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Waste not want not proves golden for the early birds
20/1/2006 15:19

Shanghai Daily news

Rubbish disposal, stereotyped as a dirty and demeaning industry, is now becoming a potential "gold mine" in cities.
With china's WTO commitments to opening the sector up in 2007, the industry is attracting investors from both home and abroad.
China's rapid pace of urbanization creates a huge demand for more effective rubbish disposal measures. People's growing awareness of environmental protection also requires the process to be safer and cleaner.
However, even in Shanghai, one of China's most modern cities, landfilling was the major way to treat domestic rubbish until just a few years ago.
Landfilling involves placing waste in a hole in the ground and covering it with soil. The relatively primitive method uses large areas of land and produces pollutants including toxic water and gas from the rotten rubbish.
Shanghai laogang Waste Disposal Center located in Nanhui Area has served as the place to treat most of the city's rubbish for decades. Although the center has undergone several phases of projects to reduce pollution, people who have visited the center still depict it as Mordor, the black land, for the dirty look and stinking smell.
City cleaners used to collect the waste and ship it to the center. The toxic water from the waste unavoidably dripped along the way, even into the Huangpu River.
There are better ways to cope with rubbish. When the industry changes from a government monopolized sector to a commercialized one, the chance for major reforms comes.
Shanghai environment Group, or SEG, has been created against the backdrop of such a reform. Launched in 2004, the group integrates most of the city's rubbish disposal assets and initiates aggressive steps to absorb capital and technology.
"The government will play the role as a service buyer and a supervisor. In the future, the government selects the service and pays for it. Foreseeably, many global and private competitors will swarm into the sector and fight for a piece in this special 'gold mine'," said Xu Liang, a SEG's senior manager.
Xu said the price for the service has not been decided. But the government used to spend billions of yuan every year to keep the city clean and clear. Besides, if rubbish is disposed with scientific measures, it can generate more proceeds from by-products such as energy and other useful materials.
The seg built an incinerator as a better way to dispose of the rubbish. Incineration means to burn the waste. It can generate electricity. The energy generated by two tons of rubbish equals to that of one ton of coal.
A huge market
A site in Shanghai Jiangqiao near Jiading Area is one such project. Launched in 2004 with a daily capacity of treating 1,500 tons of domestic rubbish, the site can produce nearly 500,000 kilo-watts hour of electricity every day.
For a city like Shanghai, which is short of electricity in peak consumption seasons, this could serve as timely help. On the other side, the remains of the rubbish can be made into raw material such as bricks.
The 950-million-yuan (US$117 million) site represents the start of SEG's expansion. Another incinerator, claimed to be Asia's largest, is now under construction in Shanghai's southwestern Minhang Area.
It is expected to start production in 2008, with a capacity of dealing with 3,000 tons of rubbish daily.
The seg also adopts mechanical biological treatments for rubbish disposal. The site will be completed next year. Other projects include several transfer centers in Shanghai. The blueprint rolled out shows a conglomerate with a complete chain for rubbish disposal, including the collection, transfer, landfill, incineration and biological treatment.
So far, the group has invested nearly 5 billion yuan in various projects and the group expects the amount to reach 20 billion in two years.
"It is an industry with huge capital investment at the beginning," said Xu. "But the return will be stable and lucrative."
China has been left far behind in the use of technology for rubbish disposal. The SEG isn't powerful enough to master all the advanced technology in this area themselves. It will team up with several global companies including the United States' Golden State Holding Corp, Italy's Impregilo Group, Singapore's Sembcorp Environment Management Pte Ltd and Hong Kong Biomax Environmental Technology Ltd. These companies are strong in the technological side.
"They choose to establish joint ventures with us because it helps them to obtain market shares in advance," said Xu. "Another reason could be China's rubbish content is different from many other countries. Their technology needs some local adjustments."
In xu's view, the global companies contribute their technology, sell their
Facilities and gain market shares, a perfect illustration for a win-win solution to China's shortage of technology.
The shanghai market of course can no longer satisfy the SEG. The group has stepped out of the city and stretched its antennae to the national market.
Last year, the SEG won the bid to build and operate a 473-million-yuan rubbish disposal site in Chengdu of Sichuan Province. The group has also reached places in Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanxi and Zhejiang provinces.
"If you win a bid for rubbish disposal, you are destined to be a long-time partner. It shows the importance of grabbing the chance at the very beginning." said Xu.
The early bird can catch the worm, as the old saying goes.
But in so large a market like China, it seems one bird is far from enough.
Shanghai produces more than 15,000 tons of domestic rubbish a day.
About 220 cities have been surrounded by "rubbish hills."
China produces 114m tons of domestic rubbish every year.