BEIJING, March 31 -- According to a Xinhua News Agency report on March 27, villagers in Dingyuan Town, Lanzhou, capital city of northwest China's Gansu Province, have had enough of almost non-existent garbage management systems, and calls have been made for the government to do something about it.
Dingyuan is one of the largest vegetable distribution centers in northwest China. Vegetables within a 500-km radius around Lanzhou are collected and processed here before being transported to coastal cities in south China. The industry has proven lucrative for local farmers, but the environment has not benefited. The problem lies in the fact that there is no effective garbage management system in place to handle the large amounts of waste -- primarily rotting vegetables -- that are produced every year.
The total annual storage capacity of vegetable warehouses in the town is about 40 million tons, about half of which becomes waste every year, said Yang Dejun, general manager of Hengtong Vegetable Preservation Co Ltd. Adding vegetable waste produced by farmers, the total amount of waste is about 30 million tons.
Deputy Party Secretary of Dingyuan Town, Wang Xiwen, told Xinhua that the waste vegetables cannot be used as fertilizer because they contain bacteria, which will affect the quality of future crops. Neither can they be used to make chicken feed because of high pesticide contents. Nonetheless, they cannot be left untreated because the natural decaying process breeds flies and mosquitoes, and pollutes the environment, namely the air, rivers and underground water supplies.
"Heaps of rotting vegetables are everywhere, and so are the flies, especially on a hot day," complained Jiang Yingquan, a villager.
The problem isn't peculiar to Dingyuan. Some villages in Tianshui, Dingxi, Linxia of the province are also badly affected.
Other waste issues
For provinces such as Gansu, the use of mulching film -- a light-inhibiting material used to prevent the growth of weeds -- in agriculture causes what is known as "white pollution".
Li Lin, a civil servant in Xianfeng Town, Linxia Autonomous Prefecture, said that mulching film is used over about 200, 000 mu of farmland, an average of three kilograms per mu. This equates to about 600,000 kg of mulching film waste every year.
Song Hongwei, director of the environment supervision department of the Gansu Environmental Protection Bureau, told Xinhua that mulching film is generally not biodegradable, and used mulching films abandoned on farmland harden the soil. But disposing of these films is also a problem because they produce toxic fumes when burned.
Household garbage is another growing problem. Rising affluence has resulted in an increase in volumes of household waste. However, with no designated disposal sites, garbage is strewn and dumped at random.
Construction waste, too, adds to the overall garbage issue. Xue Xiwu, head of Anyuan Township of Tianshui City, said that this kind of garbage takes up too much space although it is not a big environment polluter.
More significant in terms of health risks is medical waste. Wang Yinzi, director of Luomen Township Hospital in Wushan County, Tianshui City, told Xinhua that most solid waste produced by the county's hospitals can be burned or buried, but liquid medical waste cannot be properly dealt with because two-thirds of hospitals cannot afford waste water disposal facilities.
According to Xinhua, the garbage management problem in poor western provinces like Gansu is a serious one. No funds have been allocated to deal with the problem, and even if there were, no government department has stepped forward to manage the situation.
"At present, the garbage disposal system in the poor western countryside is very much 'dump where you please'," according to Li Lin, a civil servant with the Tianshui Environmental Protection Bureau. "The scope of responsibility of construction and environmental protection and health supervision departments in cities or counties doesn't extend to the countryside. Plus, county-level environmental protection bureaus and health supervision departments are understaffed."
This less-than-satisfactory state of affairs has forced village authorities to take matters into their own hands. Dingyuan, for example, has transferred the burden of garbage management onto local companies because it does not receive any funding from the county government for this purpose.
Companies in the vegetable business have to transport waste vegetables to landfills miles away from the village at their cost. In addition, they have to pay for the manpower to do so, which is provided by the town.
Yang Dejun said that his company spends 20,000 yuan (US$2,494) a month disposing of waste, and 3,000 yuan a year to the township government for the manpower. Other larger companies can pay more than 10, 000 yuan a year on manpower alone.
Disgruntled grassroots officials and residents have called for the central government to keep in mind the issue of garbage management in their plan to build a new socialist countryside. What the rural areas need are garbage disposal facilities and a sound management system.