Waste-to-energy plants: A burning issue in China

By Asit K. Biswas and Zhang Jingru
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, May 29, 2014
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Viewed from any direction, China’s economic growth during the past 35 years has been absolutely remarkable. This growth, however, has come with significant environmental, social and health costs that can no longer be ignored.

Time to take action [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

Time to take action [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

This is not unprecedented in human history. Advanced countries like the USA, UK, Germany and Japan developed first and took care of their environmental problems later. Environmental pollution was expected to be a byproduct of development during the 1950s and 1960s.

An example is the Cuyahoga River in the United States. The river first caught fire in 1868. Since then there were some 13 fires, the last being in 1969. This is because of oil, grease and other combustible materials floating in the river. It is the only river in the world that has ever been declared a “fire hazard.”

Another example is the River Thames in England. In 1858, the smell from the river was so bad that the British Parliament had to abandon its sittings. This episode is still known as “the Great Stink.”

However, as people of these developed countries became environmentally aware, they demanded a better quality of life. The problems were significantly reduced during the post-1970 period.

For World Environment Day on June 5, let us examine one of China’s environmental problems — disposal of solid wastes by “waste-to-energy” incineration plants. An undesirable byproduct of China’s affluence during the post-1990 period has been the rapid generation of solid waste because of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

According to the World Bank, in 2012 China generated 520,548 tons of solid waste per day. This accounted for nearly 14.7 percent of the world’s total. It is estimated that by 2025, the country will generate three times the 2012 amount. This means that by 2025, China will be responsible for nearly one-quarter of the global solid waste.

National statistics for 2010 indicate that 77 percent of the waste was disposed in landfills, 20 percent was incinerated, and 3 percent was recycled. Landfills are not a good solution since they take much land and are difficult to manage.

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