From Legal Transplants to Sustainable Transition

Extended Producer Responsibility in Chinese Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Management



Extended producer responsibility (EPR), which assigns significant responsibility to producers to take back their end-of-life products to create incentives for redesign of products with lower life cycle environmental impacts, has come to a crossroad facing a trade-off between the original innovation-oriented regime design and the cost-efficiency challenges in practice. This is particularly true in its implementation in non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries as they are trying to transplant the “best practices” from OECD countries, for there is increasing skepticism as to whether EPR is suitable for developing countries at all. As an important producer of electronic products and destination of electronic waste (e-waste) flows in the world, China has been expected to play a vital role in the evolution of global governance based on the idea of EPR, either to create new ways for producers to perform their end-of-life strategies, or to reshape the mode of production and consumption with its fast-growing market. However, the establishment of EPR in China has been long and full of difficulties. This article reviews the status and trends in the establishment of an EPR system for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) management in China. We use the framework of a multilevel perspective of transition theory in our analysis to characterize the complex interactions among various agents in the evolution of the Chinese system from initial innovation-oriented design to the current efficiency-oriented version. An ongoing research framework for evaluation of the EPR program in China is outlined as the research agenda in coming years.