Waste wrangles

Since 2009, waste management has become a hot topic in China. The crux of the debate is how to resolve the issue of ever-increasing refuse.

China’s Environmental Protection Bureau believes that we first ought to lessen the amount through waste separation. However, it holds that no improvements in waste separation have been made for more than ten years, which has caused many people to believe that China is not suited to carrying out waste separation. Last year, the residents of Panyu in Guangzhou province opposed the construction of a waste-incineration plant, the Guangzhou Municipal Government Deputy Secretary Lu Zhiyi said: "I hope that waste separation will be sufficient in solving all our waste management problems, it will be like a piece of ‘utopia’."

However, Zhang Boju, a member of the environmental organization Friends of Nature, said: "Heng County’s experience shows that waste separation is not some kind of ‘utopia’." On May 22, members of the City Solid Waste Research Group presented their research results from Heng County on waste separation in Beijing.

Heng County is a small county in China’s southern Guangxi province. Since 1994, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) and Heng County have collaborated in carrying out environmental publicity. Since the year 2000, Heng County has been carrying out its waste-separation pilot.

Zhang Boju said that many people believe waste separation requires advanced technology, but this is not the case with waste separation bins on the streets of Heng County, where there are even some bamboo baskets. This is certainly not high technology. Garbage transport vehicle are common, a new compost factory is also not very glamorous, but the result is good. Technology is not the deciding factor in obstructing waste separation.

Nevertheless, China is more willing to use incinerators to resolve the waste issue, to completely burn up the waste, not to bother with waste separation, and still be able to earn money. In April, China’s vice minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Qiu Baoxing, said that waste incineration will be China’s future direction in waste management.

However, last year there were incidents in several cities of outbreaks of groups strongly opposing waste incineration, the public believe that waste incineration will affect local people’s health. So what is the big trend in waste management? The game is just beginning.