Organic growth…

A new plan in Guangzhou to turn food waste into fertiliser

Organic growth…

Plenty more where that came from

China’s economy may be growing faster than most at the moment. But so is the amount of garbage that it’s generating – and policymakers are having to search for solutions.

In Guangzhou, where officials have met public resistance to burning waste, alternatives to overburdened dumps are now being tested.

The city recently built its first organic waste plant, and the trial run started last week.

Put simply, it takes in food waste from kitchens around the city and converts it into fertiliser. That means leftover items like cooking oil, cabbage and chicken bits won’t need to be carted off to land fill sites (or sent up in smoke). The project follows similar trials in Beijing and Shanghai.

Guangzhou’s 10 million residents and countless factories throw out 12,000 tonnes of trash every day, and the city is quickly running out of space. Most of it ends up in the swollen Xingfeng landfill, but that’s due to overflow by 2012.

“The life of the landfill in Xingfeng village will increase by five years at least if organic waste treatment is promoted in the city,” predicts Li Tinggui, director of the city’s urban administrative committee.

What’s not dumped by the southern boomtown is burned – a solution that’s increasingly become politically unacceptable. Incineration plants are a major source of discontent for local residents who say that they’ve caused cancers rates to soar (see WiC48). They worry in particular that they will be exposed to dioxins, one of the chemical ingredients of Agent Orange (a highly toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War).

Despite this, the city’s main incinerator at Likeng is undergoing expansion. But Li worries that, even with more incineration capacity, Guangzhou will still have 6,000 tonnes of excess waste to deal with every day.

That’s where the need for the organic waste plant comes in. It heats kitchen leftovers for thirty minutes and then ferments it for eight hours. Microbes, working without oxygen, turn it into fertiliser sludge, rich in nitrates and phosphates. (The bad news is that this gives off methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide).

The new plant on Yanling road is a small step in the city’s fight against trash, but similar plants could one day be set up in every district if the project is successful. If things pan out as planned, Guangzhou will be processing all of its organic waste within five years, according to Li. And he thinks that could cut the city’s waste problem in half.

Separating trash is the key to making the project work, since the plant cannot process non-organic garbage. China doesn’t have mandatory waste-sorting laws, something that green groups have been pushing for. But Guangzhou’s government is still pressing ahead in testing out new waste disposal solutions. “Before building [organic waste] plants, residents will be required to dispose of their kitchen trash in designated dustbins, which will be installed in all residential communities,” a local spokesperson told the China Daily. The plan is for a comprehensive system to be in place within the next 10 years.

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