Monitoring China's Waste Incineration and Air Pollution

New Research Briefs by CEF Research Assistants

Nov 19, 2012

The Wilson Center's China Environment Forum is proud to announce that we have recently published two new research briefs that examine air pollution monitoring and China's waste challenges, by CEF Summer Research Assistants Abi Barnes and Tara Sun Vanacore, respectively. Both briefs feature original, in-depth research and analysis, and they are available online here .

In "Kite Sensorship: Regulating China’s Airways" Abi Barnes examines a new model for environmental activism and air pollution monitoring. Launched in July 2012, FLOAT Beijing—a  community art project that utilizes citizen science—offers a simple, innovative, and non-confrontational approach to air quality monitoring: kites. Pioneered by two U.S. graduate students, the project tracks air pollutants using air sensor modules attached to kites. In recent years, China has seen an upswing in civic environmental activism, from pollution victims bringing class action lawsuits to Chinese protesters and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) exposing the polluting practices of domestic and foreign industries. While the Chinese government has improved outlets for citizens to channel environmental grievances, many of these pathways remain either heavily congested with bureaucratic rigmarole or blocked. For this reason, bottom-up initiatives that are able to bypass these channels, like citizen science and do-it-yourself (DIY) technologies, may prove vital to mitigating China’s environmental problems.

In her two part brief, "China's Waste Challenge," Tara Sun Vanacore explores China's troubling trash problem by first examining the issues of waste and incineration, and then the response of civil society, particularly environmental NGOs.

Every year, China generates 250 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), or one quarter of the world’s total waste, annually—enough to fill the Great Pyramid. To deal with this growing problem, 155 incineration facilities currently operate in China, with an expected 300 facilities to be online by 2015. However, these plants vary drastically in their ability to control pollution and toxic waste from China’s incinerators is occasionally dumped into ponds or landfilled, belying the clean and renewable image the government attributes to this waste-to-energy process.

For the Chinese government, incineration has become an increasingly popular solution to China’s growing solid waste problem. However, for the urban Chinese whose neighborhoods are increasingly being encroached upon by such massive waste-to-energy plants, incineration has become a rallying point for activism. For citizens troubled by a lack of information from the government about incineration plants before and during construction, NGOs and grassroots organizations serve to fill the gap as sources of information, legal services, and advice.

 

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