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This blog recently reported on a new bill that was introduced in the U.S. to prohibit the export of “restricted electronic waste” from the U.S. to developing nations.

In China, a new regulation called Management Regulations for Recycling and Disposing of Consumer Electronics and Electronic Waste will go into effect on January 1, 2011. This regulation aims to manage the importing, recycling and disposing of e-waste in China.

I am excited to hear the good news and hope that these new regulations will become effective tools to remedy the unjust e-waste “trade” that exists between developing and developed countries, such as that between China and the U.S. Over time, it has been common for U.S. “recyclers” to export waste, including toxic items, to countries like China, where labor and environmental laws are lacking.

March 8, 2005 Guiyu, Guangdong, China. A child sitting on a pile of wires and electronic waste. Photo by Greenpeace/Natalie Behing

I was shocked by a report released in 2009 by Greenpeace, revealing that Guiyu, China has become an e-waste town, where many inhabitants make a living by importing and recycling electronic waste. Guiyu is located at Chaonan area of Shantou city, Guangdong province. It covers 52.4 square km of land and includes 28 villages and 150,000 permanent residents. According to the Greenpeace report (1), Guiyu has become the “largest distribution center for electronic waste dismantling in China, and even in the world.” Since the early 90s, e-waste disposal has been the main industry of this town. There are more than 5,500 e-waste disposal plants in this town, contributing 75 million RMB (about $11 million) every year, and providing employment opportunities for more than 100,000 residents.*

However, these benefits come at a price: environmental health and human safety. E-waste recycling in Guiyu is dangerous work that has marred the landscape.

More than 1.5 millions pounds of e-waste is processed each year in Guiyu, including cell phones, computers, printers, and other electronic products, 80% of which come from developed countries, including the U.S.* This waste contains plastic, toxic organic compounds, and toxic heavy metals like gold, lead, copper, tin and antimony. Workers, often without proper protection, break down e-waste mostly by hand and extract precious metals and other valuable materials by burning and soaking materials in acids. The remaining ash is often dumped directly into rivers, canals, and other local waterways or buried nearby. Many wells are polluted too. Communities have lost their access to drinking water and are forced to truck in fresh water daily. LiuSi, a college student from Central University of Finance and Economics (Beijing) visited the town of Guiyu in December 2006 as a volunteer. She talked to a local family and found out that they had to buy water for daily life just like food. However the cheap water they bought doesn’t taste good. They can’t afford “good” water.

Local residents, especially children, are exposed to high-level of toxic metals like cadmium and lead. A study by QuXia, a professor at the Medical School, Shantou Univeristy, shows that “the stillbirth rate is six times higher than control group between 2003 and 2007”, and “the preterm delivery rate is as high as 62%.”

The new Chinese regulation Management Regulations for Recycling and Disposing of Consumer Electronics and Electronic Waste was passed by the state council of China on August 20, 2008 and will finally go into effect on January 1, 2011. The regulation makes several important points:

  1. No toxic e-waste can be imported;
  2. A permit is required for any e-wastes treatment;
  3. An e-waste treatment plant must be equipped with pollution treatment facilities…

However, the description of what qualifies as toxic e-waste is vague and the type of technologies that should be used for e-waste treatment is not specified. Additionally, the penalties for violations are not substantial enough to deter violators. For example, violators will be fined less than 50,000 RMB (about $7,495) for importing or buying toxic electronic waste.

New laws and policies in China that are designed to defend the environment are encouraging. However, without strict enforcement and high penalties, I know these laws will accomplish little. I feel better knowing environmental lawyers, like ELAW’s partners, are watching and working every day to enforce justice.

Chu Chen
ELAW Program Associate

* The biggest e-wastes villages—Guiyu, Guangdong:

We are pleased to welcome Yonghua Zhang, ELAW’s Laurie Prosser/Xiaoli Jiang Fellow.

Yonghua Zhang at UOYonghua is an environmental attorney from Shenzhen, China. He works pro bono at the Shenzhen Legal Assistance Center to clean China’s air and water, and challenge noise pollution. He received his LLM, with a focus on environmental law, from Northwest University of Political Science (Xi’an, ShaanXi Province).

Yonghua will be with us for three months. He will participate in an Intensive English Program at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute and work one-on-one with ELAW staff on marine, mining, and carbon trading issues.

This is Yonghua’s first time in the U.S. If you live in the Eugene area and are interested in helping us introduce Yonghua to American culture and the beautiful Northwest, please leave us a comment!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

WHY and HOW? Some thoughts about China’s unsuccessful environmental protection

photo by  Zhang, Jingjing in Anhui province, Haozhou, Wo River, 2005

Photo by Zhang,Jingjing in Anhui province

The Chinese government is increasingly concerned about water pollution, water shortages, air pollution, desertification and other environmental issues, since these problems are going to damage the country’s “development and stability” which are two top priorities claimed by President Deng, Xiaoping. However, because “development” always remains at the top, environmental protection can only be used as an interim remedial measure when needed. In my opinion, this is the most essential reason why all efforts of environmental protection in China have always fallen into short-term effects.

For example, The People’s Republic of China Water Pollution Control Act has been in effect since June 1, 2008. This is China’s “Clean Water Act”, updated based on valuable experience of other countries including the U.S.  It includes protections such as setting national and state discharge standards, implementing emissions permit system, and establishing water quality monitoring. A lot of hope was put on this new law. However, none of these rules have been implemented effectively, because no local government is willing to take it seriously enough regardless of GDP decrease. Therefore, as long as GDP is still valued as the country’s number one target, pollution can’t be eliminated.

Furthermore, pollution can’t be treated or prevented until all the related political and legal systems are established to work together, and the environment-friendly ethics and culture are revived.

For an instance, there is still no specific authorized legal support for civil environmental litigation, with only a few general descriptions mentioned in the Environmental Protection Law, Civil Law and the Administrative Procedure Law.  This is only a small example of how difficult it is to use take a legal fight for the environment in China. Not to mention the whole legal system needs to be strengthened, gaining more independence. Otherwise, public interest lawyers will continue to suffer all kinds of non-legal challenges during the processes.

by Zhang, Jingjing in Guangdong province, Shaoguan,  in 2007. It is a picture of the outall of the tailings of Da Baoshan mining company. Several villages downriver are known as cancer villages.

Photo by Zhang, Jingjing in Guangdong province, Shaoguan

Besides “development and stability”, the other national top priority claimed by Deng is “reform”. As the whole world knows, Deng’s “1980s reform” leads China to be a fast growing country directly. However, Deng’s reform theory has not been understood comprehensively so far.  As a matter of fact, it is supposed to include “economic reform, political system reform, and other corresponding reforms” (Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping volume 3, p. 237), but the government has been put overwhelming efforts on “economic reform” exclusively since 1980s. Without an overall treatment, the serious environmental pollution in China cannot be cured.

It’s always painful to admit mistakes, but it is even more challenging to correct them. As discussed above, it is critical to enforce integrated consideration and to keep balanced “reforms/development” all the time. Then the real question comes to everyone: are we ready to get rid of the addition of over-consumption of the environment?

Chu “Cassie” Chen, ELAW intern

Reporter Camilla Mortensen’s cover story in today’s Eugene Weekly describes the history of the challenges that Haiti faces and the work that ELAW Fellow Jean André Victor has been doing and will continue to do after he finishes his fellowship here in Eugene.  And not only that — ELAW’s fabulous intern Chu “Cassie” Chen was featured in this week’s “Happening People!

Here’s an excerpt from the cover story:

“For more than 20 years, Jean André Victor worked as an agronomist in Haiti, trying to solve the riddle of how to fix the centuries of environmental degradation and poverty that has kept Haiti from developing a self sustaining economy and food supply.  But, ‘the main problem is that you can’t solve the degradation of Haiti with projects,’ says Victor.

This spring, at the age of 68, Victor came to Eugene to discuss law and policy with scientists and other attorneys, write the first textbook on environmental law in Haiti and learn English at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute.  He came through the help of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide….

He will return to Haiti this summer – a country that was struggling even before the devastating January earthquake that killed thousands of Haitians, including Victor’s mother – and try to change his country from within.”  Read the whole story here.

We are inspired by all that Jean André has endured and all he does!  And we are delighted that everybody else now knows what a happenin’ person Cassie is!

It was my first day at ELAW. I rode my bike from home, passed a dog park, crossed the river and followed a clean and quiet bicycle path.  A lovely house surrounded with green bamboo appeared to me twenty minutes later – I’m at the ELAW office!

My name is Chu Chen, but I go by Cassie. I will do an internship with ELAW for one year.  I have lived in Eugene since 2007.  I grew up in the city of Rui’An (one urban area of Wenzhou), Zhejiang province of China.  My family still lives there.

People have asked me why I chose ELAW. Well, there are several factors attracting me, including its commitment to environmental justice, its international background and its location in Eugene.  Also I knew ELAW people when I was a student in University of Oregon.  Meche Lu, a friend of mine, works here as an environmental research scientist.  And I took a class of Environmental Justice taught by Vannia Glasinovic, a previous Program Assistant at ELAW.  I heard about what ELAW has been doing, and I learned knowledge and theories that support their activities.

I just finished my master degree in environmental studies at University of Oregon.  In the past two years, my study and life in Eugene made me a positive supporter of environmental protection. I have become interested in this environmental nonprofit that I knew little about before, and I am feeling inspired to dedicate myself to it!

ELAW is the best option for me to do the internship. I hope I can make my contribution to the organization while I am learning from all the ELAW people.

by Chu “Cassie” Chen

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