In this two part brief, Tara Sun Vanacore explores China's waste challenges by first examining the problem of waste and incineration, and then the response of civil society, particularly environmental NGOs.
Every year, China generates 250 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), or one quarter of the world’s total waste, annually—enough to fill the Great Pyramid. To deal with this growing problem, 155 incineration facilities currently operate in China, with an expected 300 facilities to be online by 2015. However, these plants vary drastically in their ability to control pollution and toxic waste from China’s incinerators is occasionally dumped into ponds or landfilled, belying the clean and renewable image the government attributes to this waste-to-energy process.
For the Chinese government, incineration has become an increasingly popular solution to China’s growing solid waste problem. However, for the urban Chinese whose neighborhoods are increasingly being encroached upon by such massive waste-to-energy plants, incineration has become a rallying point for activism. For citizens troubled by a lack of information from the government about incineration plants before and during construction, NGOs and grassroots organizations serve to fill the gap as sources of information, legal services, and advice.