E-waste recycling in Beijing and the impact of China's WEEE directive: competition or collaboration between informal recyclers and authorized recycling enterprises?

Chen, Liwen (2019) E-waste recycling in Beijing and the impact of China's WEEE directive: competition or collaboration between informal recyclers and authorized recycling enterprises? Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This thesis traces the afterlives of used electronics after they are discarded by household consumers in Beijing and examines the roles of informal and formal sectors in discarded electronics recycling through following the commodity chain. In contrast to most mainstream narratives about China’s e-waste recycling, which almost all conclude with the need to crack down on the current informal e-waste sector and establish a new e-waste collection network controlled by government authorized processing facilities, I argue that the current informal sector has a sophisticated collection and reuse network and has found ways to collaborate with the formal e-waste recycling companies since 2012 when China’s WEEE directive and funding mechanism (Administrative Measures on Levy and Use of the Fund for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Treatment) came into enforcement. I establish this argument by showing how specific e-waste flows have changed and are currently managed between informal collectors to formal companies in Beijing. Prior to China’s WEEE enforcement, discarded electronics in Beijing had been collected, repaired, reused or dismantled by informal sector entrepreneurs since the 1990s. Following the implementation of the WEEE funding mechanism, certain appliances (in particular CRTs and washing machines) collected by the informal sector have gradually flowed to the formal e-waste disposal companies in Beijing and neighboring provinces. I conclude that the relationship between informal and formal sectors in handling China’s domestic discarded electronics is currently more one of collaboration than competition. Other important related findings include: 1) Informal e-waste collection and reuse businesses have been a vibrant part of environmental and economic activities in Beijing’s urbanization over the last 30 years. That sector’s salvaging of appliances for repair and reuse has extended the useful lives of tens of millions of electronic appliances and thereby made major contributions to resource conservation and sustainability. 2) The current ad hoc division of tasks, with the informal sector managing used electronics collection and sorting and formal companies managing end-of-life dismantling, has both economic and environmental benefits. By contrast, any attempts by formal e-waste companies to compete with the informal sector over residential collection have failed, and the formal companies remain almost comically ignorant regarding the economics and skills required for collection/sorting. 3) The biggest obstacles facing the informal discarded electronics sector are urban planning and policing policies that make their working and living conditions unstable, economically precarious, and at times dangerous. In this way, Beijing municipal policy undermines a sector that contributes greatly to resource conservation and pollution reduction of pollution. 4) The discarded electronic trade provides a clear picture of current trends in appliance manufacturing that are accelerating habits of disposal which are counter to environmental sustainability. A key policy suggestion derived from my research is that, if the government’s aim is to limit resource waste and maximize environmental sustainability, it should formulate standards requiring OEMs to design longer lasting appliances paired with policies incentivizing repair and reuse. 5) My research reveals that trade in imported used electronics into China is not as massive as many reports have claimed, but it is significant for particular types of devices and products. It is crucial to note that the flow of products is not simply from OECD countries into China; significant flows move out of China and into other countries, including ones in Africa. 6) Authorized e-waste recycling companies’ supplies mainly rely on the informal sector’s work. My research reveals that their relationships are more cooperation than competition. More and more would-be dismantled e-waste is sent to the formal sector after collected by the informal sector.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/14082
Item ID: 14082
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 150-154).
Keywords: Informal sector, e-waste, reuse, collection, resource recovery
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Geography
Date: May 2019
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.48336/5FZX-2425
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Electronic waste--China--Beijing; Recycling industry--Economic aspects--China--Beijing; Salvage (Waste, etc.)--China--Beijing.

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