context: China is one of the world’s largest solid waste producers and generates 10 bn tonnes of new solid waste every year. Developing a robust waste recycling and utilisation industry and lowering the cost of recycling are both key to reducing solid waste.

On 21 Jan 2019, State Council announced the launch of ‘waste-free city’ pilot projects aiming to minimise landfills, reduce solid waste at the source and increase utilisation of solid waste.

The policy involves

  • selecting ten cities to carry out the pilot
  • establishing indexes, integrated management and technical systems for constructing ‘waste-free’ cities by 2020
  • coordinating urban development and solid waste management
  • promoting near-zero growth in bulk industrial solid waste
  • promoting full utilisation of major agricultural waste
  • encouraging green lifestyles, reducing municipal waste at the source and improving waste recycling
  • strengthening hazardous waste risk control
  • drafting a catalogue for national industrial solid waste integrated utilisation products
  • by 2020, implementing environmental pollution liability insurance for hazardous waste agencies of pilot cities
  • increasing government procurement of recycled products
  • setting up several lead companies to transform waste into resources

Many regions have yet to factor in waste reduction, recycling and disposal into urban planning, industrial planning and infrastructure construction, says Li Ganjie 李干杰 Ministry of Ecology and Environment minister. This has significantly impeded sustainable development. Regulations and incentive mechanisms to stimulate reduction, recycling and safe treatment of solid waste still fall short, Li adds.

Cheng Huiqiang 程会强 State Council Development Research Centre research fellow emphasises that untreated solid waste was often stored for long periods of time or illegally dumped in landfills. The amount of solid waste disposed in such ways has also been rising in recent years. This has caused significant damage to both the environment and public health. Illegal transfer of waste from waste generating regions makes it challenging to contain pollution.