Transboundary Waste Shipments in China

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Last Updated: March 29, 2012
Report Contents
-   Summary
-   Key Documents
-   Links
-   Contacts
-   Revision History


Transboundary movements of waste in and out of China continue to draw government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) scrutiny. This scrutiny stems from years of problems with illegal transboundary shipments of waste for disposal and the human and environmental harms resulting from such shipments. The NGO report, "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia" (2002), is an early example of citizen group outcry resulting from such issues, pointing to what many perceived as China's weak enforcement of existing illegal dumping laws. Citizen groups continue to campaign against environmental harms resulting from electronic waste dumping and disassembly. To this day, movements of such wastes are subject to very strict regulatory controls, even bans (see "Exporting Harm - The High-Tech Trashing of Asia", last visited March 26, 2012).

Indeed, Chinese officials remain extremely sensitized to "waste" issues, particularly hazardous waste issues. Decisions of foreign governments in this regard can significantly affect Chinese regulatory approvals for transboundary waste movements in and out of China, even if under Chinese law, the waste in question is not "hazardous".

This summary outlines major legislative and regulatory programs, including agreements between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, concerning transboundary waste movements. We start below with a summary of the status of China's participation in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal ("Basel Convention").

China is a Party to the Basel Convention. China ratified the Basel Convention in 1991. Further, on May 1, 2001, China ratified the Basel "Ban Amendment" that, upon entry into force, would prohibit hazardous wastes exports for final disposal and recycling from what are known as Annex VII countries (Basel Convention Parties including Liechtenstein and members of the EU and OECD) to non-Annex VII countries (all other Parties to the Convention). The status of the Basel Ban amendment can be monitored by checking the Basel Convention web site maintained by the Basel Convention Secretariat (last checked March 26, 2012).

The Basel Convention is implemented in China via a number of regulations governing transboundary waste control. Various agencies in the Chinese government have promulgated laws in this field.

Key laws governing transboundary waste movements, including those directed at end-of-life electronic equipment, include the Urgent Circular of the State Council on the Strict Control of Waste Imports, Interim Provisions for the Administration of Environmental Protection regarding the Import of Waste Materials, the Circular Concerning Relevant Questions on Imports of Category 7 Wastes, Management Methods for Application and Approval of Hazardous Wastes Exports. Furthermore, the Cooperation Arrangement on Control of Waste Movements between the Mainland and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is an important agreement governing the waste movements between the Mainland and HKSAR.

Article 25 of the Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste of the People's Republic of China (Solid Waste Act) adopted October 30, 1995 and amended December 29, 2004 and effective April 1, 2005 provides, in relevant part, that:

"It is forbidden to import solid waste that is unusable as raw materials or cannot be used in a hazard-free manner; restrictions and automatic import licensing may be applied variously to imports of solid waste that can be used as raw materials.

The State Council agencies responsible for environmental protection, together with the State Council agencies responsible for economic control, the Customs Office, and the State Council agencies responsible for inspection and quarantine, shall formulate, adjust and publish catalogues of solid waste that is prohibited from importation, solid waste that is subject to restricted importation, and solid waste the import of which is automatically allowed. Solid waste on the prohibited catalogue may not be imported. Solid waste on the restricted catalogue must be examined and approved by State Council agencies responsible for environmental protection, along with the relevant foreign trade administrative agency of the State Council. For solid wastes on the automatically allowed import catalogue, automatic licensing procedures should be managed according to law. Imported solid waste must meet national environmental protection standards and pass quality control inspections by inspection and quarantine agencies".

Accordingly, to implement this provision in the Solid Waste Act, China has issued "catalogues" that specify procedures for the import of scrap and other wastes that may be considered for import and use as raw materials in China. These catalogues are in the form of what is essentially prohibited item/banned item catalogue (i.e., list of wastes for use as raw materials that are prohibited from import), a restricted catalogue (i.e., list of wastes for use as raw materials that are subject to strict regulatory control, though they may still be imported upon approval), and an automatic import catalogue (i.e., list of wastes for use as raw materials that are subject to less stringent regulatory controls prior to import). The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) jointly issued the most recent Administrative Catalogues for Import of Solid Waste for Use as Raw Materials July 3, 2009 along with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), the General Administration of Customs, and the Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ). These versions of the Catalogues were adjusted December 30, 2011 and the adjusted versions entered into effect on January 1, 2012. See original text at: and (last visited March 26, 2012).

In addition, note that various Chinese agencies have periodically announced lists of goods or wastes that are subject to ban or restriction for importation, for example, the List of Prohibited Import Products (Second Batch) - Used Machinery and Electronic Products, jointly promulgated by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, the General Administration of Customs, the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine December 31, 2001.

China has also issued a number of national environmental protection standards aimed at controlling the environmental effects of electronic waste that is authorized for import into China for use as raw materials. Depending on the nature of the waste for use as raw materials destined for import into China, relevant standards may include:

At the fundamental level, it is also important to understand that China's Solid Waste Act, also described in the Hazardous Waste section of the China Country Pages, establishes as a fundamental measure in Article 24 that China "forbids the import of solid waste from abroad to be dumped, piled up or treated in the territory of China." Article 25 goes on to provide that China "forbids the import of solid waste that cannot be used as raw materials, and restricts the import of solid wastes that can be used as raw materials".

It is clear from these provisions that:

  1. China combines in the concept of "waste" both end-of-life materials and waste materials that are imported for use as raw materials in industrial processes; and
  2. China strictly monitors and controls movements of wastes, including transboundary shipments of end-of-life electronic equipment, from abroad. (In fact, China also strictly controls waste movements between provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities under Article 23 of the Solid Waste Act).

Things that the Chinese authorities may not consider "waste" include things that are not for imported for use as raw materials but for repair or refurbishment (i.e., used items imported for repair and refurbishment and then use as originally intended). See China's Guidelines for Identification of Solid Waste (Trial), issued March 9, 2006 and effective April 1, 2006, for further guidance on this issue.

Generally speaking, waste may be imported subject to approval of a permit issued per Article 25 of the Solid Waste Act if the waste is listed in the aforementioned "restricted" or "automatic import" Administrative Catalogues for Import of Solid Waste for Use as Raw Materials.


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