China can learn from Europe on garbage disposal

By Gaurav Tyagi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/1 18:58:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT


In a tragic incident on December 20, 2015 in the Southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, a huge mountain of construction debris collapsed resulting in many casualties. The landslide caused by this collapse covered 380,000 square meters. Hundreds of trucks carrying construction waste used to dump their piles of rubbish every day at this landfill.

China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) recently confirmed the presence of two large pits of sewage in North China. The largest one located in Zhaofu township, Dacheng county in Hebei covers an area of 170,000 square meters, which is equivalent to the size of 23 football pitches.

These pits have been there for the past six years. Polluted pits were discovered near chemical, leather and metal processing factories. They cause long-term pollution of groundwater and soil. The water in these pits is rust colored. In order to save money, industries have been dumping their waste water into these pits, which has resulted in serious groundwater pollution in North China.

Dealing with industrial waste is a huge challenge for the Chinese government. However, the authorities could make a start by focusing on the problem of the huge amounts of garbage being generated in Chinese cities every day.

Rapid urbanization in China has resulted in a vast migration of people from villages to cities. These urban centers generate tons of garbage every day, which ends up in massive landfills.

China can replicate the model of European nations in this regard.

The city of Oslo, the capital of Norway, encourages its residents to segregate waste at their homes.

The garbage is again presorted by the city's municipal authority. Everything that can be recycled is taken out, but they are still left with more than 300,000 tons of rubbish a year.

It is not considered waste in Oslo. They use it as energy. "Four tons of waste have the same energy content as one ton of fuel oil," according to Pal Mikkelsen, the director of the waste-to-energy agency in Oslo.

The process is quite simple. The waste is dropped into an incinerator. The temperature in the incinerator soars to 850 degrees. The heat boils water. The resulting steam drives a turbine, which produces electricity.

The scalding water is piped off from the plant to houses and public schools across Oslo. Not everything gets burned. The ash and remaining metal gets recycled.

The English cities of Leeds and Bristol export waste to Oslo. They pay Oslo to take care of their garbage. Therefore, Oslo gets paid to dispose of the rubbish and also gets energy out of it.

Oslo has even started running a few city buses on bio-gas created from the city's decaying organic matter. One kilogram of food waste produces half a litre of fuel. 

Sweden also recycles almost half of its waste and uses the remaining half to generate heat. Less than 1 percent of Sweden's garbage ends up in landfills. Sweden is the world leader in energy generated from garbage, followed by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

The electric filters give the particles resulting from the incineration of the garbage a negative electric charge, thereby, making the smoke from this process non-toxic.

This usage of garbage for energy solves the problem of waste being dumped at landfills, while also taking care of residents' energy and heating requirements.

Rome's rubbish is also helping to power Austrian homes. It gets to Austria by train and the Italians pay Austrian company EVN to dispose of thousands of tons of Roman household refuse.

The waste is incinerated and converted into hot flue gas, which generates steam. It gets delivered to a neighboring power station, where it gets converted into electricity. This process powers 170,000 houses in the province of Lower Austria.

The train journey is about 1,000 kilometers. But it constitutes part of efforts in the European Union to make cities reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. Combined together, all of Europe's current waste-to-energy plants would only consume about 5 percent of the continent's total annual landfill.

China should duplicate this model all over the country. The Chinese government should set-up such waste-to-electricity plants based on the Swedish, Norwegian and Austrian patterns.

Poor people can be employed at such plants as "waste-segregators." This would eradicate poverty by giving poor, unemployed people a regular, decent means of livelihood.

Electricity produced from these plants can light up and heat homes all across China, thereby eliminating China's dependence on conventional fossil fuels. Reduction of landfills will free up large tracts of land, which could then be utilized for better purposes, such as parks.

Petroleum is referred to as "black gold." This black gold could be partly replaced by an eco-friendly and sustainable "garbage gold."

The author is a China-based Indian writer.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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