February 22, 2011 | General

Integrated Solid Waste Management in Guangzhou (China)

BioCycle February 2011, Vol. 52, No. 2, p. 50
Materials recovery in China’s third largest city consists of an informal scavenging infrastructure and a 1,000 tons/day MSW composting plant.
Martin Medina

GUANGZHOU is China’s third largest city – behind Beijing and Shanghai – and one of the country’s leading manufacturing and commercial centers. Previously known as Canton, the city now has more than 10 million residents. Its location on the Pearl River, the third largest river in China that is navigable to the South China Sea and near Hong Kong, has long engaged in economic activities and trade. China’s decision to join the global economy further stimulated economic activities in Guangzhou and the surrounding region.
Guangzhou’s production and consumption translate into significant waste generation. The amount has been increasing over the past several years at a rate of 3 to 5 percent annually. More than 8,000 tons/day of wastes were generated in 2008 – 3,800 tons/day from households and the rest by institutions and commerce (including some nonhazardous industrial wastes). The rapid rate of growth in waste generation contrasts with neighboring Hong Kong, where generation has stabilized at around 1 Kg/person/day. This article describes Guangzhou’s current integrated waste management system.
Waste Collection and Transfer
Guangzhou provides daily waste collection for municipal wastes, organized by districts. Residents pay a monthly fee of 15 Yuan (approximately US $2.25) for garbage collection and street cleaning. The city collects a total of 50 million Yuan in fees per month but spends about 100 million Yuan managing the wastes (about U.S. $ 7.46 million and $ 14.9 million, respectively). In order to increase its revenues from waste management, Guangzhou plans to bundle the garbage collection fee with the residents’ water or electricity bills.
Each district has at least one transfer station, where waste is transferred to larger trucks for disposal at the sanitary landfill. Currently, 136 small transfer stations operate throughout the metropolitan area. Each is operated by one to two employees and sometimes, on the side, they separate recyclables to sell to increase their incomes.
Recycling And Composting Activities
Recycling has a long history in Guangzhou. The current system and infrastructure were developed during the 1950s and rely on the informal sector for collecting recyclable materials. Many migrant workers who moved from rural areas to Guangzhou became scavengers in order to make a living. It is estimated that over 100,000 scavengers collect recyclables from the streets and buy source separated materials from residents. Scavengers then sell them at about 2,000 middlemen’s warehouses scattered throughout the city, where materials are sorted, cleaned, baled and then shipped to industry for recycling. The city and region’s large and diversified industrial base demands a wide variety of recyclables, minimizing transportation costs.
Scavengers recover mostly cardboard, paper, and metals from waste, and earn between 1,800 to 2,000 Yuan/month (US $268-298). In comparison, sanitation workers earn 1,100 to 1,200 Yuan/month (US $164-179). Therefore, waste picker earnings are higher than formal sector workers and by recovering materials from waste they can escape poverty. Waste pickers play an important role in the city’s economy and environment.
Scavengers are not organized in any way, which adds to their vulnerability. The Chinese government restricts migration from rural areas to the city. To get official residence in the cities, migrants need a job offer from their future employers. Since scavengers do not work for an employer, they are technically illegal residents in the cities. They are forced to sleep on the streets or to build shanties on vacant land, mostly out of sight of the rest of society. Their irregular legal status makes them vulnerable. There have been instances of eviction and demolition of their settlements by the city. City officials admitted that scavengers perform a beneficial service to the city, but they are not willing to support them in any way.
In 2000, Guangzhou was selected by the national government as one of eight cities in China to showcase urban sustainability, including recycling. Many residents in apartment buildings routinely separate their wastes into wet / dry streams. Residents often sell their recyclables to scavengers or bring them to the many recycling depots scattered throughout the city. City officials estimate that scavengers recover 1,200 metric tons/day of paper.
In 2007, Guangzhou started operating a composting facility with capacity to process 1,000 metric tons/day; a significant percentage of materials would come from hotels. The city also intends to pursue anaerobic digestion to process organic wastes.
Incineration And Landfilling
The city has pursued an “inverted” integrated waste management strategy that gives the highest priority to incineration and then to sanitary landfilling of the resulting ashes and other wastes that were not incinerated. The Guangzhou Likeng Waste to Energy Plant began operations in 2005, with a capacity to burn 1,000 metric tons/day of garbage. The Likeng plant burns waste from 100,000 families and generates 21 kW of electricity per hour, enough to provide power to 15,000 households. The incineration process reduces volume by about 70 to 80 percent of incoming waste, which is already free of metals and glass. During the rainy season, however, it is often necessary to add fuel to the wastes in order to sustain combustion.
Guangzhou’s Xinfeng Municipal Solid Waste Sanitary Landfill has disposal capacity of 5 million m3 (176.5 million cubic feet). Xinfeng is the largest landfill in China, and one of the largest in Asia. It is designed to have a useful life of 20 years, and includes a leachate collection and treatment system and methane recovery. Total investment was about US $100 million.
Guangzhou illustrates the kind of challenges facing China in managing its solid wastes, including the significant investment necessary to manage the growing volumes of waste generated. The city’s approach on the informal recycling sector could be a model for other Chinese cities. China has the largest number of scavengers in the world, yet their contribution to Chinese society, the economy and environment are not recognized. Guangzhou’s policy of letting the market and the informal recycling sector work to its advantage could be replicated in China and other developing countries.

Martin Medina is a waste management consultant for the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the United Nations, and other organizations for projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Research for this project was funded by a grant from the City of Kitakyushu and by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, both in Japan. Mr. Medina gratefully acknowledges their assistance, as well as that provided by Guangzhou Municipality.

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