With development comes trash. In China over the last 30 years one indicator of economic growth can be measured in mountains of trash. Today China produces 1/3 of the world’s trash (read more at FactsandDetails.com).
Before rapid urbanisation and development, the same number of citizens still had refuse. But at that stage markets provided little or no packaging – meat wrapped in newspaper or rice carried home in burlap sacks. Tractors carted waste to a communal pit filled with weeds and water. Pipes transported the methane exhaust back to the village where it was connected to three-ring burners for cooking. Most refuse decomposed naturally.
Today China has denser population centres buying goods that are more manufactured. Supermarkets are further from the source of the crops, so refrigeration and packaging are needed. Modern conveniences come modernly packaged.
The landscape of garbage has changed in China.
Earlier this week I wrote of dead, diseased pigs dumped into a river that provides drinking water to Shanghai (see my earlier post “When Pigs Grow Gills“. Here at the office we can’t fathom how 13,000 pigs can go missing and no one can identify the source. Eventually pigs would have decomposed. The same can’t be said for plastic wrappers.
At China’s Three Gorges Dam rainstorms frequently wash trash down to the dam mouth. This accumulates and needs to be trucked away. After one storm floating garbage covered a half million square feet of water. In some places it was so thick locals could walk across the water (See Reuters – “Garbage islands threaten China’s Three Gorges dam“). To put it in perspective, the amount of water covered is roughly equivalent to the world’s largest IKEA store in Stockholm
IKEA Stockholm (Kugens Kurva), Sweden
Size: 594,167 square feet
Fact: The largest Ikea store in the world is listed as a tourist attraction in the Stockholm official visitor’s guide.
Read it on Global News: Global Montreal | Top 10 biggest Ikea stores in the world
To meet the 8% per year growth in garbage, cities across China are working on solutions.
Most of China’s garbage meets with one of three fates: around half is placed in landfill, 12% is burned and a little under 10% used for fertiliser. The rest is mostly left untreated, much of it simply dumped. (Source: China Dialogue)
Many cities are investing in incinerators. Yet without agreed standards for air pollution the burning of garbage may only intensify air pollution problems (see earlier posts in FacingChina.me on air pollution).
For now citizens in China need to deal with mounting piles of trash, clogged waterways and brown skies. Getting atop the trash issue is a priority for China’s governments.