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Recycling 2016, 1(2), 286-310; doi:10.3390/recycling1020286

What Institutional Dynamics Guide Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Refurbishment and Reuse in Urban China?

1
Institute of Waste Management, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna 1190, Austria
2
Department of East Asian Studies, Institute of Sinology, University of Vienna, Vienna 1010, Austria
Academic Editor: William Bullock
Received: 17 May 2016 / Revised: 10 August 2016 / Accepted: 30 August 2016 / Published: 8 September 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Waste to Resources: Legacy Value from E-Waste)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [2657 KB, uploaded 8 September 2016]   |  

Abstract

For over two decades China has faced a veritable e-waste challenge due to the continuous increase in quantities of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) coming from foreign and domestic sources. Over more than a decade, the government’s response has been focussed on developing large-scale recycling facilities so as to recover the valuable materials within WEEE. Simultaneously, China is home to a vast, informal segment, which engages in the collection, refurbishment, and processing (dismantling, extraction of components and materials) of obsolete electronics, thus directly competing with the formal system for devices and for the profits that they generate. The official discourse and most of the existing research concentrates primarily on WEEE recycling. However, project-based field research and interviews by the author in Beijing and Guangdong province have indicated that the repair, refurbishment, and reuse of discarded electronics are widespread and profitable practices of the informal domain. This paper aims to analyse the institutional, i.e., rule-based, mechanisms behind these activities and, via an institutional economics approach, to highlight how formal and informal rule-based practices structure WEEE refurbishment and reuse in China. The results show that informal activities are dominant due to the well-developed collection and transfer networks, the division of labour amongst informal actors, and the high responsiveness to market prices and consumer demand. View Full-Text
Keywords: China; waste electrical and electronic equipment; refurbishment; repair; reuse; informal sector; waste pickers; waste collectors; circular economy China; waste electrical and electronic equipment; refurbishment; repair; reuse; informal sector; waste pickers; waste collectors; circular economy
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Steuer, B. What Institutional Dynamics Guide Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Refurbishment and Reuse in Urban China? Recycling 2016, 1, 286-310.

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