The latest crackdown on waste shipments from overseas, launched by China’s General Administration of Customs on Tuesday, reflects the government’s firm determination to prevent the continuous inflow of foreign waste in efforts to combat pollution.
Code-named “Blue Sky 2018”, the ongoing operation targets waste slag, metals and plastics that are being smuggled into the country to be used as raw materials. As much of the waste is hazardous and sold to unlicensed plants with no proper processing technology, it poses a serious threat to the environment and people’s health.
It is the third time this year that a campaign has been launched against the smuggling and processing of illegal solid waste since the introduction of a ban on imports of 24 categories of solid waste from foreign countries that came into effect on January 1. Since then hundreds of people have been arrested.
Before the ban, China had been the world’s largest dumping ground – taking in over half of the solid waste exported globally. And the huge profits involved, in tens of billions of US dollars, as well as lack of effective supervision and a well-regulated recycling system, mean it will be a long and tough fight to put an end to the illegal trade.
Improving the natural environment has been made one of the country’s three priority tasks, and that means the tougher laws and regulations put in place to prevent pollution must be strictly enforced.
That also means companies can no longer pursue profits at any cost and local authorities will have to change their mindset. To combat pollution and clean up the air, rivers and land, the central authorities have shut down numerous polluting factories. Yet to support their economies, many local authorities turn a blind eye to the polluting enterprises.
Last month, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment named and shamed seven local governments for not doing enough to prevent solid waste pollution, requiring the local authorities to correct the problems, punish those responsible for the pollution and establish long-term mechanisms to address the issue.
As President Xi Jinping said at a tone-setting meeting on the ecology and the environment last week, the transition to green development will not be without pain. But, as he stressed, the country has to “bite the bullet”.