Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Solid-Waste Disposal in Shanghai

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Solid-Waste Disposal in Shanghai

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH economic development in the People's Republic of China has lagged behind that of other Pacific rim countries, China is nonetheless burdened with the problem of solid-waste disposal. Officially the government deplores environmental abuses; yet this stance has not been translated into aggressive action, especially on solid-waste management and related pollution. Lacking in China are two important components of environmental action: massive outrage among the general population, and adequate financial resources. The result has been a short-term solution to solid-waste handling that emphasizes landfills with minimal design and locational standards. The case of Shanghai presents an especially instructive example of the social and environmental effects of such a policy.

Shanghai is the largest economic and international trade center in China. The administrative area of Shanghai straddles both sides of the Huangpu River and includes Shanghai Proper, which encompasses the historical urban core and unattached industrial areas, and ten satellite counties. The total area includes both rural and urban landuses. The urban portion covers 6,341 square kilometers. Shanghai Proper contains 749 square kilometers, but the historical urban core only occupies 281 square kilometers. The population in the administrative area had reached 12.8 million people by 1989, an increase of 3.3 million since 1958 (Shanghai Statistical Bureau 1990). This figure does not include the several thousand persons who enter and leave Shanghai Proper daily, or the approximately two million "floating residents" who live in greater Shanghai without residency cards (Zhu 1990). With a density of 15,000 to 65,000 persons a square kilometer, Shanghai Proper is one of the most crowded areas in the world (Hu 1988). This urban center is characterized by multiple-family attached housing, many narrow streets and alleyways, and an antiquated infrastructure.

The core of Shanghai is located on a deltaic plain, with the largest portion of the city on the west bank of the Huangpu River, near the point where the Yangtze discharges into the East China Sea. The top of the delta, deposited during the mid-to-late Holocene, consists of young, unconsolidated sediments (Li and Yan 1987). These sediments have a high degree of permeability, which could influence the movement of leachate in these areas. The elevation above mean sea level is approximately four meters (Duan 1989). Thus the plain is characterized by a high water table, which has affected most large-scale urban construction.

The waste from all sources that results from the large, growing population is enormous and increases daily. Because of the city's environmental setting, improper handling of that waste could have serious repercussions. Yet even though the problem of solid-waste management has attracted the attention of the municipal government and city planners, the location and design of solid-waste landfills do not appear to conform to those in countries with stronger environmental policies.


The total solid waste generated annually by all activities in urban Shanghai rose from 8.54 million tons in 1980 to 13.99 million tons in 1989. Some 75 percent of that was industrial waste, which is expanding at a more rapid rate than the other two classes, residential and construction. Shanghai generated 2.5 million tons of residential solid waste in 1989, one million tons above the 1980 level. The 1989 figure represented a daily average of 6,850 tons, or about 0.8 kilogram of solid waste for each resident in urban Shanghai. During the summer the total often exceeds ten thousand tons each day (Shi 1989), because of a significant rise in food waste resulting from the availability of bulky foods such as watermelon and other fruits and vegetables. If the urban population increases to ten million by the end of the twentieth century, the annual residential waste is projected to exceed 3. …

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