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Garbage Treatment Gets a Facelift

Beijing is groaning under an increasing amount of garbage being generated daily. Now, a municipal-government white paper spells out how to deal with it -- and have a cleaner, greener city before the 2008 Games.

At the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing, visitors are often shocked at the sight of an enormous transparent cylindrical container -- 6 meters tall and 1 meter in diameter, it contains specimens of garbage produced by a typical Chinese family of three in a year.


Since a single family can generate such a staggering amount of garbage in a year, one may wonder, how much waste does a city like Beijing with a population of 13 million turn out annually? And one may ask what the city is doing, or plans to do, to properly dispose of such a formidable amount.


Well, those who have such questions in mind might find some of the answers in a white paper on garbage, which was released at the end of last year by the Beijing municipal government. The document, the country's first municipality-level white paper to address the issue, tells us that in the Chinese capital, 11,500 tons of garbage is produced daily and 4.2 million tons annually.


Meaning of figures


But what exactly do these figures mean?


"To put it graphically, people can build a hill 40 meters high covering 36 hectares with the city's annual garbage output,'' says Xu Bo, an official from the Urban Public Hygiene Department of the Beijing Municipal Urban Administration Committee.


Statistics from other sources indicate that Beijingers discard some 500 tons of used toothbrushes and more than 1,000 tons of toothpaste tubes, along with their paper packages, every year; waste paper and discarded plastic bags amount to 10,000 tons annually.


Moreover, the city is seeing a steady increase in waste output-- at an annual rate of 2 percent -- as its population continues to grow, the economy expands and people's living standards rise. It is estimated that by 2008, when the city hosts the Olympic Games, its daily garbage production would have reached 12,000 tons -- 4.38 million tons annually.


Being the venue of the Games is largely the driving force behind the city's campaign against the huge amount of waste. "We have committed ourselves to hosting the most wonderful Olympic Games in history,'' says Chen Wenzhan, director of the Municipal Urban Administration Committee. "To ensure its success, we need not only good stadiums but also a clean environment.''


Chen admits that Beijing's current garbage-treatment capacity would not live up to the requirements for hosting the Olympics, although the city's environment has greatly improved in the past few years.


According to the official, the white paper demonstrates Beijing's ambitions in garbage treatment, and will serve as a guideline for relevant departments' work. "Now that the document has been published,'' he says, "the municipal government has made a solemn commitment to the public, and all the residents can also take it as a yardstick to measure its work -- to supervise and check whether it has fulfilled its commitment to making the city clean.''


Besides, unlike other work, garbage treatment can hardly succeed without the active involvement of the public. "Public awareness and co-operation are absolutely important,'' says municipal government spokesman Tang Long.


Garbage-disposal plan


After understanding the government's plan and objectives in garbage disposal, our people are likely to give more support to the government and, hopefully, get more actively involved.''


Nowadays, few would challenge the idea that garbage is actually wrongly-placed resources. To make better use of the resources, the city will improve garbage classification, says the white paper. Different categories of waste will be required to put in different dustbins, and then collected, transported and treated separately. The practice of burying all sorts of garbage in one landfill will eventually be phased out.


At present, 465 of the city's residential areas, office buildings and industrial areas out of a total of 3,000 have their garbage sorted before it is taken away. In other words, only 15 percent of waste undergoes the process of classification.


To improve the situation, the government intends to urge more residential and industrial areas to classify their garbage, adding 200 to 300 new areas to the list every year. By so doing, an estimated 44,000 more tons of garbage will be recycled every year. To ensure smooth implementation, the government requires all newly-built, modified or expanded buildings to be equipped with facilities for garbage sorting and collecting; and old residential areas are stepping up efforts to build such facilities. The white paper sets the goal that by 2008, 50 percent of waste should be classified.


The city now has 17 garbage-treatment facilities which are capable of handling 8,800 tons of rubbish each day, or 70 percent of the urban area's daily output. The rest, regrettably, remains largely untreated, piled or buried in the city's outskirts.


In view of the lagging treatment capacity, the white paper lists as future tasks the construction of 15 more waste-treatment centers, which are expected to raise the city's daily garbage-treatment capacity to 12,500 tons by 2008. By then, 98 percent of the garbage in urban districts and 50 percent of the garbage in the suburbs and rural areas will be treated.


Facilities to be improved


As to the 73 large "garbage hills'' within the Sixth Ring Road, facilities will be improved and management strengthened, promises the white paper.


Medical waste, totalling 40 tons a day, poses a pressing problem after the outbreak of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in the spring of 2003, which killed 193 people in Beijing.


The SARS epidemic and the potential threat of bird flu have alerted city officials to the importance of treatment of medical waste, which used to be left to individual hospitals. Now, it is all transported to three central locations managed by professionals, where it is burned in specially-designed incinerators.


In the years leading up to the Games, when medical waste is expected to grow by 2 percent annually, the municipal government plans to build two more disposal facilities for this special kind of waste, with a capacity of 65 tons a day, says the white paper.


Besides, four plants for treating kitchen garbage and 10 for treating human waste will also be built during the period.


To build all the garbage-treatment facilities, says the white paper, a total of 3.2 billion yuan (US$385 million) will be invested in the coming years. The municipal government and governments of the districts will increase their fiscal input in the projects, but they will by no means be the only investors. Enterprises from both home and abroad are invited to take part in the construction and operation of the facilities. Public bidding will be held under the principle of openness, fairness and transparency; and investors' legitimate rights will be safeguarded, the document promises.


China has promised preferential policies for investors in the construction and operation of infrastructure facilities related to sewage treatment and garbage disposal, on account of the fact that such projects normally involve large investments and a relatively-long break-even period.


Charge system


Chen Wenzhan, director of the Municipal Urban administration Committee, says Beijing will further improve the charge system for garbage and sewage treatment, establish a price mechanism that is conducive to commercialization of the business, and set up a rational investment repayment mechanism. Chen also promises to offer domestic and foreign investors preferential treatment and create a sound investment environment.


With regard to construction projects related to environmental protection, Chen says, Beijing has decided to open wider to the world; and will offer domestic and foreign enterprises more opportunities of market access.


Apart from drawing more capital input, Beijing hopes to gather more expertise from enterprises of developed nations; and absorb their sophisticated technology, he notes.


The director says business opportunities are, indeed, enormous in Beijing. He hopes enterprises in the sector would further strengthen reciprocal co-operation and exchanges with the city in garbage and sewage treatment, work harder for a cleaner Beijing and contribute to a green Olympics.


(China Daily February 13, 2004)

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