By Tu Xinquan, Global Times
China announced a ban on imports of garbage in July 2017. Although it was a low-profile announcement, it drew wide reaction internationally.
Most waste-exporting countries are unable to handle this material, which has accumulated like mountains and caused complaints.
During the past 20 years, China has been the world’s largest waste importer. But regardless of its carrying or processing capacity for waste, China can no longer be the world’s waste processing plant.
Facing severe pollution and huge waste, China can’t continue to import waste and it must also acquire more advanced technology to create a unified waste processing and recycling system as soon as possible.
China’s capacity to deal with pollution has reached a limit. Beyond the general problems of water, air and soil pollution, there are more prominent problems like particulate matter in the air, drinking water contamination, heavy metals and chemical pollution. These are all harmful to human health.
China’s capacity to handle waste has also hit a limit. A large amount of rubbish is caused by rising living standards, and there is also waste brought about by China’s rapid industrial development, infrastructure construction and urbanization.
China’s refuse treatment capacity is very basic, and waste is building up faster than it can be processed. The damage of garbage to the environment and human life is becoming increasingly unbearable.
The combination of backward technology, poor management and serious secondary pollution caused by the import, accumulation and treatment of waste has imposed costs that far exceed the economic benefits brought by imported waste.
Stopping such imports is the only rational choice, and it is also an important chance for China to build a waste separating and recycling system. For a huge country like China, the difficulty of establishing such a complete system is self-evident.
In the process of building the specific system, we should focus on the building of new habits, learning from advanced countries’ experience and following the government’s overall plan.
Chinese residents need to develop the habit of garbage classification and recycling. Designated bins are everywhere, but many people in China lack awareness of the recycling system, rendering many measures ineffective.
We should carry out systematic training on waste classification from the earliest school years, strengthen daily media promotion and raise the importance of garbage recycling habits.
We can also learn from Japan and other developed countries. For example, formulating relevant laws and regulations to improve the environmental performance of products from the source may be a good method.
Government support is also needed to establish a garbage recycling industry. Now that China’s industrialization has entered the late stage, the demand for waste material is not as great as it used to be, and the profits of the recycling economy have dropped a lot.
Just relying on the market may not be enough. Vigorous promotion by the government can prevent the stagnation and fragmentation of the industry. For example, the government can increase investment in technological research.
Western countries that have experienced environmental deterioration caused by industrialization should offer China more understanding, instead of forcing China to buy the waste that they no longer want.
Waste recycling is a global problem, but that doesn’t mean it should be pushed from one country to another. Whoever causes pollution should be responsible for dealing with the results. But that doesn’t mean that countries can’t collaborate on waste disposal issues, using technical or trade cooperation to solve this common problem.
The author is director of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics. [email protected]
Photos: Google images