When the stink of rotting waste awakens Liu Ying at 2 AM, she
closes the toilet door and tries to doze off the rest of the night
to avoid a headache in the morning. But the stink is not from the
toilet, and she knows it. The Liulitun waste dump is less than 200
meters from her kitchen window, and the foul smell it emanates
sticks to her sofa, bed-sheets, newly polished floor and her
daughter's toys. The 40-hectare dump takes most of the domestic
waste generated by Beijing's Haidian District: 2,200 tons of it
The green woods and vine-covered brick walls of the Liulitun
dump in northwest Beijing do little to hide the rubbish within or
to cover the stink it has caused among the people living near it.
For a decade residents have been complaining against the stench,
and the local government's plan to build a waste-fueled power plant
on the site has caused them more frustration.
For a decade residents have
been complaining against the stench, and the local government's
plan to build a waste-fueled power plant on the site has caused
them more frustration.
The controversy surrounding the district government, environment
administrations and local residents highlights the dilemma faced by
Beijing and other Chinese cities.
The dump should never have been built in the first place, say
environmental experts. A Beijing Environmental Protection
Administration (BEPA) report had warned against a dump at the site
way back in 1995 because it had residential areas, military
stations and factories within a 2-km radius and 11,000 residents
nearby were using underground water for drinking and cooking. But
environmental concerns gave way to the urgent demand for disposal
"Before work on the dump began in 1997, we were informed that
our lives wouldn't be affected because the stench would be confined
to a 100-meter radius," says Zhang Xiangfeng, former chief of
Beijing Xiliu Construction Co. The company's office building and
its staff quarters were near the then proposed dump.
But when reality belied the assurances, residents began fearing
the worst for the water they drank. "The underground water table
near the dump is polluted. It poses a threat to residents if they
continue to draw water from it," says Pang Zhonghe, an expert with
the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of
Sciences. Pang has tested the underground water around the dump,
Nanfang Weekend has quoted him as saying.
The district government had promised to convert the dump into a
park after 18 years of operation. But the plan to build a
waste-fueled power plant announced in March this year has laid that
promise to rest.
As one of the four such plants to be built in Beijing, the
8-million-yuan (US$1.05-billion) project will burn 1,200 tons of
waste a day. "The dump has given us enough trouble. It was supposed
to be shut down. But when will this happen if there's a plan to
build a power plant?" says a resident.
Older residents like Liu and Zhang kept silent and "sacrificed
their lives" but those living in newly built estates are ready to
speak. Take residents of two communities, 3 km southeast of the
dump, for instance. First they began a discussion on their
community Internet bulletin board, and slogans such as "No Stench,
No Cancer" reflected their fear that the discharges from burning
waste will be a health hazard. They then hired lawyers to talk to
the administration. Such is the concern among residents near the
dump that other communities have now joined them in support.
Residents have handed two petitions to the State Environment
Protection Administration (SEPA) and the Legislative Affairs Office
of the Beijing government, asking BEPA to withdraw the approval for
the power plant.
Zhou Jinfeng, a member of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political
advisory body, has also joined the lobby. He submitted a plea at
this year's CPPCC annual session to stop the project, drawing a lot
of media attention.
On World Environment Day (June 5), residents got a boost when
Haidian District deputy head Wu Yamei, district environment
department and other related officials and the project contractor
invited four representatives of the protesters for talks. Wu
promised to pass their views to her superiors and hoped to maintain
contact with the residents.
A week later SEPA suspended the power plant project, saying the
local administration needed to carry out more research on its
environmental impact, and solicit and consider the opinions of
Some experts, too, support the residents. "To build a
waste-fueled power plant in such a area is a great risk. Burning
waste will emit pollutants called dioxides that can be absorbed by
the human body," says Qiu Yihua, a pollution prevention expert with
Greenpeace's Beijing office. Burying waste is better than burning
it, he says.
But the government has its own reasons to go ahead with the
project. "No land is available for a plant in Haidian today," a
local official said in 2006. "If we can't build it here, what do we
do with the waste when the dump is full?"
The waste disposal trouble is not exclusive to Haidian District,
for the whole of Beijing faces this problem. The capital's 10 dumps
will be full and have to be closed by 2010. So the government wants
to know where does the 10,770 tons of waste generated every day
Land has become so valuable today that nobody would turn a plot
into a waste dump. The government thinks waste-fueled power plants
are the answer to the waste disposal problem in Beijing, where 90
percent of the waste is buried. Hence, more such plants are on the
"Burning waste won't emit any toxic byproducts, including
dioxins, if the burning process follows the rules strictly," says
Wang Weiping, senior engineer with the municipal urban
administration office. This means the temperature must remain above
820 C or below 360 C during burning, and the cooling procedure from
820 C to 360 C in the furnace must take less than three
But a resident, surnamed Luo, says: "The Haidian District
government could not ensure a stink-free dump, so how can we
believe it's capable of such a high-risk project?" Luo moved into
Fenglian Community seven years ago unaware of the nearby dump.
Official figures show 70 percent of the waste in Chinese cities
is buried and just 5 percent is burnt. Most of the cities cannot
afford the huge investment needed for waste-fueled power plants,
but with the dwindling acreage of idle land and improving economic
situation, more cities, especially big ones, will turn to burning
waste, and the Liulitun case could be repeated across the
Capital Normal University professor Lei Da offers an
alternative: small, community-based furnaces that are less risky,
reduce transport needs and can be used to heat water. Biotechnology
can be used to dispose the waste not suitable for burning. Lei's
research shows Haidian's domestic waste has lower thermal value and
high humidity, and hence is not suitable as power plant fuel. But
again this proposal has the same problem of being carried out
So far, there has been no clear solution in sight. The Haidian
government told Xinhua recently that it was unable to answer any
questions till BEPA finishes its environment evaluation. BEPA, too,
refused to comment.
To ensure safe drinking water, however, the local government has
taken measures, but many wonder if it's enough. A community of
about 100 people used to drink underground water from a shallow,
150-meter well near the dump. After several rounds of negotiations,
the government linked their water supply to another well, which is
deeper and further away from the dump, in April this year. The old
one has been abandoned.
But till a foolproof solution is found, residents around
Liulitun dump will continue to suffer, with the wet and humid
summer weather making their days worse.
(China Daily August 14, 2007)