Policy Memo to the Directors of “Beijing Besieged by Waste”

To: Kun Bao and Wang the directors of “Beijing Besieged by Waste”

From: Antonia Giles, Environmental Studies Student at Davidson College

Subject: Waste Management Plan for Beijing, China

Date: April 2015

 The Importance of Urban Waste Management in Beijing

Right now, the Chinese are more concerned with economic development than sustainable management of waste. As Wang says in his film, “everything revolves around economic development, the waste problem is just small trouble, not worthy of attention. It does not slow down production, it does not affect consumption and it does not have an impact on the fast beating rhythm.”2 Today, Beijing has a total population of 13 million and generates 30,000 tons of waste per day.2 For the last two decades, Beijing has undergone rapid economic development and urban expansion, which has caused tremendous increases of solid waste generation.5 Municipal solid waste has become one of the most serious environmental problems in Beijing, and a proper municipal solid waste management system is vital for urban sustainable development and the overall environmental management of Beijing.5

Environment and Health Risks

The production and containment of urban solid waste is one of the most important environmental problems in cities.5 Inappropriate management of urban solid waste not only increases environmental pollution, but also threatens human health through its collection, transfer and disposal processes.5 Poor waste management can lead to the deterioration of ground and surface water quality as well as land contamination.5 Dumping waste in the landfills has caused serious problems to the water and atmosphere around the landfills.2 Traditional landfill practices produce various landfill gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia.5 If a proper collection or venting system is not provided, these hazardous fumes can create a health risk for the population near the landfills.5

Current Method of Waste Management in Beijing

Sanitary landfills are the main treatment approach to municipal solid waste treatment in Beijing. However, the treatment capacity of landfills cannot satisfy the waste management needs of the city.5 As a result, the landfills have been so over-utilized that they exceed their designed capacity as pollution-free facilities.5

Proposed Solutions

Build More Landfills

Building more landfills in the short run will help to control large amount of waste being produced in Beijing on a daily basis. The benefit of landfills is that they can take in numerous waste streams, but the total capacity of landfills is limited. There is reluctance amongst some individuals because increased waste facilities means increased water pollution around the sites and less land for the expansion of Beijing. There are transportation costs associated with transporting waste from the city to the landfills, especially the farther out they are forced to build landfills. Building more landfills costs a significant amount of money and thus takes money away from developing alternatives such as recycling or composting infrastructure.


Waste with a high content of organic substances favors treatment by compost and incineration;5 therefore, incineration will help to reduce the amount of organic waste that is disposed in landfills. Unlike landfills, incineration produces no methane and is suitable for many flammable, volatile, and toxic wastes. Incineration facilities can be built closer to the source of waste, which reduces transport costs and is helpful in the protection of limited land resources.

High capital and operating costs make it an expensive method of waste disposal. Furthermore, reliance on incineration could restrict choices of future disposal options including a proper consideration of waste minimization or composting. There is a significant danger of atmospheric pollution; furthermore, most residues coming from the incineration facility would still have to be landfilled. Supporters of incineration in China argue that it is the most efficient way to eliminate waste;2 meanwhile, opponents argue that the toxic substances emitted from incineration are harmful to people’s health.2 Ultimately, incineration would be the best alternative to building more landfills, but must be seen as only a temporary fix to the long-term solution of waste minimization.

 Pay as you throw

The convenience of waste discarding is also responsible for more solid waste generation.5 People tend to throw out serviceable goods simply because they are old or outdated, and there are no additional costs for there discharge. Pay as you throw is a solid waste rate strategy that charges households solid waste collection and disposal fees commensurate with the amount of waste they place curbside for collection or transport to a disposal facility.1 In Beijing right now there are three kinds of fees already being charged on individual bases: regular cleaning and maintenance fee, the city domestic garbage disposal fee, and the cleaning and transporting fee.5 However, there is no limitation on the amount of residential solid waste. Residential solid waste is charged at a fixed rate per household for the generation/collection, and there is no limitation/control on the actual quantity or volume of solid waste generated.

This solution might also lead consumers to compost and recycle more of their waste in order to avoid a higher fee. If people were charged by weight of waste, consumers would be more incentivized to control the amount of waste they produce. This solution will provide more money for Beijing to further manage its waste. One possible downside of this solution is that people will try and avoid the fees by handling waste on their own (illegal dumping). This solution will best be able to change the way that consumers think about their waste; it will increase public awareness of how much waste they are producing and perhaps lead them to seek out alternatives to the current system such as recycling, composting, or waste reduction. 


In conclusion, the three solutions must be used together to achieve maximum sustainability in the short run. Pay as you throw is the best solution because it could change consumer views surrounding waste and in the short-term the increased fees will help fund incineration facilities, and, unfortunately, more landfills. Incineration will help to decrease the amount of food waste that goes into landfills, which will create a significant difference because food waste makes up the majority of solid municipal waste. Finally, though building more landfills has the fewest benefits, it cannot be avoided in the short-term due to the volume of waste currently produced.

Ultimately, an integrated waste management solution is better than a single disposal approach due to the heterogeneous characteristics of municipal solid waste.5 The most sustainable management of waste would include the collection of a service fee, involvement of the private sector in waste management, environmental awareness building in public, and the enforcement of stringent environmental legislation.5 In addition to technical solutions to waste management, it is also important to call for discipline and good social norms, and to boost public awareness and self-consciousness of the problems in solid waste management.5 An integrated solid waste management system, including mechanisms of waste reduction, reuse, recycle, and disposal, will be an important prerequisite for China’s sustainable development.5


Waste Management Options: Advantages Disadvantages
Incineration ·       Can be built close to the source of waste, reducing transport costs·       Suitable for many flammable, volatile, toxic, and infectious wastes that should not be land-filled

·       Produces no methane

·       Reduces the amount of waste requiring land-fill disposal

·       Helpful in the protection of limited land resources

·       High capital and operating costs make it an expensive method of waste disposal·       Reliance on incineration could restrict choices of future disposal options, including a proper consideration of waste minimization or recycling

·       Significant danger of atmospheric pollution; some incinerators generate toxic liquid effluent

·       Concentrates toxic materials in the residue and most residues still have to be land-filled

Build more landfills ·       Suitable for numerous waste streams ·       Total capacity limited in each landfill·       Reluctance of some owners/operators/residents

·       Transportation concerns/costs

·       Groundwater contamination

·       The construction of municipal solid waste disposal establishments in Beijing will cost far more than the fees collectable


Pay as You Throw 









·       Provides financial support for the existing urban solid waste disposal facilities·       Reduce the quantity of urban solid waste generated

·       Appropriately-prices PAYT programs create a financial incentive for consumers to produce less waste, and thereby promoting improved reduction, re-use and recycling

·       People will try to avoid the fee through illegal dumping·       Difficult to implement because quantity of solid waste from each individual household is difficult to measure


Criteria for Decision Analysis Social Impact Fiscal Impact Environmental Impact
Quality of Service Cost of Service Fuel Cost & Consumption
Convenience to Customers Cost to Government Emissions
Cleanliness/Odor Cost to Customer Groundwater & Air Pollution
Social Justice Job Loss/Creation Waste Reduction Goals

 weighted criterion table


1. Town of Chapel Hill. Comprehensive Review of Solid Waste Collection and Disposal Options. Chapel Hill: SCS Engineers, PC, 2012. Print.

  1. Wang, Jiuliang. La Ji Wei Cheng: Wang Jiuliang Zhi Guan Cha = Beijing Besieged by Waste : the Observations from Wang Jiuliang. Brooklyn, NY: dGeneratefilms, 2011.
  2. “Waste Incineration.” Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Ed. Paul Robbins. Vol. 5. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2007. 1910-1911. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
  3. “Waste Management Options.” epa.gov. Environmental Protection Agency, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.epa.gov/osw/homeland/options.htm#content>.
  4. Xiao, Xiao, Xuemei Bai, Zhiyun Ouyang, Hua Zheng, and Fangfang Xing. “The Composition, Trend and Impact of Urban Solid Waste in Beijing.” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment : an International Journal Devoted to Progress in the Use of Monitoring Data in Assessing Environmental Risks to Man and the Environment. 135 (2007): 21-30. Print.



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