hazardous waste treated based on an existing auditing method. Last but not least, due to the current inefficiency of the “Fund Policy,” the future effectiveness of E-waste legislation should be driven by interest.


Conclusions and Prospects

In general, since the implementation of China WEEE Directive, the E-waste treatment industry has presented several trends: the number of licensed treatment plants is increasing; the amount of disassembled E-wastes included in the WEEE Treatment List goes up; the processes of disassembly were standardized; the layout of the formal sector has been nearly completed, providing an increased recycling capacity. Under the supervision and with the support of the government, the informal recycling activities have gradually become standardized. In the view of the environmental management of E-waste, the WEEE


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Treatment List (2014 edition) increases the number of types of E-waste from 5 to 14. Formal recycling plants have thus been presented with new opportunities. In the meantime, the MOF has regulated the funding subsidy standard by reducing the subsidy allocated to disassembly of televisions and increasing that for air conditioners. In addition, the Chinese State Council has conducted a promotion plan on EPR and encouraged producers to consider ecodesign of e-products, and to participate in E-waste collection and recycling. From the perspective of policy effect, as they are newly issued, the market has not yet reached equilibrium. There is a gap between the amount of fund levy and the amount of subsidy, and the standard of fund levy lacks the incentive measures for the e-product producers. At present, the collection system of E-waste is currently imperfect and multichannel collection system has still not been established. Most collection channels are controlled by the peddlers, which restrict the implementation of the “Fund Policy.” The whole lifecycle of E-waste is not supervised completely, and related regulations are not clear with respect to the reuse of disassembled parts and the disposal of hazardous waste. Although the China’s E-waste legislations and regulations need to be improved, considering China’s economy development level and the background of social reality, the responsibility-shifting fund mode is suitable for the current situation of China’s E-waste management. Therefore, it is suggested that the policy be adjusted and improved as follows: keep the current policy system stable in the short term; make gradual adjustment to the subsidy policy for treatment plants of televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, and personal computers; gradually adjust the license system and regulation goals; introduce pilot adjustment to the way of delivering subsidies in some new products of the WEEE Treatment List; the government directly establishes or supports recycling plants to establish nonprofit collection channels; and strengthen the management of the E-waste terminal market (Qu et al., 2015). In the long term, a producer responsibility organization (PRO) platform based on business-to-business (B2B) provides another way to practice EPR in China’s E-waste management. Qu et al. (2015) proposed a new management system for E-waste collection and treatment, i.e., a PRO based on B2B. The main characteristic of this system lies in introducing a PRO that has been adopted by many developed countries and making adjustment according to the Chinese context. In the system, the government stipulates the compulsory collection and recycling rate of E-waste. Producers make connections with recyclers through PRO and conduct recycling activities under the management of PRO. Specific policy suggestions include: diversification of policy objectives; establishing a system that connects recyclers’ qualifications with producers’ expected recycling amounts; improving the relevant supporting policies and guiding collection and treatment activities. An integrated E-waste management system should be established based on the lifecycle perspective. The combination of the lifecycle approach with EPR is referred to as the optimal model to promote for the E-waste management

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(Kiddee et al., 2013). Material flow analysis (Yoshida et al., 2009; Cheng et al., 2010; Navazo et al., 2014; Habuer et al., 2014; Yin et al., 2014), lifecycle assessment (Scharnhorst et al., 2005; Nakano et al., 2007; Johansson and Bj€ orklund, 2009; Noon et al., 2011; Alston and Arnold, 2011; Song et al., 2013, 2018; Xu et al., 2013; Rocchetti and Beolchini, 2014; Menikpura et al., 2014), lifecycle costing (Dowdell et al., 2000; Reich, 2005; Lu and Yang, 2010), and social lifecycle assessment (Lu et al., 2010; Umair et al., 2015; Wilhelm et al., 2015) can be used to comprehensively quantize the metabolism process, environmental impact, economic cost, and social impact of the E-waste management system. In this way, decision makers can identify lifecycle characteristics and the processes’ sustainability, thus obtaining quantitative support for diagnosis of the recycling process, systematic optimization, and environmental management. Lifecycle information is essential for environmental management of E-waste. Currently in China, there is a lack of lifecycle information in certain processes including collection, recycling, and disposal of E-waste, data coverage, and effectiveness. In addition, the data that is available is used in a limited range of administrative departments or enterprises. Thus, precision and transparency cannot be guaranteed so that the data fails to satisfy the requirements for E-waste management. Based on the simulation and data mining of the lifecycle stages of typical E-waste, we can identify the material flow and pollution characteristics, and then master the key pollutants and establish an inventory of environmental emissions. In this way, an E-waste lifecycle information database can be established from two aspects: key component data and the lifecycle inventory. Such a database would consist of key lifecycle information on E-waste, including data on its generation, disassembly, recycling, and final disposal. By considering time sequences and regional differences, the typical data collected on E-waste (including the type, disassembled parts, valuable components, hazardous substances, recycling technique, and input-output of materials) can be analyzed and integrated. Thus, reliable data can be provided for the development of E-waste treatment plants and environmental management. Breakthroughs in the efficient recycling techniques are the key to guarantee the realization of sustainable development of the E-waste recycling industry in China. Currently, the formal sector mainly involves manual disassembly lines for CRT displays, crushing and separating techniques for PCBs, and simple treatment equipment for small household appliances. Automatic disassembly lines for LCDs, disassembly and recycling equipment for waste mobile phones, processing lines for waste fluorescent tubes, and environmentally-friendly removal equipment for PCB components urgently need to be developed (Song et al., 2017). Through technological innovation, licensed plants can achieve differentiation competition and coordinated development. Pollution prevention and control is another important part of the environmental management. For the formal E-waste recycling system, it is necessary to identify the pollution process and pollution transfer in the recycling plants


Electronic Waste Management and Treatment Technology

(especially in relation to pollution release, migration and transformation mechanisms, and measures used to control the hazardous substances). E-waste recycling facilities should be significantly improved to diminish and even avoid toxic substance entering the downstream sector (Zeng et al., 2017b). Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Management should propose the best available technologies to use for pollution control, and set the standards and indexes for the supervision of the pollutants. For the sites polluted by informal disassembly, it is necessary to collect pollutant information in different regions and deduce the environmental risks of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. On this basis, corresponding pollution control schemes can be developed to ecologically restore the contaminated sites. The environmental management of E-waste requires the coordination of different stakeholders. Thus, consumers’ responsibility is also important. Taking into account the current public awareness of E-waste, it is necessary to set up appropriate regulations and financial incentives, to promote public participation in E-waste management.

Acknowledgments This work was supported by the Open Foundation of the State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology of China (No.SKLURE2017-2-1). The authors also thank Gaoyuan Discipline of Shanghai—Environmental Science and Engineering (Resource Recycling Science and Engineering) for funding and support.

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