Beijing grapples with growing garbage crisis

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Every night, Mrs Wang finds herself shuttered in her northwest Beijing apartment because of the stench from the nearby dump.

"For at least one hour, we don't open our windows as the smell from the rubbish tip is horrendous," said the frustrated young mother, standing outside her son's school in a city in the midst of a garbage crisis.

China's capital still relies heavily on burying its garbage - in 2008, 90 percent of the more than 6.7 million tonnes of domestic waste in Beijing was put in landfills.

Municipal authorities, recognising that the city's dumps are full to the brim, have announced plans to build a series of new waste treatment centres, using methods such as incineration and biochemical disposal.

In Wang's Liulitun area, nestled against mountains bordering the city, a cluster of small, run-down houses adjoins the rubbish tip. Nearby, dusty orchards and brick kilns belie the city's relentless economic progress.

The rubbish tip itself is a huge covered site, one of the official city dumps. On a sunny, windy autumn day, it emitted no smell.

"You have to come in the evening, when they air out the site (to treat the waste)," said Wang, who would only give her surname.

Ma Jing, a 17-year-old street vendor, concurred.

"It's not all the time, but there is a smell, that's for sure. I'm not sure if it's good for your health," she said.

Wang was more categorical: "It must have an influence on our health - a lot of residents have left, replaced by people from other provinces, like me."

In 2007, residents in Liulitun voiced their opposition to plans to build an incinerator, amid concerns about potential emissions of the highly toxic chemical dioxin.

Chinese media reported on the public uproar, and the plans, like other similar projects in Beijing, were later put on hold.

China, unlike some countries, does not usually burn its waste and its citizens are wary of incinerators.

"In Beijing, around three percent of domestic waste is burnt, a rate that should increase to 10 percent with the commissioning of the Gao Antun incinerator" in the city centre, Wang Weiping, head of the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences, told AFP.

Some rich coastal cities in eastern and southern China burn more waste, but this method is rare in central and western parts of the country.

The Asian giant is however warming to the method as a third of its municipalities are in the midst of a rubbish crisis, according to state media.

As living standards rise, so does consumption in urban China. And recycling - still the preserve of rag-and-bone men who sort through cardboard boxes and bottles on the streets of Beijing - has yet to come to the fore.

"Recyclable" dustbins in the city are either empty, or full of a mix of trash and recyclable materials.

"We must reduce the volume of waste and transform it into a re-usable resource," said Wang Weiping.

The volume of domestic waste in Beijing, which counts 17 million residents, is increasing by eight percent year-on-year, according to official data. The capital predicts it will have to treat 30,000 tonnes a day in 2015, as compared with 18,000 now.

As a result, the city aims to increase the amount of waste it burns and reduce its dependence on burying rubbish by 2015, whilst also using biotreatment.