China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Monday, May 01, 2006

'Green Box' targets electronic waste

UPDATED: 10:49, May 01, 2006 Via Chinadaily

Amy Wei has used five mobile phones since she graduated from college.

One was lost, and the four others were transferred to her family or sold in the second-hand mobile phone market. But along with the batteries, she threw away phone accessories and other electronic waste.

Wei works for the Private Economy News, a newspaper based in Guangzhou of South China's Guangdong Province. She did not know that the disposal of mobile phones in that manner would cause serious pollution to the environment and endanger human health until she was asked to write an article that focused on a new national recycling project for unwanted mobile phones.

The project, called "Green Box," jointly launched at the end of last year by China Mobile, Nokia and Motorola, provides an environmentally-friendly solution for anyone with unwanted mobile phones and electronic accessories.

"If kept at home, the phones may be ignored," Wei said. "Now I have a new way to deal with retired mobile phones without causing pollution."

Special boxes were set out last year across China at about 1,000 branches of China Mobile, the country's largest mobile carrier. Moreover, 150 sales shops and maintenance centres of Nokia and Motorola are collecting unused mobile phones.

The phones either were disposed of by the mobile phone producers using non-toxic methods, or underwent facelifts by professional maintenance shops for reuse.

"The project was to encourage more mobile phone users to get rid of their unwanted phones in an environmentally-friendly manner," said Lu Xiangdong, deputy general manager of China Mobile.

Lu added that more than 30,000 old mobile phones and their accessories have been collected since the project began.

According to a survey by China Mobile last October, China has nearly 400 million mobile phone users, and about 70 million phones are replaced every year. In Beijing alone, users who replace a stolen phone or catch up on the latest fashion trend discard about 1,800 mobile phones a day.

"These unwanted mobile phones, which contain various toxic and harmful chemicals, will definitely pose a great threat to the environment if they are not dealt with appropriately," Lu said.

For example, nickel and cadmium in batteries can cause cancer. The circuit board inside the phone often contains toxic metals, such as lead, mercury and zinc. And the plastic shell is not easily biodegradable.

To attract more mobile phone users, the "Green Box" project set the first three months starting from December last year as the "incentive period," offering a chance through a lottery to win a new phone to any users who participate.

The project has now entered its second phase, with six more domestic and foreign mobile phone brands Bird, Lenovo, Amoi, LG, NEC and Panasonic getting involved.

"It shows that more mobile phone producers are shouldering their social responsibilities in terms of environmental pollution caused by electronic waste," said Tian Xijun, vice-director of the Pollution Controlling Department under the State Environmental Protection Administration.

Most disposed electronic products, including mobile phones, go into the second-hand market through small retailers since they still have some market value.

"The second-hand market usually leads to the disordered reuse of electronic products," said Tian, adding that their prolonged lives will still cause pollution.

But Tian is concerned not only about mobile phones, but also all electronic products as they accumulate rapidly in the wake of China's recent economic expansion.

Electronic waste now grows by about 5-8 per cent annually in China. So, he called for a standardized recycling system to be set up through co-operation by governmental organizations, producers, traders and consumers.

"Electronic producers, in particular, are being urged to share their social responsibility because of the pollution being caused by disposed electronic products," said Tian, who regards the "Green Box" project as effective.

"It means that they are not responsible for environmental pollution during the production period, but they are responsible for recycling electronic products and dealing with possible pollution after disuse."

Besides the recycling system, Tian said electronic producers should also be encouraged to improve technology to manufacture high-end products with lower toxic chemical pollutions in order to reduce possible negative effects to the environment after disuse.

Tian's opinions are shared by Susan Perkoff Bass, vice-president of Earth Day Network, a leading international non-governmental organization spearheading the effort to broaden and diversify the environmental movement.

"One of the effective ways to tackle electronic waste is to improve the technology in the electronic products, to ensure longer durations for use," Perkoff Bass said at a celebration event of Earth Day in Beijing on April 22.

In an interview with China Daily, she said special laws for recycling use of electronic products should be drafted as soon as possible.

"The relevant laws will allow electronic producers to better address the problems of electronic waste; thus, they can pay more attention to making less-polluted products," Perkoff Bass said.

China has given the disposal of electronic products a high priority since 2002, when an environmental watchdog group worked with other governmental organizations to draft relevant regulations for tackling electronic pollution.

"The relevant regulations in our country lagged behind those of Western countries in the past, mostly because of lower awareness by producers," said Gao Zhengjie, an official with the Ministry of Information Industry (MII).

But now China has seen much progress in this field following the Administrative Measures on Pollution Control of Electronic Information Products, which was released early in February and will take effect from next March.

The regulation was jointly issued by seven governmental organizations. They are MII, the Ministry of Commerce, the National Development and Reform Commission, the General Administration of Customs, the State Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision, the State Environmental Protection Administration and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

"It is intended to (foster) the reduction or elimination of certain toxic and hazardous substances in electronic products," Gao said.

The new regulations will ban toxic and hazardous substances, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and polybrominated biphenyls, as well as an open-ended category of other substances or elements specified by the country, Gao said.

"These toxic and hazardous substances are strictly controlled from the very first start of research, design, production, sales and imports for electronic information products," he said.

The new regulations also lay the foundation to establish a recycling system and, because of the pollution their products cause, force enterprises to improve technology.

Under the regulations, any electronic products that have exceeded their duration time will be strictly forbidden to re-enter the market.

Besides governmental efforts, enterprises engaged in electronic products in China have also showed concerns over pollution caused by electronic wastes.

Among the phone manufacturers, Motorola, one of the three organizers of the "Green Box" project, invested about 2 million yuan (US$250,000) in 2004 to set up 279 bases in 151 cities across the country to reclaim useless phones and their accessories.

Nokia, another organizer, also launched a recycling project early in 2002, with 200 collection boxes set out at its maintenance centres across the country. Under the project, all reclaimed phones and their accessories were later sent to professional centres for non-polluting recycling.

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