Tag Archives: dumping waste

Reducing Rubbish: Incinerators in China

waste to energy plant in Shenzhen China built by Keppel Seghers.  Image from http://www.keppelseghers.com/

As China urbanises, its cities are producing a lot more rubbish. They are running out of good places for landfills and are turning instead to burning rubbish, generating electricity at “waste-to-energy” plants.. About 70 such incinerators are now being built, in addition to more than 180 in operation. Cities increased their capacity to incinerate waste tenfold in the decade to 2013, allowing the country to burn more than a quarter of its formally collected urban rubbish. Techsci Research, a consultancy, expects the market for incinerators in China roughly to double in size by 2018, much faster than the pace worldwide.

Cities in Japan and several European countries burn a higher proportion of their rubbish and recycle a lot of the rest (although only Japan ranks ahead of China in tonnes burned per day). Most rubbish in China ends up either in landfills or in unregulated heaps outside cities, where it gives off methane as it decomposes. There is a lot of informal recycling: people pick through rubbish at dumps looking for items such as plastic bottles that can be sold to recycling factories. But the heaps contaminate the soil and groundwater. Plastics flow down rivers into the sea, harming ocean life. A recent study concluded that China was by far the biggest source of plastics in the oceans… Building [incinerators] will require the government to do more to earn the trust of a public that is rightly suspicious of official pledges to protect the environment. Some older incinerators have not burned as cleanly as promised, belching foul-smelling smoke from their furnaces.

The latest generation of incinerators in China may help to overcome public scepticism. Shanghai is the city producing the most household rubbish in the country: 22,000 tonnes a day. Space for new landfills is becoming scarce as existing ones reach capacity, including China’s largest, Laogang, on the coast near the city. Each day about a seventh of the city’s rubbish glides past that landfill by barge to be dumped into two large pits at an incinerator next door. In odourless rooms overlooking each pit, workers use joysticks to manipulate gigantic German-made steel claws a bit like the ones in fairground games used to retrieve sweets and toys. The claws descend and close their jaws, grabbing seven or eight tonnes at each go. The workers then move them up towards the pit’s high ceiling and drop the waste into furnaces built with technology from Germany, Japan and elsewhere.

The waste burns at temperatures of 850°C or higher, hot enough to eliminate toxic dioxin pollutants. The gases heat water to produce steam, in turn driving turbines that generate electricity. On a recent visit to the site, there was no detectable odour outside. Digital displays monitored emission levels of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants. Zhang Yi, a senior manager at SMI Environment, a local state-owned enterprise that runs the Laogang furnaces, says its facilities were built to “the strictest standard” in the world. A high proportion of imported technology and a need for careful operation make SMI’s incinerators expensive to build and operate, Mr Zhang says. State-owned companies, he insists, have a special responsibility to the public.

Normally this sort of claim makes Chinese citizens scoff. Many of the factories and mills that have polluted rivers or made skies smoggy are state-owned…Environmental-impact assessments must be done, but these are paid for by the people who are building and approving the projects. Favourable assessments lead to more work and unfavourable ones to less. Neighbours of a planned project are often consulted in a desultory way, despite legal requirements for notices and hearings. The more controversial a project is, the less likely that rules about public consultation will be obeyed, and the more likely that nastier tactics, including hired thugs, will be relied upon to silence critics.

The Laogang incinerator is one of several that burn 3,000 tonnes of rubbish a day, including one in Beijing; the one in Hangzhou will be another. A planned new burner, to be completed in 2017, would make the Laogang facility the largest in the world, burning 9,000 tonnes a day. The goal by then is to increase the share of Shanghai’s household waste that is incinerated from about a third to three-quarters.

Nationally, China’s planners had wanted 35% of urban household waste to be incinerated by the end of 2015…[But]Incinerators are insatiable beasts and must keep being fed rubbish for decades to be economical. The more of them there are, the less incentive there is to recycle, and to produce less rubbish in the first place. But at present, as China’s waste problem keeps growing, the country most certainly needs to keep on burning.

Waste disposal: Keep the fires burning, Economist, Apr. 25, 2015, at 42

The Impact of Everyday Oil Spills

motor oil

“Silent oil spills” occur daily when oil is released into the environment during use or illegally dumping. Silent oil spills generate around 10 billion gallons of contamination in a single year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Developing a used oil recycling program” fact sheet, 40 percent of the pollutants in the water come from motor oil.

California’s bill, SB 916, attempts to address this by encouraging the use of bio-based motor oil. Most bio-based motor oils are made from the organic fatty acids found in various plants. The oil is non-toxic and is biodegradable….Very few are aware that 200 million gallons of used motor oil is illegally dumped in the United States every single year…More than twice as much motor oil enters the near shore waters off Los Angeles every year from urban runoff.

According to the EPA, petroleum based lubricants biodegrade slowly, they bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms and they have high levels of aquatic toxicity. They also have much higher GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions relative to bio based alternatives, and of course, they are not renewable…

The fight to bring bio-based motor oil into the mainstream is an uphill battle for those seeking to unseat the deeply entrenched and deep pocketed gas and oil industry. Last year alone, the industry spent $144 million lobbying on legislators at the federal level.

Excerpt from Justin King, California attempts to battle ‘silent oil spills’ SPECIAL, Digital Journal, April 11, 2014

The Evolution of Organized Crime: from rhino horn to illegal waste disposal

rhino heads

[A]ccording to America’s Congressional Research Service, is worth as much as $133 billion annually. Commodities such as rhino horn and caviar offer criminals two benefits rarely found together: high prices and low risk. Rhino horn can fetch up to $50,000 per kilogram, more than gold or the American street value of cocaine. Get caught bringing a kilogram of cocaine into America and you could face 40 years in prison and a $5m fine. On January 10th, by contrast, a New York court sentenced a rhino-horn trafficker to just 14 months…Organised crime is globalising and diversifying. Mono-ethnic, hierarchical mafias are being replaced by multi-ethnic networks that operate across borders and commit many types of offence. In an ongoing investigation into rhino-horn trafficking, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) arrested Irish travellers using indigent Texans to procure material for Chinese and Vietnamese buyers. Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, estimates that just a quarter of Europe’s roughly 3,600 organised-crime groups have a main nationality, and that some operate in dozens of countries. A third are involved in more than one criminal enterprise, with half of those linked to drug-trafficking.

And though traditional trafficking in drugs, guns and people is still lucrative, gangs are increasingly moving into lower-risk, higher-reward areas—not just wildlife, but fraud and illegal waste-disposal….Gangs in Britain make around £9 billion ($14.8 billion) a year from tax, benefit, excise-duty and other fraud—not much less than the £11 billion they earn from drugs. In America cigarette-trafficking deprives state, local and federal governments of $5 billion in tax revenues annually. The European Union estimates that losses within its borders from cigarette smuggling, tax fraud and false claims on its funds by organised groups total €34 billion ($46.5 billion) a year. But member states bring fewer than ten cases each a year for defrauding the EU, and sentences tend to be light.

According to the FLARE Network, an international group of campaigners against organised crime, criminal groups in Italy make around €14 billion a year from being mixed up in agriculture. In some parts of the country mafias control food production and distribution; Franco La Torre, FLARE’s president, says they also enrich themselves through fraudulent claims on EU agricultural funds. Increasingly strict regulation of waste disposal has created another profitable opportunity for organised crime in Europe—particularly, according to Europol, for the Italian Camorra, ’Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra…

Old-style loan sharks and drug-dealers are finding a new role as distributors for the modern mobsters who manage the supply chains, marketing, finance and human resources needed to move goods, money and people across borders. “The new generation are very talented businessmen and technologically advanced experts,” says Mr La Torre. They prefer invisibility to showy violence. Many also have legitimate business interests.  Clever criminals acting across borders are extremely difficult to prosecute. They profit from gaps in enforcement and regulation, and conceal their illegal acts in complex supply chains. If a network of Nigerian scammers based in Amsterdam defrauds French, Australian and American credit-card holders, where does the crime occur? And who has the motivation, not to mention the jurisdiction, to prosecute?

A commodity such as oil, ivory or fish will be transported on a ship flying a flag of convenience, explains Mr Leggett. The ship will be owned by a holding company registered in a tax haven with a phoney board. Thus the criminals can disguise the provenance of their ill-gotten goods and middlemen can plead ignorance….

Until then, illicit goods will keep coming in quantities too great for governments to stop. One FWS inspector estimates that for all the peering, prodding and chirping, for all the rewards promised and rhino-horn traffickers caught, the agency picks up perhaps 5% of wildlife brought illicitly into America. For criminals, that is merely a light tax on the profits from the rest.

Excerpts, Organised crime: Earning with the fish,Economist, Jan. 18, 2014, at 59

Dumping Waste at Sea: China

Explosive economic growth in China’s coastal regions has led to levels of ocean pollution that threaten human and marine life, a government report concluded.  The State Oceanic Administration of China says 18,000 square miles of Chinese coastal oceanic territory is seriously polluted, an increase of 7,000 square miles from last year, Inter Press Service reported Monday.

As expanding coastal centers dispose of a growing amount of industrial and domestic waste at sea, about 56,000 square miles of the country’s coastal waters failed to meet standards for “clear water” in 2009, the SOA reported.  Overall, 14 of the 18 ecological zones monitored by the SOA were found to have unhealthy levels of pollution. SOA’s 2010 China Marine Environment Bulletin reported that 86 percent of China’s estuaries, bays, wetlands, coral reefs and seaweed beds were below what the agency considers “healthy.”

Excerpt, Marine pollution problem for China, UPI.com, June 20, 2011