CHANGSHA, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Han Zhaobin believes he has found a solution to the problem of rural garbage disposal: burn it all without affecting the environment or leaving a hole in the government's pocket.
"Now I have full confidence in successfully achieving our garbage disposal targets," Han, a government official from the city of Jiuquan in northwest China's Gansu Province, said after visiting an incineration plant in Rucheng County, central China's Hunan Province.
The facility is capable of disposing of up to five tonnes of unsorted garbage on a daily basis using a new technology that treats the emissions to release only harmless vapor and ash.
Covering about 700 square meters, the plant is an example of what Han hopes to build in Jiuquan to undertake the environmentally-friendly disposal of rural waste.
A BURNING ISSUE
Not far from the waste plant, a smoke plume rises from a huge waste dump perched on a hill, reeking of burning tires and plastic bags.
"Hundreds of tonnes of waste have been buried here," said a local villager surrounded by a swarm of flies. "This mountain of garbage is poisoning our water and soil."
The billowing smoke from the dump reflects China's challenge in disposing of rural waste.
Over 100 million tonnes of household garbage is produced in rural areas each year, the bulk of which ends up untreated or disposed of by burning waste in open air or creating landfills in sparsely-populated areas.
Insufficient funding is one obstacle for establishing proper waste collection and treatment systems in rural areas, said Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
As China aims to properly handle 90 percent of the rural household waste and give its villages a face-lift within the next three years, the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly techniques have become imperative.
The plant Han visited in Hunan is the latest invention of the China Aerospace Kaitian Environmental Technology. The incineration plant has cut the cost of garbage treatment by over three quarters.
"Previously it would cost us 200 yuan (about 30 U.S. dollars) to dispose of one tonne of garbage, now that could be lower than 40 yuan," Han said.
Building a central dump in the county would cost millions of yuan, and the cost of collecting waste from remote villages is also high, he said.
In contrast, building several new waste plants within the county would cost less than two million yuan each and they only require one employee for daily maintenance.
"It is financially feasible, and we prefer this one-stop solution to dispose of waste for good," he said.
Unlike landfill which takes years for waste to disintegrate, the incineration plant can dispose of 95 percent of trash permanently, emitting far less harmful chemicals.
"Environmental protection failures can easily sink an official's career," said Han. "Rapid economic growth figures are no longer the overriding yardstick for determining the success of a government."
He has been touring the country in search of solutions to disposing of household garbage, sewage and farmland waste, as Gansu has pledged to properly treat all rural waste within the next three years. This is part of a national plan to treat rural household waste in 90 percent of villages by 2020, according to China's Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
In the roadmap for rural revitalization, China aims to build a beautiful countryside with strong agriculture and well-off farmers. Rural waste is being taken more seriously than before, as waste management in rural areas still lags behind that of urban areas.
Currently, more than 100 waste disposal projects have been launched around the country.
"We should not be satisfied with correcting our mistakes in environmental protection," Han said. "The best way is to prevent the damage in the first place."