Rubbish idea

To meet waste targets Shanghai looks to charge residents for their garbage

Rubbish idea

Lot of bottle: Shanghai officials think more recycling is the answer...

You get what you pay for is a phrase known the world over. And Shanghai’s city government hopes the logic will extend to trash. It now wants residents to pay to get rid of their garbage and, by doing so, hopes they’ll generate much less as a result.

The plan is supposed to incentivise price-conscious residents to recycle more as well. But local bureaucrats are taking a cautious approach, knowing the proposals won’t be popular. Accordingly, it will launch “a pilot household waste reduction campaign” in several districts first, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Exact details are unclear on the new “user pays” principle, including how charges will be levied (and what is to stop you dumping your rubbish outside a neighbour’s house for collection). But the Shanghai government will hope the trial period shows decent results. The newspaper says the city’s goal is to cut the waste it generates in half by 2020.

The issue is being addressed with a renewed sense of urgency on the back of a raft of policy pronouncements from the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“By 2030,” explains the Shanghai Daily, “all cities should achieve quality treatment of all domestic waste and have a sorting system in operation.” Local governments now have to find a way to make that happen.

State-owned media outlet Xinhua is in no doubt over what that means: “China’s waste management approach will gradually switch from putting refuse in landfills to incinerating it,” it explains.

The prediction will sound ominous to many locals. Incineration technology is a subject of major debate in the country, with academics and affected residents alike arguing that burning rubbish harms the environment and human health.

Guangzhou’s city government has responded to the State Council’s directives by resurrecting plans to build a waste incineration plant in the city’s Panyu district. Large-scale protests halted a similar project in the same area in 2009, and there have also been demonstrations against similar plants in other parts of the country.

In a bid to mollify residents, the local government is giving them a choice between five different areas to locate the site based on an online vote and expert appraisal,” explains the China Daily (although it neglects to mention the weighting that will be applied to the two groups’ votes).

But wherever the final location, the plant is likely to be a source of conflict. According to the Global Times, a survey of 1,550 residents found that almost all (97%) were opposed to the incinerator’s introduction.

Panyu is home to an estimated 2.5 million people and residents say they are unhappy about the threat to their health and property prices.

“I know the difficulty our government faces,” local resident Zhao Feiyan told the People’s Daily. “However, I won’t agree to an incinerator plant being built near my house.”

“Burning garbage will generate dioxins, which will certainly affect our health and even cause cancer,” another resident told the China Daily.

The plants have a spotty reputation. “Burning garbage produces many poisonous gases, even when advanced technology and equipment is used,” Zhao Zhangyuan, researcher at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, told journalists.

But with policy apparently turning away from landfills, the alternative options look limited. Expect more conflicts like the one in Panyu across the country.

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