Recycler scraps for debris as building waste piles up

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Beijing's only construction waste recycling plant is struggling to acquire raw materials, despite the estimated 40 million tons of such rubble produced annually in the capital.

Officials at the plant, located in Changping district, said the facility barely turns a profit as it receives 300,000 to 500,000 tons of rubble each year, far from its capacity of 1.5 million tons.

Chen Jialong, professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, shows a building which was built of recycled concrete and bricks. [China Daily]

Chen Jialong, professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, shows a building which was built of recycled concrete and bricks. [China Daily] 

The facility, Beijing Yuantaida Building Materials Science and Technology Co, manufactures bricks from waste such as concrete, 70 percent of which is provided free by the district government.

Company officials said the operation would be a money-loser if it had to purchase and transport most of the construction waste itself.

Wu Jianmin, manager of the company, said it costs 15 yuan to process one ton of construction waste while the transportation fee per ton of waste is 10 yuan per km.

"I will lose money once the production cost reaches 30 yuan per ton," Wu told METRO, adding his nine plants in other provinces all bring in money; the one in Beijing is an exception.

He said the local governments of other cities treat construction waste as a resource and that construction companies are required to bring the waste to recycling plants.

"Construction companies in Beijing are required to transport the waste to government-approved landfills" instead, Wu said.

The Changping district government, however, collects the waste at construction sites and sends it directly to the recycling center, he said.

"But to avoid the charge and the expensive transportation fee, construction companies usually dump the waste wherever they think convenient," he said.

That behavior not only straps his company, but also harms the environment, Wu added.

Beijing's construction waste has piled up since 2001, when it totaled 33 million tons.

Over the past decade the city's construction waste has mounted, to 7.5 times that of household waste - the most in the entire country.

With the government's plan to demolish 50 villages covering 25 sq km near the rural-urban fringes this year, construction waste is expected to set a record.

Chen Jialong, director of the construction materials laboratory at the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, said at least 90 percent of the city's construction companies improperly dump the waste.

"Usually, 10,000 tons of construction waste can occupy about 0.167 hectare of land," Chen said. "The mounting construction waste will surely worsen the conflict between an increasing population and shrinking land."

However, Wang Weiping, an expert in waste policy and a consultant to the Beijing government, said construction waste poses no risk to society. Furthermore, Wang believes it is unwise for the government to invest in an industry which he claims brings only a small benefit.

Wang said once the waste goes into landfills, the land can be reused after being covered. Pollution from construction waste is slight, especially after profit-driven scavengers pick out anything they can sell for money, including plastics, glass and metal, Wang said.

"The waste can only make the underground water harder due to the high level of calcium carbonate," he said.

"We do encourage those recycling plants, but it will only work when the output in environmental and economic benefits is greater than the investment," Wang added.

The construction waste produced annually per Beijing resident has exceeded two tons, seven times more than the per-capita tally in developed countries, according to Cui Suping, a professor at the College of Materials Science and Engineering at Beijing University of Technology.

She said that 75 percent of the construction waste in Beijing is from the demolition of old buildings and government infrastructure projects.

"Many old buildings need to be demolished for the ongoing upgrading and rebuilding of the city," Yang Chongguang, a professor at the Research Center of Urban Development and Environment under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told METRO.

"It is one unavoidable step of the development of the city resulting from the growing population and booming economy."

He estimated that the development of Beijing will reach a mature stage in four or five years, after which the urbanization push - and the amount of construction refuse - will slow.

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