China’s progress towards building “zero-waste cities”

China has seen significant progress in promoting pilot projects that transform urban areas into “zero-waste cities” under the Chinese government’s green development plan to minimize solid waste generation and maximize waste recycling in urban areas.

A pilot city in the “zero-waste city” project, Shenzhen in south China’s Guangdong Province has actively explored a new path of “waste treatment” and achieved substantial success.

Residents can have coffee, watch exhibitions and learn about the cutting-edge garbage disposal technology at the waste incineration power plant in the Yantian Energy Ecological Park in the city. The refuse disposal plant can handle more than 500 tonnes of household garbage daily and reduce carbon emissions by about 300 tonnes per day. The electricity generated by garbage incineration can sustain 400 households for a month, thus truly turning “waste” into electricity.

Improving the solid waste disposal capacity is particularly important for building a “zero-waste city.” The daily output of all kinds of solid waste in Shenzhen could reach 440,000 tonnes. Therefore, efficiently treating solid waste is particularly crucial for the city. Thanks to efforts made over the past few years, Shenzhen has increased the city’s harmless solid waste disposal capacity to 65,000 tonnes per day, up by more than 100 percent compared with the years before 2019.
Not only are major cities like Shenzhen working hard to become “zero-waste cities,” but small counties, like Guangze County in Nanping City, east China, are also doing the same thing.

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The construction of the second biomass power plant with an annual output of 147 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) is underway in Shilipu Village, Guangze County. The project is expected to commence operation in July 2022. Unlike the previous power generation projects, the two biomass power plants in Guangze County consume chicken waste. Together, they can convert 500,000 tonnes of chicken waste into clean energy every year. After completing the second one, the two biomass power plants will be able to generate over 300 million kWh of electricity annually.

“About 30,000 tonnes of chicken waste is produced here every year, which can be used as a raw material to produce organic fertilizer. This raw material is rich in phosphorus and potassium, and it is a relatively rich fertilizer for agricultural and forestry crops,” said Wang Ping, director of the engineering division of the plant.

Today, more than 90 percent of the domestic garbage in the county’s villages can be effectively treated. The management and operation system for delivery, collection, transportation and disposal of rural domestic waste has also been basically established, with the classified recycling coverage rate reaching 90 percent and recycled domestic garbage for utilization reaching 35 percent.

“In the past two years since the start of the ‘zero-waste city’ project, the biggest change brought to us is the significant improvement of the surrounding environment, including garbage sorting in our residential areas, restaurants and villages, which has greatly improved the residents’ awareness about environmental protection,” said Guo Fengyi, a resident.

Backround: main targets of zero waste cities

On 21 January 2019, the general office of the State Council took a further step to solving this by publishing the “Work Plan for the Pilot Program of ‘Zero Waste Cities’ Construction”.

So what is a “zero waste city”? It doesn’t necessarily mean no solid waste generation. Instead it is more of an advanced urban management concept that aims for more comprehensive utilisation and lower environmental impacts of solid waste.

To achieve a Beautiful China, the government has already issued a series of regulations and policies including the Air Ten, Water Ten and Soil Ten plans, the ban on importing foreign waste, etc. However, as shown in the charts above, the high intensity of waste generation, not to mention frequent illegal dumping means improvements are needed in existing waste management. Zero waste cities is one way forward.

Ten cities were selected as ‘zero waste city’ pilots to:

  1. control the increase of industrial solid waste
  2. completely utilise main agricultural waste
  3. prohibit illegal dumping of solid waste regions of national strategic importance e.g. the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB) & the Greater Bay Area (GBA) were given priority in the pilot city selection

Several main tasks and key sectors are mentioned in the work plan:

  • Establish a national consistent statistical system for solid waste;
  • Incorporate classification and treatment of solid wastes into cities’ infrastructure, and provide corresponding land;
  • Promote green mining (key sectors: coal, nonferrous metal, gold, metallurgy, chemicals, non-metallic mining), green supply chain and solid waste recycling (key sectors: battery, electronics, automobile);
  • Promote green living style and green products (key sectors: hotels, restaurants, food & beverage, governments, schools);
  • Financial support including tax exemption, green finance, environmental pollution insurance;
  • Third-party enterprises specialising in solid waste utilisation and pollution control are encouraged.

An official of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said that regions of strategic importance, such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (JJJ region), the Yangtze River economic belt and the Greater Bay Area, will be considered first in the pilot city selection. This made sense given most of the waste hotspots are in those regions.


CGTN, 30-Dec-2021.–16pJTEqDODu/index.html

China Water Risk, 18 March 2019.

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