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Waste Fees on the Way

The polluter pays concept is about to become a fact of daily life.

Cities and towns across the entire country are expected to start collecting fees for the treatment of wastewater and rubbish by the end of this year, a leading official said.

The breakneck pace of urbanization and sizzling economic growth of recent years have placed intense pressure on the country's environment and inspired a growing awareness of the need to preserve resources while reducing pollution.

"Education alone cannot lead to a unified awareness," Chen Deming, deputy minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.

"We need to employ economic leverage to prod a change."

Chen added that cities across the country should begin collecting the fees by the end of this year.

Many cities already collect such fees, though their methods are all different and there have been complaints that the funds have not been used properly.

Revenue generated by the fees is to be used to construct and operate more wastewater and rubbish processing facilities, Chen said.

Many cities have built their own plants. However, a lack of funding and incomplete pipelines have kept many of them from operating, Chen said. "A lot of wastewater treatment plants are just sitting there in the sun," he was quoted as saying.

Statistics from the NDRC showed that only about 55 percent of the wastewater in 36 large- and medium-sized cities in the country was treated.

And more than 600 cities do not have wastewater treatment plants, let alone systems for collecting treatment fees, Xinhua reported.

Local governments are allowed to decide their own standards for how the fees are handled and should provide subsidies to help low income-earners bear the increasing cost of living, Chen said.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said making sure that the system for collecting the fees was transparent would inspire people to get behind the move.

Ma said some wastewater treatment plants in areas where the fees were already being collected had complained that they had not seen any of the money.

Recent research by the institute uncovered nearly 200 wastewater treatment plants sitting idle or with below-standard purifying standards, he said. "Local governments should let the public know how the money is spent," he said.

(China Daily April 4, 2007)

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