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Country Faces Great Wall of Waste

China's urban areas will generate the maximum amount of garbage its cities can handle in another 13 years, posing an even greater threat to the environment.

China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, under the country's top environmental administration, has warned that the garbage pile-up in 2020 would reach 400 million tons, that is, the volume generated by the entire world in 1997.

The Status and Trend of Solid Waste in China, released by the council recently, estimates that about 860 million people would be living in the country's cities by 2020, putting more pressure on the already overburdened urban waste disposal system.

There are no data on garbage generation in rural areas. But the report warns that the waste treatment problem even in rural areas is very serious and is likely to worsen.

Currently, an average urban resident generates 440 kilograms of waste a year, with 52 big and medium cities (with a population of over 500,000) accounting for 60 percent of the country's total garbage.

Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, are three biggest waste generators.

About 70 percent of urban waste is disposed of in landfills, and the rest goes into making fertilizer.

But the flip side is that only half of it can be treated harmlessly, the report says. To top it, the country's traditional way of dumping waste has not only wasted precious resources, but also polluted the environment.

If the waste generation reaches that alarming a level, more toxic elements like ammonia and sulphur would be released into the air, with pathogenic micro-organisms, heavy metals and organic pollutants contaminating surface and underground water.

Garbage will occupy large tracts of land. In fact, it has already rendered 50,000 hectares of land around cities useless.

Dumping will cause more explosions, such as those reported from more than 20 cities. Microorganisms from urban household waste could reach 30 percent, and landfills would produce a larger volume of methane.

The report urges the authorities to introduce more harmless waste treatment measures. Garbage classification needs to be promoted -- from trash can designs and public education to making preferential policies and encouraging business.

(China Daily January 9, 2007)

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