Understanding Environmental Pollutions of Informal E-Waste Clustering in Global South via Multi-Scalar Regulatory Frameworks: A Case Study of Guiyu Town, China

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr 18;17(8):2802. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17082802.


The recycling of e-waste by the informal sector has brought countries in the Global South raw materials (e.g. metals and plastics), second-hand electronic equipment and components, and economic opportunities in conjunction with appalling environmental pollutions and health problems. Despite the longstanding international and national legislation regulating transnational trade and domestic recycling, informal e-waste economies are still clustering in many Global South countries. This study offers historically and geographically specific explanations of this conundrum, by interrogating the multi-scalar regulatory frameworks in which the informal e-waste economies and their pollutions are embedded, by drawing on China, particularly the former global e-waste hub-Guiyu town, as the case study. We argue that the contested and problematic application of current international and national legislation in regulating e-waste is in part pertaining to the slippery definition of what counts as "e-waste" and its paradoxical nature as both resources and pollutants. At the global scale, trajectories of global e-waste flows are shaped by the multitude of loopholes, contradictions and ambiguous articles left by the Basel Convention and by different countries' disparate attitudes towards the e-waste trade. At the national scale, the ambiguities and contradictions in the Basel Convention have been passed on to and shaped China's national e-waste regulatory frameworks. China's equivocal legislation, paradoxical attitude, and formal enterprises' weak competence contribute to the rise of informal e-waste recycling in Guiyu. Yet, China's e-waste regime has been greatly restructured within the past decade, with formal recycling enterprises playing an increasingly significant role.

Keywords: China; environmental pollutions; geographical clustering; informal e-waste recycling; multi-scalar regulatory frameworks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Electronic Waste*
  • Environmental Pollutants*
  • Humans
  • Recycling / methods*
  • Safety Management / methods
  • Waste Management / methods*


  • Environmental Pollutants