Chinas Trash Problem

3 minute read

It’s not just for Beijing and Shanghai anymore

China is facing many problems as a result of a developing economy. One problem is the pace of urbanization. With the Chinese hukou system currently in place, many rural impoverished workers migrate to cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, in search of labor intensive, low wage job opportunities. The Chinese hukou system is designed to limit these workers from migrating to arguably already overpopulated cities by limiting their access to health care and other social benefits, as well as their children’s access to the public education system in these cities. While this hukou system receives the brunt of foreign criticism, it does work to demotivate overpopulation by migrant workers. China’s population problem is often accompanied by issues already prevalent in major Chinese cities, such as China’s current and growing garbage problem.

Everyday, Beijing creates on average 18,400 tons of garbage. If Beijing used standard dump trucks to transport this trash out of the city, the line of dump trucks would make an entire loop around Beijing’s Third Ring Road. For those readers unfamiliar with Beijing, the Third Ring Road is a circular road that basically encompasses everything historical, and business-oriented in Beijing (it’s a long road). Beijing’s trash management system can currently only handle around 10,300 tons of trash per day. This leaves approximately eight thousand tons of trash unaccounted for. Everyday. To add onto this, Beijing’s trash output is growing at a rate of 8 percent per year. Beijing is rapidly running out of time to push their trash to the side.

Everyday, Shanghai creates on average more than twenty thousand tons of garbage. Shanghai’s garbage production has reached the point that if all of this garbage was collected, around every two weeks Shanghai would be able to fill the Jin Mao Tower (in that picture, the Jin Mao Tower is the shortest of the three tallest buildings in Shanghai, the tallest of which is still under construction, but will be the tallest building in China once completed). The Jin Mao Tower is eighty-eight stories tall, and upon completion in 1998 was the tallest building in China. Clearly, China’s cities have a garbage problem.

However, this garbage problem is not merely limited to cities. It also plagues China’s rural countryside. Nearly six hundred thousand rural village governments do not have any form of environmental protection infrastructure. This not only affects the inhabitants of the polluting village, but also leaks into streams and rivers that serve as tributaries to major coastal cities. The lack of government funding in these small villages has done little to change their attitude towards garbage, which is “depend on the wind to blow away trash, and depend on sewage to evaporate.” It’s hardly conceivable that in a rapidly developing China, poised to compete with the United States in ten years for largest overall GDP, there can exist these seemingly third world areas. Particularly concerning their environmental problems, as most rural areas survive based on producing large harvests and bolstering China’s food production.

It isn’t just the impact of pollution on these areas’ harvests that is worrisome, it is also the growing number of “cancer villages” that are appearing across eastern China. One area in Guangdong province serves as home to around four hundred Chinese citizens. To solve their garbage problem, behind their town, the citizens created a “mountain of trash.” Within the last ten years, twelve people in this town have died of cancer. These “cancer villages” affect more than just the rural citizens, though. The Huaihe River, which flows through the Anhui, Jiangsu, and Henan provinces is so polluted that even one area which has been protected for the past ten years still can barely sustain a fish population. These cancer villages exist along this river as well, but the effects also extend to the local fish populations. These fish suffer from spiral shaped backbones, extra layers of scales, and various other defects stemming from the amount of pollution that exists in the water.

To recycle a common pun, China needs to “clean up its act,” and fast. The people are relying on the government to assist them, and many Chinese people are suffering as a lack of government help. The Chinese government doesn’t even necessarily have to help through financial means, simply a better program for recycling used goods, or better, clearer, easier to understand explanations of existing programs can help resolve this issue.

The Chinese language websites I used to help write this post are:


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