Why I’m doing this

It dawned on me today that unless you are in Hong Kong and saw one of my presentations you don’t know what Xingergy is doing or why. A few weeks ago (this is my claim to fame) a women recognized me on the street and said, “hey, are you that guy working on the trash startup? I think your idea is really neat and you made a good presentation”. She knows what’s going on, but I realize I haven’t shared much of my presentation or knowledge online. Today I share the documentary “Besieged by Waste” with you. Below is the trailer:

One of my missions in life is to meet this guy and buy him a beer. He’s hard to get a hold of. Mr. Wang’s documentary film takes a look at how China (mis)manages its waste and the realities of this. I haven’t actually seen the documentary yet, it’s impossible to get a hold of too, that is unless you have a spare $300 lying around. But I have seen some photos and the preview. It’s an excellent visualization, at least from what I’ve seen, of the problem I am attacking.

Here are some facts:

  • China produces around 200 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year
  • Major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong each produce around 20,000+ tons  per day
  • Cities such as Shenzhen produce 10,000+ tons per day
  • Chinese people produce 0.95kg per person per day (“developed” countries produce 2.2kg)
  • Waste generation is growing at 8-10% annually (that means waste production doubles every 8 years)
  • in 1991 only 11% of waste in China was collected and “managed”
  • Today around 60% is collected and “managed”
  • Around 9 billion tons of waste sit in-situ somewhere in China

Yea, I know, those are just some numbers, they don’t mean anything. I mean, what is 200 million tons, anyway? No one has an anchor number for that. China produces 200 million tons every year. Let me break it down…. Remember those big metal containers you’ve seen trucks hauling around? Like this one…

Container

A container ship can fit around 5,000 of these containers on board. Each container can carry 20 tons (they can carry more but Dept of Transportation in most countries restrict them to 20 metric tons so they don’t ruin the roads). If we packed up all the MSW China produced in a year we’d need 10 million containers, or about 2,000 container ships. That’s over 5 of these every single day:

Container Ship

China produces 5 container ships of trash every day. There, does that make sense now? Ok. But China is a big country, let’s just focus on one city. Say, Beijing. They should be the leading example of how to do things the right way. Right? Beijing currently generates 30,000 tons every day. That’s 1,500 containers a day, or just over 2 container ships a week. What did they do with all that waste? See, the problem with Beijing, along with Shanghai, Hong Kong, and pretty much every other Chinese city, is that their landfills are about to overflow. So they have two options, either fill up their landfills quickly and face the problem, or stall by accepting less waste thus prolonging the landfill’s life. Hmmm…. tough decision…. of course the politicians chose to defer the problem to the next guy. That’s what politicians do. Additionally, Beijing’s landfill capacity is technically only about 2,000 tons per day. Their “not exactly environmentally friendly” daily capacity is about 7,000 tons. But they make 30,000 tons.

Collected2009Beijing

So what happens to the other 13,000 daily tons of garbage? Incineration? Nope. The largest incinerator in China (the world?) is being built in Shenzhen, it will burn 4,000 tons per day. Most incinerators are around 800 tons per day (China burns around 6% of it’s waste, but they are spending $41bn on waste to energy projects over the next few years, adding 580,000 tons per day).  So, they don’t burn it they…. dump it in someone else’s backyard! Seriously. This is what China does with it’s waste. They dump it in any hole they can find. River, lake, valley, whatever. Did you just dig up some dirt to make cement or bricks? Mind if we dump a bunch of garbage in that convenient hole you just made? Larger cities will pay villages to accept garbage, usually around $15 per month. But if you’re lucky, say you live next to a hazardous waste dump, you could strike it rich and get $100 or more per month. Either way that’s cheaper for the city, in China the average landfill’s OPEX is around $6 per ton accepted (on the low side). The average landfill in China accepts around 150 or so tons per day, so that’s $28,000 a month, equal to a village of about 1,900 people. I’m not sure how many people live in a village, but this page says the average population is around 900.  Therefore the large city is getting a 50% discount on it’s trash bill, plus, bonus, they don’t have to spend millions of dollars building a landfill! Sounds like a deal right? Apparently so, because there are close to 1,000 such dumps surrounding Beijing, with another 1,000 surrounding Shanghai, and who knows how many more spread across China. Here’s a map of the dumps around Beijing.

Wang0

Entrepreneurs are even getting in on the action. Farmers and anyone with a little land and a little less knowledge on garbage will happily accept payment to “lease” out their land to garbage dumpers. In the film one farmer says he previously used the lake on his property to fish, which he would sell at the market. But he now makes much more money using the lake as a dump, accepting a “tipping fee” (average China tipping fee is $16 per ton) for people to dump garbage into this lake.

Problem is, sanitary landfills at their best are bad deals. A few years ago the US EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) did a landfill leak study, they determined that 80% of landfills leaked toxic fluid into the surrounding ground and water supply, 40% had holes larger than 1 square foot. This is in the US where we generally follow environmental rules. These dumps in China, where more than half of China’s waste ends up, well, 100% of them leak because they don’t have any liner, and worse, they are often located in bodies of water. It’s as though China brainstormed and thought of the worst possible place to put all of its garbage, and did exactly that.

Beijing_Water_Dump_Groundwater

Located at the “Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Industrial Park” (under construction)

I want to repeat this: China is dumping most of its waste, its MSW, hazardous waste, industrial chemical waste, into totally unprotected holes in the ground at the rate of tens of thousands of tons per day. The country is doing this because it has no room or appetite for new landfills and no alternative solution. At no point in human history have so many people produced so much trash (collectively) in such a small area. This is a waste crisis on an unprecedented scale.

This is an absolute complete environmental catastrophe. That’s the Boy Scout in me talking. This is a huge commercial opportunity. That’s the capitalist talking. Sure, one of our commercial MSW facilities will produce 15% IRR for a developer, or 40% IRR for a developer+construction contractor, but I’m doing all this because I can’t stand to see the natural world destroyed.

I know few to no one shares my passion for this, hippie environmentalists will never solve the problem because they incorrectly assume other people care about the environment more than their wallet, while capitalists MBA types won’t take the risks on new technologies, preferring solid IRR on established business models. The only way to solve this problem is to invent a new technology and commercial product that makes people money while solving the waste problem. It takes several hippie capitalists to do this, I’ll be the one to lead the way for Xingergy, but I need teammates. To help recruit more crazy hippie capitalists (preferably ones with lots of money), and to help communicate the depth of the problem, I present to you these photos, taken from Mr. Wang’s collection. I didn’t take these photos, the captions are translated from Chinese.

Wang9West Bank of Shahe Reservoir in Shahe Township, Changping District, Beijing 40 ° 07’46 “N 116 ° 17’45” E January, 2010 .

This garbage dump is Located at the juncture of the the Nansha River and Beisha River. It is more than 1300 mu in size (the picture shows only a small portion of the dump). This site has been used for dumping garbage and excrement since the end of 2002. The amount of the accumulated waste is already beyond calculation. (Seth note: I took a shot at calculating it. Waste deposited and compacted into a landfill weighs 1,200 to 1,400 pounds per cubic yard, 1,700 to 1,900 pounds per cubic yard after settling. China landfills do not compact, dumps are just piled trash so assume 600 pcy for dumps. Shahe Reservoir is 214 acres, assumed to be 3 meters deep. Total volume is 3.1m cubic yards, so at 600lbs/cy that is 844,470 tons. The average open dump is estimated to be 1m tons so my calculation is within ballpark.)
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Wang4Refuse Transfer Station in Huangcun, Daxing District, Beijing, 39 ° 42’10 “N 116 ° 22’54” E April, 2010

This is a “waste transfer station”. Looks like they got a little behind on transferring that waste. This isn’t even a dump. Waste Water from the dump has polluted the underground water source, and the result cannot be reversed in the foreseeable future. The facility is surrounded by a dozen of farms, who are using the underground water to grow vegetables.
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Wang48Songzhuang Township, Tongzhou District, Beijing 39 ° 55’48 “N 116 ° 42’52” E April, 2010

Adjacent to this graveyard is a huge ground hole, where soil was Excavated to construct the Sixth Ring Road . Now the ground hole has become a dump site, and everyday plastic bags are blown from here to the graveyard by winds.
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Wang43Changxindian Township, Fengtai District, Beijing 39 ° 52’22 “N 116 ° 11’20” E July 2009

Demolition garbage is a Mirror reflecting the Frenzy of Beijing’s urban expansion over the past 20 YEARS For the 2000 search or so scavengers FROM of The less-DEVELOPED Provinces of Sichuan, Henan, and on Anhui, however, On the Garbage dumps are the only places where they can build up their dreams for the future. One part of the Beijing-Shijiazhuang High Speed ​​Rail is being Constructed atop a landfill.
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Wang34The Old Town Center of Shayu Township, Shunyi District, Beijing 40 ° 06’22 “N 116 ° 29’48” E March, 2009

East Bank of Wenyu River The depression in the ground approximately 200,000 Square meters in size, is the result of brick manufacturing activities. Ton after ton of fertile yellow soil has been excavated to make bricks, which then become the basis for Beijing’s urban construction. What this place gets in return from the city, however, is ton after ton of garbage. Brick factories here are still in operation, and more yellow soil is to be excavated.
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Wang29Langfa in the Huangcun Township, Daxing District, Beijing, 39 ° 45’46 “N 116 ° 16’05” E April, 2009

This dump site is part of the Yongding River. the pit was the Result of sand and stone Mining. The black liquid being poured into the pit is excrement and mud from sewers.
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Wang25Taihu Township, Tongzhou District, Beijing  39 ° 47’33 “N 116 ° 35’33” E April, 2009

This is a road in the Taihu Township Connecting the VILLAGES of Beixiaoying and Xitaipingzhuang Because the the original landfill by the road has been filled, people are now dumping garbage, which includes excrement, directly on the roadside.
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Wang10Shaziying Village in Sunhe Township, Chaoyang District, Beijing  40 ° 04’58 “N 116 ° 27’56” E March, 2009

This is the North bank of the Qing River, located at the administrative border between Chaoyang, Changping and Shunyi districts. Garbage composition is extremely complex here, and the nearby underground water source is severely polluted.
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Wang8Dingfuhuangzhuang in Huilongguan Township, Changping District, Beijing 40 ° 06’38 “N 116 ° 15’16” E March, 2009

The hill on the left is in fact a huge dump site, which is located on the south bank of Wenyu River. It has been there for several years. One tributary of Wenyu River flows by the west side of this garbage hill, and its water is severely polluted.
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Wang5Tuqiao in Liyuan Township, Tongzhou District, Beijing 39 ° 51’52 “N 116 ° 41’07” E April, 2010

A flock of sheep is being fed in a garbage dump the garbage comes from nearby residential Neighborhoods in the background , residential high-rises are being built, which will cost more than $ 15,000 RMB per square meter.
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Wang2Xiaotangshan Township to A02 Guanniufang Village, Changping District, Beijing 40 ° 09’06 “N 116 ° 22’14” E March, 2009 

A little creek runs next to this garbage dump, and inevitably, its water has been polluted. Everyday, a flock of milking cows from the nearby dairy farm graze around the area for water and food.
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Below the shiny “Modern China” facade, below all the technology and consumption, below all the trendy internet startups and business deals, are the basic resources we need to survive and the earth we all live on. These precious resources are being destroyed, sometimes irreversibly, right now as you read this. Most people don’t know this, most don’t care to know, many can’t or don’t want to understand the implications. Even fewer see the potential for change and improvements, the opportunity. And even less have the balls (or ovaries) to take on the challenge and the heart to care to make it better.

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2 comments

  1. […] Also no interest in the waste problems in China and Hong Kong. I ran through the “waste production” slides quickly, so I assumed they’d have some questions. I think it is very alarming and surprising that China is dumping half or more of it’s waste in rivers, lakes, or various holes in the ground. […]

  2. Great article! I spent the afternoon trying to find either Wang Jiu-liang or his film…all I want to do is buy a copy and watch it…I too found the 300.00 version and thats it. I also cannot connect with him through any of the normal social network channels….

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