Several aspects of e-waste problems---e-waste definitions, international trading patterns, and China's solutions

Wang, Xiaowei (2018) Several aspects of e-waste problems---e-waste definitions, international trading patterns, and China's solutions. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Electrical and electronic equipment has infiltrated into every aspect of our lives, and created great waste problems. These problems have become popularized as electronic waste (e-waste) and received increasing attention both from the public and the govern-ment. This thesis concentrates on three different aspects of these problems: the definition of e-waste, the pattern of the global trade of e-waste, and China‘s e-waste problems and solutions. Many countries‘ government documents related to e-waste have provided their own definitions of e-waste, but these definitions vary. This variety in e-waste definitions can bring significant problems (Khetriwal et al., 2011; Cantin and Bury, 2012; Milovantseva and Fitzpatrick, 2015). However, only a few researchers have focused on this area, and none of these studies have considered e-waste definitions other than the ones from the EU Directive and American states. This study collects formal e-waste definitions from countries all over the world, published in English or Chinese, and finds their differences mainly lay in two areas: 1) the approaches to defining their covered equipment; and 2) how the covered equipment becomes waste. The influences of these differences are that they determine a different overall nature of the e-waste issue in the jurisdiction where given regulations apply. Different definitions of e-waste lead to different e-waste volumes and compositions, different responsible parties, and different possible solutions. The differences show that e-waste has no natural definition, and that the e-waste problem is an indeterminate problem (Wynne, 1987). Multiple e-waste problems have been caused by the international transfer of e-waste (BAN, 2002; Greenpeace International, 2005; Greenpeace, 2008; BAN, 2016). The second part of this research examines data from the United Nations COMTRADE database using a proxy method and analyzes the temporal pattern of the global trade of e-waste. This analysis results in three main findings: 1) the total international trade volume of at least certain types of e-waste has grown remarkably in the last 20 years, in which the summation of several of the biggest trade transactions account for the bulk of the total trade; 2) between 1996 and 2015, more than 80% of the international trade of e-waste measured by the COMTRADE data was intra-regional trade; and 3) the results of the trade data analysis can tell different stories when different categorization schemes for 'developing' and 'developed' countries are used to classify the trade data. Under the Basel Convention categorization scheme, the amount of the transfer of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries is very small, while under the World Trade Organization scheme (WTO), the volume of this type of trade is big and growing. These findings point to a broader problem than the specifics of either the Basel Convention or the WTO. It means not only the category of e-waste but also the categorization defined by the countries generate a fundamentally indeterminate waste management problem (more generally, see Wynne, 1987). China has been famous as a global e-waste recipient with a terribly destroyed environment (Puckett and Byster, 2002; Tong and Wang 2004; Schwarzer et al., 2005; On-gondo, Willianms, and Cherrett, 2011; CNN, 2013), the second largest e-waste generator (Wei and Liu, 2012; StEP, n.d.), and the largest producer and consumer of electronic ap-pliances in the world (Chi et al., 2011). The third part of this thesis will comprehensively analyze the situation of China‘s e-waste problems and the effectiveness of China‘s policy solutions. This research finds that the volumes of e-waste generated inside China and e-waste already smuggled into China are both large and neither issue should be ignored by police makers. However, the Chinese government treats domestic e-waste and smuggled e-waste in completely different ways. For the domestic e-waste, China has successfully built a regulation system to control it. If collected under this system, China‘s formal e-waste disposal industry has the ability to dispose of more than 90% of its domestic e-waste. Even though problems still exist with this system (e.g., collection remains a prob-lem), the conclusion can still be drawn that the Chinese government has put great efforts into trying to control its domestic e-waste problem. Meanwhile, the e-waste already smuggled into China remains largely uncontrolled. China‘s policy approach toward its e-waste importation is a trade ban. This ban policy has not been replaced for nearly ten years and it appears to be not working well. This finding is supported by evidence coming from different sources. Every piece of e-waste already smuggled into China will end up in the informal e-waste disposal industry. The Chinese public as well as their government will still have to suffer environmental problems brought by this industry. The Chinese government still needs to take more actions to enforce domestic environmental laws that cover issues of environmental quality raised by the processing of e-waste already smuggled into the country.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 13332
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 71-89).
Keywords: e-waste, definition, International Trading Patterns, China's policy
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Geography
Date: May 2018
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Electronic waste; Electronic waste--Economic aspects; Electronic waste--Government policy--China

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