Chinese cities sort out trash

Updated: 2013-12-13 01:07


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GUANGZHOU - Besieged by piles of garbage, big cities in China are trying to sort out the long-running saga of waste sorting.

Southern city Guangzhou plans to calculate garbage disposal fees differently next year, and started a trial in six residential communities on Dec 1.

Waste disposal fees will be worked out on the basis of four kinds of trash: "Kitchen waste" and "other waste" will be paid for; "recyclable waste" and "hazardous waste", will be picked up for free.

The dump-less-pay-less system should provide enough motivation for householders to sort their trash and begin to deal with the increasing amount of garbage city residents keep on throwing away.

Controversial new rule

Residents will no longer pay a dumping fee to the government, but will buy refuse sacks priced between 0.1 and 0.5 yuan (about 1.5 to 8 cents), according to the size of the bag.

Guangzhou has been charging every family 15 yuan per month for garbage collection for over 20 years, no matter how much rubbish they produced.

"I've done some calculating and I think I'll spend less than 8 yuan every month in the future," a resident told Xinhua, happy with the saving.

Some locals doubt the feasibility of the policy, saying they find it hard to get used to separating their trash in so short a time.

"It's impossible to supervise the whole process and to punish those who break the rules," said another local, Gu Suicheng.

A survey by Eco Canton, a local non-government organization, showed 45.4 percent of 1,000 interviewees in 60 communities supporting the new rule. Almost a quarter, 24.3 percent, of the respondents objected and others have reservations.

The new policy may face even more obstacles in low income communities of largely migrant workers who change their addresses frequently.

"We need extra hands, funds and equipment to carry out the new policy," a community worker in the downtown district of Haizhu said.

Some are just afraid that it is another excuse for the government to impose unnecessary fees.

"We are not trying to charge more fees," said Wei Weihan, chairman of Guangzhou city management committee. "Our aim is to use price leverage to encourage sorting."

The fees will go through a public hearing and be approved by the local price bureau ahead of imposition.

Beijing is also working on a similar scheme, but targeting companies and institutions only.

Trash siege

The pressing garbage issue is strangling even the most dynamic Chinese cities, where garbage already overflows treatment capacity. Nearly 10,000 tonnes of waste are produced each day in Guangzhou, which has a population of more than 10 million. Of that, about 7,000 tonnes is buried in four landfills and the rest is burned in two incinerators. The landfills will be full by the end of 2015, leaving nowhere to go for the bulk of the waste.

Because of the "not-in-my-back-yard" (NIMBY) objection, a planned garbage incinerator in Guangzhou has been suspended for three years.

On Tuesday, some 70 residents in Foshan city, bordering on Guangzhou, gathered outside a local government building protesting against construction of a waste transfer station near their community, according to local media.

"Nobody wants the garbage disposal facilities in his neighborhood, and at the same time, few people are willing to sort their waste," Zhou Yongzhang, a member of the Chinese Society for Sustainable Development, pointed out.

Long way to go

The waste-sorting campaign has been running for 13 years in eight pilot cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but progress is still far from earth-shattering.

Guangzhou introduced garbage sorting on April 1, and imposes a fine of at least 50 yuan on violators with the intent that at least 50 percent of trash would be sorted before being disposed of. The standard was to be met by 80 percent of its 1,400 communities by the end of 2013. So far only 30 percent of them have met the requirement.

In many communities, the additional receptacles for recyclables are seen by most people as nothing more than an extra bin, local officials said.

"You can't expect people to change their lifestyle over night," Liu Xiaolong, a local waste sorting official said, adding that even if some households have sort their waste properly, the bags might be mixed up again in transit.

Zhou Yongzhang, director of an environment research center at Zhongshan University, said that both citizens and government lacked motivation.

"If people pay the same fees regardless of their performance, they simply cannot sense the pressure and cost of refuse disposal, " said Zhou.

"Current government evaluation systems put little emphasis on the environment," he added.

Zhou hopes reform of officials' assessment will change the situation.

Observers also urge government to stimulate the market in recycling.

"Governments and private sectors in developed countries have joined their efforts in waste disposal and ecological restoration. They've built up a whole industrial chain," said Bai Wen, general manager of Guangzhou Environment Protection Investment Group, "that's what we need in China."