China's looming garbage problem

Beiging, China (GLOBE-Net) – A paper released by a Chinese government environmental agency predicts that the country will reach its maximum disposal capacity for municipal garbage in just over a decade.

“China’s urban areas will generate the maximum amount of garbage its cities can handle in another 13 years,” reports China Daily, citing a report from the China Council for International Cooperation and Development (CCICD).

As millions of rural inhabitants migrate to urban areas, the nation’s garbage stockpiles will reach 400 million tonnes within 13 years, says the paper. That’s equal to the total weight of global garbage generated in 1997. It is projected that 860 million people will be living in China’s cities by 2020, pushing an already strained urban waste disposal system to the brink.

The CCICD reports that around seventy percent of China’s urban waste goes to landfill, while the remaining thirty percent is used to make fertilizer. A continuation of this trend would contaminate large tracts of land, making them unsuitable for development, and cause toxic air and water pollution, it warns.

The CCICD advocated better waste management through clearer garbage classification and public education.

Most industrialized countries are able to achieve much higher landfill diversion rates than China. Ontario has set a goal of 60 percent diversion by 2008, and most Canadian cities recycle or utilize around half of their waste to prevent it going to landfills.

Waste disposal is one of many environmental challenges facing China, as rapid economic expansion has placed enormous pressure on the country’s ecological resources. Reducing solid waste is one of the goals set forth in the country’s latest Five Year Plan, which includes unprecedented amounts of environmental funding, as political attention has been drawn to the issue by near critical problems in many areas.

  • See: China’s environmental battle

  • Solutions to municipal solid waste management are varied, and rely on two general approaches: targeting a reduction or diversion of waste at the collection point, and disposing of collected waste through various technological methods. The former method can be seen in public education programs, and recycling initiatives such as ‘blue box’ programs which can collect paper, plastic, and aluminum for recycling, as well as organic waste for compost.

    Technology-based disposal methods included gasification of solid waste, which can produce electricity while incinerating waste. This avoids many of the air pollutants associated with traditional thermal incineration, although incineration has been the favoured disposal method employed in China recently.

    Richway Environmental Technologies Ltd. is one Canadian company which has successfully engaged in the waste management market in China. The Richmond, BC-based firm has several projects underway in China, including an industrial waste incinerator, two municipal waste combustors, and a landfill leachate treatment facility – all four are government owned. The company is also engaged in a joint venture to construct a municipal solid waste facility in Guangdong Province, and is planning several other waste projects in China.

    The U.S Commercial Service reports that recent government budgets have allocated significant resources for environmental technologies for solid waste management.

    “China is increasingly using market mechanisms for solid waste management, and are looking abroad for expertise. Foreign companies that enter the market now will be well positioned for future growth,” reports the Service.

    Continuing with current trends, there will likely be further growth in the number of incineration projects. Therefore emissions equipment and technologies that help control ash management are good prospects.

    Resource recycling technologies also offer potential, though it should noted that many recyclable items are collected by scavengers before they reach the landfill. Metal recycling is the most promising area, as China’s need for raw metals outstrips its current supply.

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