A UK media report claiming that Britain dumps 1.9 million tons
of garbage in China every year has placed the spotlight on China's
booming rubbish import industry and the harmful influence it has on
Quoting official figures in Britain, the Sunday Mirror
newspaper reported that in 1997 the UK sent 12,000 tons of paper,
plastics and metals to China. That figure rocketed 158-fold in the
eight years to 2005.
"Campaigners fear vast amounts of the waste, including
potentially lethal chemicals, are ending up in illegal landfill
sites instead of being recycled," the story said.
Waste paper accounted for about 1.5 million of the 1.9 million
tons of rubbish sent to China. The remainder was composed of
plastics and metals including copper, nickel, aluminium, zinc,
lead, tin and tungsten. These materials could poison water supplies
if they leaked, the story said.
However, the story showed only one part of the jigsaw
The Report on Status and Trend of Solid Waste in China, which
was released last year by the China Council for International
Cooperation on Environment and Development, an office under the
country's top environmental administration, showed that rubbish
imports have grown steadily since 1996 when the country completed
legislation on the practice.
After 2001 rubbish imports exceeded 20 million tons every year.
In 2004 the volume reached 33 million tons.
"The imports fill the gap between raw material shortages and
increasing demand," said Li Jinhui, a professor at Tsinghua
University's Department of Environmental Science and
"The imported rubbish is allowed to contain certain amounts of
chemical substances or hazardous materials according to
regulations," Li said. "But the influence on the environment cannot
be neglected, let alone the smuggling of waste into China."
According to the government's report, 70 percent of the
electronic waste produced around the world every year illegally
finds its way into China and 90 percent of such waste is broken
down in small workshops. Because they tend to employ very basic
technology, large amounts of dangerous materials end up getting
released into the environment. The town of Guiyu in south China's
Guangdong Province is representative of the
Lured by the prospect of immediate economic gains by the
opportunity to extract 450 grams of gold and 1,300 grams of copper
from 1 ton of electronic boards, many town residents have become
involved in recycling. This has earned Guiyu the distinction of
being one of the world's electronic waste terminals.
Environmental inspections have shown that the town has no
potable water. More than 80 percent of the town's children are
suffering from lead poisoning, and the cancer rate is above
The government report warned that because of the electronic
waste smuggling these small-scale workshops had spread into central
China in recent years.
It’s been estimated that the amount of hazardous waste in China
would overtake the country's environmental capacity by 2020
resulting in severe secondary pollution.
(China Daily January 23, 2007)