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Solid Waste Management

Municipal solid waste management (MSWM) in China warrants particular attention as China has become the largest MSW generator in the world and the total amount of MSW it produces continues to increase. In recent years, central and local governments have made great efforts to improve MSWM in China. New regulations and policies have been issued, urban infrastructure has been improved, and commercialization and international cooperation have been encouraged. Considering these developments, an overview is necessary to analyze the current state as well as new opportunities and challenges regarding MSWM in China. 

Solid Waste in the 90's

The total amount of industrial solid waste in China was about 580 million tonnes in 1990. Until 1990, about 6.5 billion tonnes industrial waste was stockpiled in China, occupying an area of 58 692 hectares, of which 4060 hectares is potential farming land. The total amount of industrial solid waste in Wuhan was 5.6 million tonnes in 1992, in which 5.0 million tonnes was recycled, 30 000 tonnes was treated physically or chemically and finally disposed, 0.31 million tonnes was deposited near the plant, and 0.26 million tonnes was discharged into rivers, lakes and seas. Although the rate of recycling is very high (89%), this is mainly due to the re-use of some kinds of wastes like fly-ash, slag, coal spoil. The amount of the stockpiled and discharged wastes, especially hazardous wastes which cause considerable pollution in China, is still very large.

Solid Waste In The 20's

With economic development, the quantity of solid waste is increasing rapidly in China; the total quantities of municipal solid waste (MSW), industrial solid waste (ISW), and hazardous waste (HW) in 2002 were 136.5 million tons, 945 million tons, and 10 million tons, respectively. In 2002, the quantity of MSW disposed of was 74.04 million tons, 89.30% of which was landfilled, 3.72% was incinerated, and 6.98% was composted. There are currently 651 disposal facilities for MSW in China. 

The last three years have seen China’s policymakers pay more attention to the country’s worsening waste problem. In 2018, China’s municipal solid waste (MSW) reached 22.8 million tonnes, a quantity that is expected to climb up to 409 million tonnes by 2030 as China continues to urbanize and grow economically. This swelling volume of garbage poses a threat to both the environment and the climate.

In 2017, China launched a pilot program of new waste sorting regulations in selected cities, and policymakers are now planning a national scale-up. In late April this year, the Chinese government approved changes to the Solid Waste Law, making waste sorting a core element of the revised law. 

This means that more cities are going to adopt the new waste sorting regulations that were first tested in the pilot program. Innovative Green Development Program, a Beijing-based climate policy think tank, estimates that if the regulations are fully implemented across China, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be reduced by 80.82 million tonnes CO2e between 2020 and 2030. This is equal to the emissions from 17.46 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.