The PRC State Council officially approved the "Administrative Regulations for Recycling and Disposal of Waste Electrical and Electronic Products" (the "China WEEE Regulations") on March 4, 2009. The Regulations, containing 5 chapters and 35 articles, will come into effect on January 1, 2011.
The China WEEE Regulations are intended to regulate activities relating to the recycling and treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment ("WEEE") listed in the "Product Catalogue for Waste Electrical and Electronic Appliances Subject to Treatment" (the "Catalogue"), as well as items that are also categorized as waste electrical and electronic equipment. It imposes significant obligations on manufacturers and other entities that handle used electrical and electronic equipment in respect of WEEE recycling and treatment. Manufacturers are required to adopt product designs that are favorable to recycling and reuse, use non-hazardous or low-hazard materials in their products, disclose, whether on the product itself or in product instruction manuals, the product composition information as well as recycling and treatment instructions relevant to the product materials. Manufacturers are also encouraged to take back WEEE, whether on their own or with the assistance from their distributors, repairers and after-sales service organizations. Moreover, manufacturers and importers are also required to contribute to the WEEE Treatment Fund established by the State, the proceeds of which are intended to be used for related subsidies and other purposes.
The China WEEE Regulations further provide that only qualified treatment enterprises approved by the environmental protection authority will be allowed to conduct recycling and treatment activities. These enterprises must conduct WEEE recycling and treatment in a manner that is in full compliance with State policies and requirements with respect to resource utilization, environment protection, labor security etc., and shall maintain management data systems (records) and retain such records for at least three years so that they can submit them to designated local authorities.
Although the China WEEE Regulations represent a significant step towards the development of a national regulatory program aimed at recycling of the electrical and electronic products in China, it is not the first set of regulations in this subject area. Prior to the China WEEE Regulations, there have been promulgated two sets of regulations in this area, i.e., the "Administrative Measures for Pollution Control of Electronic Information Products" (the "China RoHS Measures") issued on February 28, 2006 with effect from March 1, 2007 by the Ministry of Information Industry (now the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology), State Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, General Administration of Customs, State Administration for Industry and Commerce, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, State Environmental Protection Administration (now Ministry of Environmental Protection), and the Administrative Measures for the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Electronic Waste issued by the State Environmental Protection Administration (now Ministry of Environmental Protection) ("SEPA Measures") on September 7, 2007 with effect from February 1, 2008.
The China RoHS
Measures set out restrictions on use of hazardous substances in the manufacture of electronic products and apply to domestic and imported electronic information products (including parts) that are to be sold in China, equipment manufactured in China for export are exempted from those requirements. The scope of products covered by the China RoHS Measures encompass a wide range of electrical and electronic equipment, including: electronic radar products, electronic telecommunications products, radio and television products, computer products, home electronics products, electronic measurement equipment products, specialized electronics products, electronic components and parts products, electronic applications products, and electronic materials products.
The toxic and hazardous substances that are expressly banned under the China RoHS Measures are the same six that are listed in the EU RoHS Directive—lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ether. However, the China RoHS Measures further include a catch-all category of "other toxic and hazardous substances or elements specified by the State", which leaves the door open for China's government authorities to add to that list and impose further restrictions on the use of hazardous substances in electronic products.
A primary obligation of the manufacturers and importers of electronic products as set out in the China RoHS Measures involves the disclosure of relevant information (e.g., environmentally friendly use period (the time in years that the hazardous substances will not, under normal conditions, leak out or that the product will not cause serious environmental pollution, severe damage to property or injury to one's health), information with respect to the toxic or hazardous substances used in the product (i.e., name, content, location and recyclability) generally by identifying such substances on labels affixed to the product or if that is not possible, in the product instruction manual.
The SEPA Measures apply to the prevention and control of environmental pollution resulting from the dismantling, utilization and disposal of electronic waste. All activities related to dismantling, utilization and disposal of electronic waste are required to be conducted in line with applicable standards, technical specifications and policies, and manufacturers of electronic products are asked to avoid or minimize the use of hazardous substances in the manufacturing process.
Any construction entity seeking to build, rebuild or expand a project for dismantling, utilization and disposal of electronic waste shall submit an environmental impact report to the environmental protection authority for approval. A follow-up application will be submitted to the original approval authority asking for examination and acceptance of the project upon completion. The authorities shall establish the temporary list of qualified treatment entities and publish the list, so that any manufacturer, importer, user, repairer of any waste electronic products can deliver the products to such facilities for dismantling, utilization or disposal.
Collectively, these regulations set out the phases in which China is building up its overall framework for WEEE collection, recycling and recovery as well as the manufacture of environmentally-friendly electrical and electronic products. It is hoped that these environmental compliance requirements imposed on the electronics industry will be the first step towards restricting and eventually phasing out to the greatest extent possible the use of toxic and hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products. Given the size of the domestic market and its potential for growth, the steps taken by China in this direction is likely to have a significant impact on the supply chains of electrical and electronic product manufacturers worldwide in the years to come.