Plagued by mounting waste, China’s megacities resort to illegal trash dumping

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/6 19:13:39

A dozen people were recently detained for illegally transporting garbage from Shanghai to neighboring Jiangsu Province and dumping it in a lake. The incident highlights the fact that Chinese megacities are being overwhelmed by their own waste, a consequence of rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Garbage illegally transported from Shanghai sits on the banks of Taihu Lake in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. Photo: IC

For Suzhou residents, the 2,400 square kilometer Taihu Lake is not only one of the city's major sources of tourist yuan, but also the source of much of their drinking water.

But a few months ago when part of the lake in Jinting township, East China's Jiangsu Province, was found to be full of bricks, tiles and other construction and commercial waste originating in Shanghai, which lies about 100 kilometers east, the dreamy lake became the locals' nightmare.

The gargantuan pile of trash, about seven meters high and the size of three basketball courts, stunk and attracted swarms of flies.

"We dared not open our windows, despite the heat. We couldn't even have dinner," a local resident lamented.

Starting in June and continuing for weeks, eight ships, each able to carry from 300 to 500 tons, had been regularly transporting full loads of garbage from Shanghai and dumping them into the lake.

Although the Shanghai government has rolled out a series of measures to counter this trade, illegally transporting waste to neighboring provinces is a growing business in Shanghai, as companies try to minimize the cost of recycling garbage in the city.

At the expense of Shanghai's neighbors, dumpers make the metropolis's garbage disappear.

Eight ships have been seized for illegally transporting garbage from Shanghai to Suzhou. Photo: IC

Unknown origin

After the Suzhou authorities seized the trash boats in July following local residents' reports, the owner of one vessel claimed he had no idea what his ship had been carrying, and that he was initially contacted by a middleman.

"I can earn 2,000 yuan ($300) for each delivery, and I get the money once its unloaded. What goods my ship is carrying doesn't concern me - I am only in charge of transportation," he told the Xinhua News Agency.

Authorities later estimated that over 20,000 tons of waste consisting mostly of construction materials had been tossed into Taihu Lake, and detained 12 people involved, Xinhua reported.

The garbage came from Huibin port in Shanghai's Jiading district and Yujidun port in the city's Changning district. Workers at Huibin port said that the port has traditionally only been used to transport sand, never construction waste. The construction waste that was delivered to Jiangsu was sent to the port by middlemen, and the workers had no idea where the waste came from.

A project manager at a construction company in Shanghai told the China Youth Daily that they pay local management authorities 600 yuan for each truckload of waste - about three tons - as a disposal fee.

The manager said he had asked about the where the waste ended up, and was told that some is delivered to mass recycling plants, some is used for road materials, and some for the filling of deep holes.

Liu Dongsheng, an official in charge of construction waste at the Waste Management Office of the Shanghai Greenery Management Bureau, said in a recent interview that according to regulations, both the origin of construction waste and the location where the waste is dumped should be registered by the local authorities, but the construction waste involved in the Taihu Lake case had not been registered.

Lucrative business

An industry insider said that ship owners can earn double their usual fee by illegally transporting garbage. Intermediaries, in turn, can earn 30 yuan for each ton of garbage. When the garbage is unloaded, men who help find a location to dump the stuff will earn another 5 yuan for each ton.

Chen Yongnian, a crew member on a detained vessel, said a middleman contacted them and he has no idea where the waste came from originally. Transporting the waste to Taihu earned him 7,000 yuan.

Local authorities are still investigating where these middlemen obtained the waste.

This isn't the first time that garbage from Shanghai has been secretly transported to Jiangsu Province and dumped there.

In November 2014, 1,000 tons of waste were dumped in a river in Xishan district, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. An investigation later found that the garbage came from Meilong town in Shanghai's Minhang district.

Previously, garbage from Meilong town was delivered to Minwu port, where specialized ships would transport it to a landfill. But as the port was undergoing renovations during that period, the government had to sign an agreement with a transportation company to manage the waste.

"The government initially outsourced garbage disposal to professional companies. But some companies, driven by profit, just dumped it outside Shanghai," an environmental protection officer said.

Overwhelming amount

Xu Hesheng, vice secretary of the Shanghai Construction and Development Association, said Shanghai generated 89 million tons of construction waste in 2015, about 240,000 tons every day, with the amount of waste growing constantly.

Besides, the city generates 20,000 tons of consumer waste each day.

Most of this garbage is recycled or disposed in the city, while some is recycled in neighboring provinces under relevant local governments' agreements.

Xu said while most Chinese provinces are able to deal with their own waste, China's four municipalities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing, have more pressure in garbage disposal and recycling as they are densely populated and have booming economies.

"Shanghai is small in size, but always has a large amount of construction going on, generating massive amounts of construction debris," Xu told the China Youth Daily.

"The city's pricey and precious land has to be used for residences, commercial purposes, and farming. There is very little land left for garbage," he said.

Jiading district, where Huibin Port is located, is one example of an area facing an overwhelming tide of trash.

The district's landfill is located near its border with Taicang, Jiangsu Province. Just across the river from the landfill are 20 neighborhoods with around 10,000 residents who have to put up with the odor from the decomposing waste.

The landfill has dealt with 1,000 tons of garbage every day, but its first phase site has already exceeded its lifespan. Last February, the second phase of the landfill was approved and construction started, but this received strong protests from Taicang residents. A 1,500-ton per day waste-to-energy plant is now under construction.

Last October, a statement by the Jiading government said that it has decided to cancel the phase-two project and stop the use of the phase-one site by December of that year, also pledging to start ecologically restoring the site this year.

According to an anonymous source, an official in Jiading said that as the landfill has become unavailable, they have to transport the garbage away via ships.

Du Huanzheng, a waste management professor at Tongji University, told the China Youth Daily that there are two ways to solve the economic issues that stem from construction debris. While the government can provide subsidies, construction companies should also pay garbage management companies to handle their waste.

Last December, over 70 people were killed in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province after a mountain of construction waste and soil swept over dozens of residential buildings. Back then, media reported that Shenzhen generated 30 million cubic meters of construction waste each year, and the government was struggling to deal with it.

Before 2000, due to the area's relatively small number of construction projects, and as much construction debris was dumped in the city's low-lying areas, the city had relatively little pressure in terms of waste management. After 2006, as the construction of the city's subway continued, its real estate market boomed and the number of underground garages being excavated increased, the amount of soil and construction debris generated in Shenzhen increased enormously.

The place where Shenzhen's accident happened was one of the nine sites that local government had designated as waste processing zones, but as it was overwhelmed, waste was piled into a mountain and left unattended.

"Only if all parties have an interest in garbage recycling can it be successful, but such a cycle hasn't yet been established in China," he told China Youth Daily.

After the Taihu incident happened, the Shanghai municipal authorities stressed that all construction waste must be  disposed of and recycled within the city limits. Now, each district has set up a construction waste transfer station which sorts the waste in order to boost its utilization rate.

In Hongkou district, around 10 workers sort 300 to 400 tons of garbage every day. Shen Genfa, head of the Hongkou station, told local television, "If we stop working for one or two days, this site will be overwhelmed and garbage will have to be piled outside the station."

But this will be temporary. According the 13th Five-Year Plan, Shanghai will soon introduce waste recycling machinery which will be able to deal with 7.5 million tons of waste each year.

Global Times

Newspaper headline: Rubbish neighbors

Posted in: In-Depth

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