China buried under mountain of waste in rush for urban life

The mainland is producing more garbage than it can deal with, raising social tensions and the risk of long-term damage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 8:47pm

Violent clashes in Sichuan over a rubbish tip this week and a mountain of waste from Shanghai dumped in a neighbouring province earlier this month highlight one of China’s biggest growing pains – the country has too much rubbish and no place to put it.

China s rapidly transforming into an urban, industrial country and generating immeasurable amounts of waste in the process. The mountain of industrial and everyday garbage far exceeds the mainland’s capacity to recycle or process it.

The excess rubbish is either dumped or burned, igniting environmental concerns and raising social tensions.

‘We will clean it ourselves’: Hongkongers clear unprecedented amount of rubbish washed up on city’s beaches

In the Sichuan case, more than 100 villagers from Langzhong protested outside a government office building on Thursday over the environmental and health dangers from a garbage dumping ground near their homes. Protesters and police came to blows but the authorities promised the dumping would stop.

Zhang Boju, general secretary of environmental NGO Friends of Nature, said the contamination concerns raised by the Langzhong case were not rare because many garbage sites across the country were operated by private companies willing to cut costs by inadequate waste treatment.

“China has many rules and regulations regarding garbage treatment, but very few cities follow those rules strictly. In numerous cases, we found the was no government monitoring,” Zhang said.

Environmental concerns were also raised with the discovery of 22,500 tonnes of illegally dumped garbage on the edge of Suzhou’s famed Lake Tai in Jiangsu province, in the heart of the heavily populated Yangtze River Delta.

The rubbish was traced back to Shanghai agents who profiteered from moving rubbish out of the coastal metropolis. At least 19 people allegedly involved in the illegal dumping were detained, state-run Xinhua news agency ­reported.

The effects of such dumping is not limited to the mainland, with an unprecedented amount of rubbish washing up on Hong Kong’s shores this summer.

Rubbish dumped on edge of Lake Tai puts drinking water of millions at risk

Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said mainland cities were struggling to cope with the growing pile of waste.

“Most of Chinese cities have high population densities but very scarce land resources,” Ma said.

“Two-thirds of mainland cities are surrounded by landfills, [or large pits full of rubbish].”

Ma said the rising cost of urban land meant expanding rubbish dumps was growing more difficult.

The longer unsafe rubbish landfills exist, the more dangerous effect these dumping grounds will have on soil and water
Ma Jun, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs

More importantly, the public was increasingly opposed to such sites in their neighbourhoods.

One option could be to safely incinerate rubbish to generate electricity but Ma said the mainland did not have the basic rubbish sorting infrastructure to make it a ­reality.

He said that the central government lacked the resolve to really solve the rubbish problem, and this bode ill for the country’s future.

“The longer unsafe rubbish landfills exist, the more dangerous effect these dumping grounds will have on soil and water,” he said.