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Policies seek to boost efficiencies in nation's waste recycling system

By WANG KEJU | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-20 08:48

China will employ a raft of policies to foster a comprehensive waste recycling system that covers all sectors and stages by 2025, with the resource recycling industry projected to reach an annual output value of 5 trillion yuan ($697 billion), according to a guideline issued by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

With industrialization and urbanization ramping up in the country, China has experienced a significant increase in waste. The sheer volume and diverse sources of waste pose challenges for effective management and recycling, creating an urgent need for the construction of a waste recycling system, officials and experts said.

Though generally seen as a source of pollution, waste can also be an effective resource, said Jin Yong, professor of the Institute for Circular Economy at Tsinghua University.

By adopting a circular economy approach, people may begin to see waste not as a burden but as a potential resource waiting to be tapped. This shift in perspective has opened up opportunities to extract value from waste and reduce the strain on natural resources, Jin added.

As the world's second-most populous country, China is grappling with a staggering solid waste challenge as it generates over 10 billion metric tons of waste each year, including industrial solid waste, agricultural waste and construction waste, data released by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in January showed.

China made substantial strides in the comprehensive utilization of bulk solid waste last year, with the overall utilization rate reaching 59 percent, Jin said, adding that one notable achievement was the recycling and utilization of steel waste, the volume of which has accounted for approximately one-fourth of the nation's total crude steel production.

The adoption of circular economic principles and the creation of a robust waste management infrastructure will play an important role in helping China peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, said Zhu Liyang, president of the China Association of Circular Economy.

According to estimates by the association, these efforts led to a remarkable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by some 3.3 billion tons in 2022 alone. As these practices continue to deepen and expand, the overall contribution of the circular economy to China's carbon emissions reduction is expected to exceed 35 percent, Zhu added.

Despite the country's efforts to promote sustainable practices and environmental conservation, the recycling sector is grappling with various obstacles that impede its progress, said Xu Junxiang, president of China National Resources Recycling Association.

One recycling center, as stipulated in relevant regulations, should be established for every 2,000 households in urban areas, and one for every 2,500 households in rural townships. However, the current distribution of recycling centers in China, primarily concentrated in urban areas, falls short of the desired coverage, Xu said.

Furthermore, many recycling centers lack the necessary equipment and facilities to effectively sort and process collected recyclable materials. This limitation hampers the efficient separation and preparation of resources for recycling, reducing the overall quality and value of the recycled materials, Xu added.

Over 80 percent of the businesses engaged in resource recycling are classified as small or medium-sized enterprises. Limited financial capabilities and technical constraints impede their research and development efforts, preventing innovations that could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of resource recycling, Xu said.

Going forward, more investments should be channeled to improve the infrastructure and facilities for recycling, including the establishment of more recycling centers, upgrading sorting and processing equipment and improving transportation and storage facilities, Xu said.

To encourage investment in recycling infrastructure and technology, financial support such as grants, subsidies and low-interest loans should be provided to recycling businesses and projects, and tax incentives should be offered to companies that demonstrate sustainable and efficient recycling practices, Xu added.


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