Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic compounds involved in atmospheric photochemical reactions, including non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC, such as alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, aromatic hydrocarbons, etc.), oxygenated organic compounds (aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, ethers, etc.), chlorine-containing organic compounds, nitrogen-containing organic compounds, sulfur-containing organic compounds, etc. VOCs are considered to be the causative agent of O3 and PM2.5 secondary products.

In recent years, China’s measures against air pollutants such as SO2, NOx, and smoke dust have made remarkable achievements, and the air environment quality has been greatly improved. However, the air pollution caused by the combination of O3 and PM2.5 is still severe, and measures against VOCs, which are considered to be important causative agents of O3 and PM2.5, have become an important issue. Since the promulgation and implementation of the Air Pollution Prevention Action Plan by the government in 2013, China has begun to take VOC countermeasures in earnest.

During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), several important policies have been enacted, including the 13th Five-Year Volatile Organic Compounds Pollution Control Work Plan (Ministry of Ecology and Environment [MEE], etc., September 2017), the Key Industry Volatile Organic Compounds Comprehensive Measures Plan (MEE, June 2019), and the Strategy for Volatile Organic Compounds Control in 2020 (MEE, June 2020). These Plans have clarified the priority areas and targets for VOCs control, and have strengthened the shift from at-source reduction to full-process measures such as terminal treatment, and from organized to unorganized emissions control.

In the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), countermeasures against VOC are considered to be of great importance. The Opinions on Delving into the Strategy of Pollution Control (State Council, October 2021), which was promulgated by the State Council in October 2021, clarifies the target of reducing VOC emissions and specifies key tasks such as substituting low-volatile raw materials and products and establishing a labeling system for low-VOC products. Among them, one worthy of attention is to “improve monitoring and measurement technologies and emission calculation methods for VOCs and study the timely inclusion of VOCs in environmental protection tax collection scope.” The inclusion of VOCs in the scope of environmental protection tax collection will also have a significant impact on the related businesses by increasing their pollution emission costs.

From the end of 2020 to now, several important policy developments have been observed in the regulation of VOCs, including remediation scheme, key initiatives, emission standards, and technical norms, further strengthening VOC emissions regulation to key industries.

 

Flow of policies and standards on VOCs after November 2020

The following table shows VOC-related policies and related standards by responsible organization in chronological order.

Name Publication date Organization
Related Policies
14th Five-year National Cooperative Monitoring and Measurement Network Capacity Construction Plan for Fine Particulate Matter and Ozone May 10, 2021 MEE
Notice on Accelerated Resolution of Volatile Organic Compound Problems August 4, 2021 MEE
Strategy for Comprehensive Measures for Autumn and Winter Air Pollution in 2021-2022 October 28, 2021 MEE
Opinions on Delving into Pollution Control Strategy November 8, 2021 Central Government of the Communist Party of China, State Council
Related Standards
Emission Standards of Air Pollutants for Foundry Industry (GB 39726-2020), Emission Standard of Air Pollutants for Pesticide Industry (GB 39727-2020) December 8, 2020 MEE
Stationary Source Emission—Determination of Aldehyde and Ketone Compounds —Solution Absorption- High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HJ 1153-2020) December 15, 2020 MEE
Determination of Volatile Organic Compounds and Aldehydes and Ketones in Nonmetallic Parts of Vehicles (GB/T 39897-2021) March 9, 2021 Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT)
Technical Specifications for Organic Waste Gas Treatment in Package Printing Industry (HJ 1163-2021) April 30, 2021 MEE

 

Summary of major policies and standards

Related policies

1. MEE announced the 14th Five-year National Cooperative Monitoring and Measurement Network Capacity Construction Plan for Fine Particulate Matter and Ozone (May 10, 2021).

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period, the government promulgated a construction plan to strengthen the national cooperative monitoring and measurement capacity for fine particulate matters and ozone. It has clarified the monitoring and measurement requirements for prefectural-level cities, key cities for air pollution control, industrial parks and polluters.

Requirements for pollutions emitters

VOC pollution emitters must monitor stational pollution sources in accordance with the requirements stipulated in the Guidelines for Self-Monitoring and Measurement Technology. Under the Guidelines, priority VOC pollution emitters are required to complete the installation of automatic VOC emission monitoring equipment by December 2021. Starting in 2022, the environmental competent department at each level will have to conduct sampling surveys and measurements of operational status of the installed automatic monitoring equipment by such emitters and urge those who do not meet the requirements of the Technical Guidelines for Continuous Monitoring and Measurement of NMHC Emissions in Waste Air from Stationary Pollution Sources (Trial) to make improvements.

2. MEE issued the Notice on Accelerated Resolution of Volatile Organic Compound Problems (August 4, 2021)

The Notice will strengthen the relevant responsibilities of VOC emitters by requiring local environmental management departments to supervise and control VOCs. The Notice has clarified the inspection points and requirements for 10 key areas of VOC treatment, including treatment facilities and VOC content of products. Each local government has also formulated local policies based on local conditions.

Inspection points and treatment requirements for VOC content of products

For companies using VOC-containing materials, such as paints, inks, adhesives, and cleaning agents, VOC content in products will be inspected and enforcement of rules against illegal activities will be strengthened. Enterprises will be encouraged to create a management ledger for the use of VOC-containing materials.

Key industries such as industrial painting, packaging and printing, and electronics should promote substitution of raw materials with ones having low (no) VOC-content and strengthen application of mature technologies and substitute products.

3. MEE: Strategy for Comprehensive Measures for Autumn and Winter Air Pollution in 2021-2022″ (October 28, 2021)

The Strategy clarifies 10 major tasks for air pollution control measures in the autumn and winter of 2021-2022. Among them, it is required to steadily promote the inspection of key issues in VOC treatment, and again emphasizes inspection of VOC content for products such as paints, inks, adhesives, and cleaning agents.

Regarding VOC emission monitoring and measurement, it also emphasized inspection for installation of automatic monitoring equipment by key emitters and operational situation of the monitoring equipment.

4. Central Government of the Communist Party of China (CPC), State Council: Opinions on Delving into Pollution Control Strategy (November 8, 2021)

The Opinion clarifies the environmental improvement goals and details of strategy implementation in each field during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. For VOCs, as an important part of the strategy to prevent ozone pollution, the CPC sets out a goal to reduce the total emission by 10%, from the 2020 level, by 2025. Relevant measures are as follows.

    1. Focusing on the petrochemical, chemical, coating, pharmaceutical, and package printing industries, promote highly efficient comprehensive measures against VOCs and substitute raw materials and product sources into ones that do not contain VOCs.
    2. Improve standard system on VOCVOCs related product and establish labeling system for low VOC content products.
    3. Improve monitoring and measurement technologies and emission calculation methods of VOCs and study the timely inclusion of VOCs in environmental protection tax collection scope after the relevant conditions are met.

Emission standards

5. MEE and State administration for market regulation released the Emission standards of air pollutants for foundry industry (GB 39726-2020) and the Emission standard of air pollutants for pesticide industry (GB 39727-2020) (December 8, 2020)

In order to strengthen the measures against VOC pollution, China has established a system of “industry + comprehensive” VOC emission standards. This system has been employed in two different standards: the Emission Standards of Air Pollutants for Foundry Industry (GB 39726-2020) and the Emission Standard of Air Pollutants for Pesticide Industry (GB 39727-2020), which specify emission standards for two important industries in VOC emissions. These two standards are implemented from January 1, 2021.

Previously, the two industries have implemented the Integrated Emission Standard of Air Pollutants (GB 16297-1996), but now the regulations have been strengthened by the above two standards. A comparison of some of the standards is as follows.

Contaminant Maximum allowable emission concentration (mg/m3)
Integrated Emission Standard of Air Pollutants (GB 16297-1996) Emission Standards of Air Pollutants for Foundry Industry (GB 39726-2020) Emission Standard of Air Pollutants for Pesticide Industry (GB 39727-2020)
Benzene 17 1 (Surface Coating Process) 4
NMHC 150 100 (surface coating process) 100

In addition to strengthening the fine management of organized emissions and specifying emission standards for each process, the standards also stipulate emission sources and process management for unorganized emissions.

Measurement standards

Standard name Publication date Division Main contents
Stationary Source Emission—Determination of Aldehyde and Ketone Compounds —Solution Absorption- High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HJ 1153-2020) December 15, 2020 MEE Measurement standards for aldehyde and ketone compounds to provide a basis for relevant emission standard implementation.
Determination Of Volatile Organic Compounds and Aldehydes and Ketones in Nonmetallic Parts of Vehicles (GB/T 39897-2021) March 9, 2021 MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology)

 

The conversion of the standard from an original environmental standard to a national standard has led to further tightening of regulations for automakers.

Technical Specifications

6. MEE released the Technical Specifications for Organic Waste Gas Treatment of Package Printing Industry (HJ 1163-2021) (April 30, 2021).

China’s package printing industry, which emits about 800,000-1,000,000 tons of VOCs per year, is a key target industry in the country’s VOC emission control. In order to strengthen the standardization of VOC treatment projects, the above-mentioned technical specifications were released. The Specifications stipulate the technical requirements for the design, construction, acceptance and operation of VOC treatment projects, and also provide recommended treatment technologies according to the characteristics of VOCs.

 

Future Trends

As mentioned above, in order to improve air quality, the government is expected to further strengthen VOC pollution control measures. In order to achieve the “14th-Five-year” goal of reducing VOC emissions by at least 10% from the 2020 level by 2025, the government is further strengthening measures to reduce VOC emissions in key industries, while promoting the use of materials and products that contain low (no) VOCs, and restricting the use of raw materials and products that can be substituted. In addition, a monitoring system has been fully implemented to improve the management level of pollutant emitters in order to monitor their emissions and strengthen management and supervision. The implementation of economic measures such as environmental protection tax is also considered to be an important measure for VOC control in the future.

Strengthening the Crackdown on VOC Emissions
By improving the standard system for VOCs, such as emission standards and VOC content standards, relevant environmental departments will be provided with law enforcement basis and the crackdown on VOC emissions from source to terminal measures will be strengthened.

    • Publication of Emission Standards for the Package Printing Industry
      As one of the key industries, the package printing industry has been implementing the Integrated Emission Standard of Air Pollutants (GB 16297-1996). In accordance with the 13th Five-Year Development Plan for National Environmental Protection Standards, the Air Pollutant Emission Standards for the Package Printing Industry was released in 2018, and MEE released the Air Pollutant Emission Standards for the Printing Industry (draft) on December 31, 2019. However, as of now, it has not been officially released yet.
    • Strengthening of implementation supervision of product standards
      Several standards for products containing VOCs, including the Limit of Volatile Organic Compounds Content in Adhesive (GB 33372-2020), the Limits for Volatile Organic Compounds Content in Cleaning Agents (GB 38508-2020), and the Limit of Harmful Substances of Vehicle Coatings (GB 24409-2020), have been implemented from December 1, 2020. The multiple measures mentioned above emphasize the need to strengthen the inspection of VOC content standards implementation for products such as paints, inks, adhesives, and cleaning agents. Local policies have also strengthened the management of related illegal activities. 

Promotion of self-monitoring and measurement by pollutant emitters
Based on the above policies, in order to improve the monitoring and measurement capabilities of VOC emissions during the 14th Five-Year Plan, the government has emphasized that key emitters should install automatic monitoring equipment for VOC emissions at major pollutant outlets and inspect its operational status. In addition, in order to supervise unorganized emissions, the government has promoted the installation of automatic monitoring equipment for VOC unorganized emissions in factories.

Strengthening management of illegal emissions
The monitoring system for VOC emissions from factories and industrial parks has been soundly improved, and the management of illegal emissions, especially unorganized emissions, has been fully strengthened.

Collection of environmental protection tax
As part of efforts to combat VOC pollution, it has been announced that VOCs will be subject to environmental protection tax.

Impact on related Japanese companies

    • Related manufacturing companies
      For Japanese manufacturing companies operating in China, the substitution of raw materials with low-VOC ones, the installation of effective emission management equipment, the installation of automatic monitoring and measuring equipment, and the payment of environmental protection taxes will all strengthen the requirements for environmental management of related manufacturing companies and may lead to increased production costs.
    • Related environmental protection companies
      On the other hand, Japanese specialized companies that are strong in manufacturing VOC emission control equipment, automatic monitoring and measuring equipment, and related components and parts will take advantage of business opportunities due to the continued expansion of China’s VOC control-related market needs.

Index of China EHS

Framework of EHS laws and regulations in China.

Category Theme
Overall Overview, Environmental Standards
China, Organizations with Governing Environmental Regulations
Chemical Chemical Substances Regulation and Management
Waste Waste management
Energy Energy Conservation
Water Water Pollution Prevention
Air Air Pollution Control
Soil Soil Contamination Prevention
Other Pollution Noise, Vibration, Offensive Odor
OSH Occupational Safety and Health