Beijing brings in heavy artillery to rid city of unwanted smells

Beijing's rubbish dumps are to get a dose of 24-hour protection against foul smells in the form of deodorant, fired by high-pressure water cannons on to landfill sites around the capital.

One of the more pungent downsides of Beijing's rapid development has been an escalation in the stench from the city's dumps. Some residents are waking up at night coughing.

Prompted by complaints from local residents about the rising smells, city authorities have instituted an artillery of deodorant cannons – around 100 of them – to stop the stench.

Most residents are happy enough with the cannons in principle, but they complain that they don't do any good.

"During Chinese new year, the smell was truly terrible. I was too embarrassed to invite my friends home," said a woman living in a new villa complex who gave her name as Sally.

The cannons fire the deodorant, which is created from plant extract, on to the rubbish as it arrives in trucks at the site. The deodorant is supposed to neutralise the whiff, and the perfumed trash is buried underneath special sheets which further eat into the odour. Then the lot is coated with deodorant.

According to the Xinhua news agency, Beijing's 17.55 million residents daily produce 18,400 tons of household garbage, 90 per cent of which is dumped in the 13 landfills dispersed around the municipal area. Breakneck development in recent years has only contributed to the problem.

There is a sense of urgency about the current measures, because the long six months of winter, when cool temperatures helped masked the smell, is showing signs of breaking.

The cannons were the brainchild of employees at the Gao'antun Garbage Landfill Plant in suburban Beijing, who were harassed by locals about the pong from the site. Lei Ying, 64, said she would rather have an incineration plant than a deodorant cannon. "If I have to choose between the smell and dioxins, I'd rather choose the stink," she told Southern Weekend newspaper.

Wang Weiping, an engineer working for the city management bureau, agreed the stench was appalling. "I haven't done the tests, but... I think the odour there has exceeded the standards," he said. Zhao Zhangyuan, a researcher at Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, said the measure was a stopgap one. "Ultimately, the source of the stench has not been addressed."