China and Asia-Pacific: the work of the Regional Centre in Beijing

Interview between Charlie Avis, Public Information Officer for the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, and Dr. Jinhui Li, Executive Director of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional Centre, hosted by the Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.

Charlie Avis (CA): Good morning Professor Li and thank you for your time to answer our questions: in fact, your Regional Centre is the first in a new series whereby we put one Centre per month “in the spotlight” in order to highlight all the many ways the Regional Centres contribute to the implementation of the conventions.

Jinhui Li (JL): Thank you Charlie, we are happy to be the first!

CA: Firstly, please tell us a little bit about the Regional Centre (RC) itself. Where are you housed, how many staff do you have, and how do you manage to cover both the Basel and the Stockholm, Conventions within one RC?

JL: We are supported institutionally by Tsinghua University and the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China. The Centre is located at Tsinghua University. Currently, there are thirty one full time staff divided into six departments covering administrative affairs, regional waste management, regional chemicals management, multilateral environmental agreement research, environmental technology consulting, and circular development research. In addition, we also have a part-time technical team consisting of numerous professors and experts, master/doctoral candidates, and post-doctors, supporting the process of assisting countries to achieve the aims of both the Basel and Stockholm Conventions.

CA: Now, please tell us, but does the RC “only” cover China, or a wider region as well?

JL: The RC serves all the parties in the Asia and Pacific Region who are willing to be served by it, such as Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia etc.

CA: The biggest, and some of the smallest, countries in the world, an extremely diverse collection of countries, contexts, cultures, and capacities therefore. For the sake of the next question, then, let’s focus on China. As you know, BRS is just launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on electronic, or e-waste. What are the main issues or capacity constraints hindering sustainable management of e-waste in China, and what activities does the RC have in order to overcome these challenges?

JL: As we all know, the increasingly rapid growth of production and consumption of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) has led to a sharp rise in the volume of e-waste at the end of their life. E-waste has both toxic and valuable materials. China has established a whole set of policies for e-waste management, and significant improvements have been achieved. The management, collection and recycling systems have been quickly established. For example, we have now 109 qualified e-waste recycling enterprises benefitting from (fund) subsidies, and corresponding fund audit mechanisms; and the collection rate for the 5 standard types (TVs, computers, washing machines, air-conditioners and refrigerators) increased from approximately 4% in 2012 to 35% in 2014. But there are problems: for example the existence of large-scale informal collection and recycling sectors with potential environmental and health risks; kinds of e-waste which cannot effectively be collected; and the levels of e-waste treatment are not advanced, without advantageous deep utilization technology for dismantled materials.

In China, the main issues hindering sustainable management of e-waste mainly include the following points: first, that the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system is not fully implemented in the lifecycle of e-waste, producers should take more responsibility beyond only paying money; second, is that there remains somewhat weak policy implementation, despite some regulations such as on the eco-design and fund reduction mechanism for producers, a lack of supporting implementation regulations hinders actual implementation; third, regulations do not define the responsibility of all stakeholders clearly, particularly for consumers and vendors, and in general environmental awareness and responsibility of these and other stakeholders remains low. All these factors, plus the presence of a large scale irregular second-hand market, hinder the flow of e-waste to formal collection and proper recycling.

The RC has conducted many projects on the e-waste management and technology to improve the E-waste management, technology and facility development in China. Activities have included participating in the development of e-waste regulations or policies; studying collection systems to explore effective collection modes; conducting training to raise public awareness and enhance information-sharing and education; strengthening of producer’s responsibilities; developing deep utilization technologies for dismantled materials; and promoting the domestic dissemination and use of international e-waste guidelines, amongst others. The RC is also developing partnerships at international, regional and domestic levels in order to cooperate in the process to achieve the target of environmentally sound management of e-waste overall.

CA: I understand one big area of focus for the RC is on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, in relation to assisting parties fulfil their obligations under the Stockholm Convention. Sticking with China, what would you say is the level of awareness amongst the general public concerning POPs?

JL: For some time now, China has been actively pushing for the elimination and reduction of POPs with great success. China banned the production, use, import and export of 17 kinds of POPs including mirex and DDT; reduced by about 10% of the dioxin emissions in key industries such as waste incineration, iron ore sintering, and non-ferrous metal production; disposed of more than 20,000 tonnes of historical waste pesticides and contaminated soils in 12 provinces; disposed of 30,000 tonnes of PCBs-contaminated electric equipment and 13,000 tonnes of PCBs-contaminated waste and soil in 17 provinces. China has made significant efforts on remediation of POPs-contaminated sites,.

Additionally, the amendments of the newly listed 10 POPs under the Stockholm Convention entered into force in China, which will further promote the POPs management. All these efforts and progress not only enhanced the national capacity of POPs management in China, but also raised the public awareness, although more effort is required to raise people’s awareness further.

CA: Let us now consider the wider region served by the RC. How do you liase with all these other countries, who are your partners on the ground there and what kinds of activities do you carry out?

JL: The RC maintains good communications with all Focal Points of the parties in the region. We actively continue to invite all the parties in Asia-Pacific region to participate in our work andto provide information on trends and best practices to all who are interested. For example, the Basel Convention and Stockholm Convention international monthly newsletters have been compiled by the RC continuously since 2011 and are delivered to almost all parties and other stakeholders directly or in-directly through other regional centres (eg. through SPREP for the Pacific). Moreover, the online international training platform on waste and chemicals in English is being established and will open to all the parties and stakeholders so as to improve the capacity and knowledge in the field of waste and chemicals.

Other regional centres are also important partners and the RC has signed MOUs with SPREP and BCRC Egypt in 2013 and 2015 respectively, for cooperation on a joint information newsletter, staff and researchers exchanges, and joint applications for potential funds. BCRC China also has conducted joint activities and cooperation with BCRC CAM, BCCC-Nigeria, BCRC/SCRC SEA, BCRC-Iran and SCRC-India. The cooperative efforts include internships, joint activities and information exchanges.

In addition, RC is working hard to improve the cooperation with UN organizations. We have been members of the StEP initiated by UNU, PEN and others for several years and have established good cooperative relationships. BCRC China initiated the Programme on Establishing Public and Private Partnership for Metal Recycling in Asia and the Pacific Region in 2015 which is now being considered as a focal area of Global Partnership on Waste Management by UNEP. UNDP, UNIDO, ILO and other international organizations are also current or potential partners.

CA: How would you like the RC to evolve, in the next say 5 to 10 years?

JL: As per our Preliminary Strategic Plan (2014-2020), which was deliberated and adopted during the First Meeting of Steering Committee of the BCRC China in 2014, we intend to significantly strengthen our own  capacity for the implementation of Basel Convention; upgrade the level of assistance to parties in Asia and the Pacific region for the implementation of the Basel Convention; and enhance the international influence of BCRC China in the field of environmentally sound management of wastes and chemicals. Under the guidelines, RC is willing to continue to take efforts to promote regional communication and cooperation with countries and international organisations, conduct more extensive and meaningful activities for supporting Parties in meeting their obligations, as well as propel synergies with other Conventions.

CA: The RC has achieved a lot, but what are the achievements of which you are most proud?

JL: Firstly, the RC has formed a steady and effective network linking national governments, academic institutions and related enterprises together, which played an important role in bolstering the work of RC; secondly, RC has strengthened its presence in government service and negotiations support; thirdly, RC has formed an integrated and systematic information platform, including but not limited to the website system, the annual international conference on waste management and technology (ICWMT), online training, information release systems and performance services; and last but not least, RC has continually stimulated international cooperation, for example RC has built relationships with International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC), United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and Solving the E-waste Problems Initiative (StEP), and Metal Recycling PPP in Asia and the Pacific Region. RC obtained the full score during the assessment on regional centres of Basel and Stockholm Convention in 2015, which shows that our work is recognized by the parties of the conventions.

CA: And lastly, Professor Li, what do you think the most pressing, emerging issues will be for sustainable management of chemicals and wastes in your region, in the next years?

JL: As the sustainable management of chemicals and wastes is vitally important for environmental protection, all stakeholders in society should work together to reduce the risk by chemicals and wastes. A lack of legislation is the most pressing issue in this region. When it comes to the recycler, e.g., e-waste, a reasonable legislation and subsidies framework would promote their interest on e-waste recycling activities, at the same time conferring responsibility for any environmental pollution during the collection and recycling processes. In terms of the public, awareness raising is key, with important needs for information exchange mechanisms and platforms. We also face long-standing issues such as language barriers, large populations and large territorial areas, which all offer challenges for achieving the sustainable management of chemicals and wastes in our region.

CA: Thank you, Professor Li, for your time and for your answers. Good luck with your important work in this important region.

JL: Thank you, Charlie, and if you need any further information on our centre and its activities, please go to our websites and and we also have a newsletter to you which you can subscribe in order to keep up to date.