Scaling China's Waste Mountains: Potential Governance Reforms to Address Solid and Hazardous Waste

March 27, 2019 10:00 am — 12:00 pm
Washington, DC (and webinar)

Co-sponsored by the Wilson Center

An ELI 50th Anniversary Seminar

Mountains of trash are piling up in China with booming cities producing more than 20% of the world’s solid waste. Furthermore, up to 70% of this urban waste is food waste that is difficult to incinerate and when deposited in landfills, this waste eventually emits climate-forcing methane. Although hazardous waste regulations in China are increasingly enforced,  historically enforcement has not been stringent, leading to current management challenges. An estimated 85% of the 100 million tons of hazardous waste generated every year is disposed of like ordinary household waste. This detrimental practice presents a risk to human and environmental health.

China has been accumulating a large portion of the world’s waste for forty years. In 2016, China was accepting 46% of the world’s recyclable solid waste, using it as industry feedstock. Since 2017, however, the nation has successively banned many types of imported waste.  A comprehensive waste-sorting program for recycling of domestically-generated waste streams has not been fully implemented in many urban areas; but some private waste companies have begun to fill this gap in various ways as municipalities experiment with local sorting programs. Notably, over the past two years the Chinese government has accelerated campaigns, policies, and legal reforms to reduce what some have deemed “waste mountains.” Emerging policies include plastic waste import bans, increased municipal waste sorting, guidelines on single-use packaging, and cradle-to-grave tracking for hazardous wastes, among others.

Zhuoshi Liu
, Staff Attorney & Director, China Program, Environmental Law Institute, Moderator
Linda Breggin,Senior Attorney, Director, Center for State, Tribal, and Local Environmental Programs, Environmental Law Institute
Yifei Li, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies, New York University Shanghai, Global Network Assistant Professor, New York University
Jennifer L. Turner, Director, China Environment Forum & Manager, Global Choke Point Initiative, China Environment Forum, Wilson Center

Zhuoshi Liu presentation
Linda Breggin presentation
Yifei Li presentation
Jennifer Turner presentation

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