The millions of people residing in Beijing consume resources and produce waste 24/7, yet few know where this waste all ends up. Youngsters at Beijing World Youth Academy, an international school in Beijing centered on English and bilingual education, ventured out to find out exactly what happens to the waste in Beijing. Community matters, and these kids got to witness how the Beijing Chaoyang Circular Economy Industrial Park processes 1,600 tons of garbage every day.
Primary School kids at BWYA recently got an up-close-and-personal view of where some of our trash ends up after we throw it into the garbage bins. We learned about recycling, waste disposal and reusing organic products and kitchen waste when we visited the Beijing Chaoyang Circular Economy Industrial Park, a facility that treats 1,600 tons of garbage every day.
Our journey began with a bus ride into Beijing’s eastern village of Jinzhan. As the bus struggled through tiny streets and over dirt roads, we all looked nervously out the window, expecting to see a filthy mountain of landfill, crawling with rats and scavenger birds. The bus bumped along the small village roads until we were about 20 kilometers outside 4th ring road. Suddenly, we turned a corner and the dusty streets were replaced with manicured lawns, lush gardens filled with flowers, tall trees and water features. Not a plastic bag or PET bottle in sight.
Our bus pulled up to an elegant building lobby and our guides showed us inside to a detailed model of the trash collection plant and explained where the different processes take place.
We then went up to a control room where more than a dozen screens displayed camera footage of the trash incineration process. We could see everything from the sorting room to the conveyor belts, the washing area and finally the crane piling unrecyclable waste onto heaping fires. There were also two large map screens, monitoring the movement of the waste, eight computers displaying temperature charts, undecipherable numbers and blinking boxes and five men overseeing all of this critical data. We learned that this was the part of the plant that incinerates trash and converts it into electricity. The electricity produced during this process is sent to the Huabei Electric Company and goes back into the public system.
After leaving the monitoring area we hopped back on the bus to be taken to the next building, which housed the organic waste recycling. Before arriving at our destination however, our driver took us on a quick detour up a steep hill and drove us around on top of a mountain which our guides explained was 15 meters tall and made entirely of the remnants of incinerated waste. The mountain was about 500 meters long and maybe 200 meters wide and we learned that they plan to keep building the hill bigger and taller until it reaches 50 meters into the sky. The hill is irrigated with water and grass is being grown all over it to form a natural-looking landform – as well as a reminder of how much waste we produce.
We arrived at the next stop on our tour to enter the organic waste section where fertilizer is produced for sale to the general public and to be used on gardens and in farming processes throughout China. There were eight or ten massive rooms with twenty fertilizer machines in each. The facility belongs to a private company called Goldenway Biology Tech, which buys restaurant waste from all around Beijing and turns it into their fertilizer products.
After all of the super-appetizing talk of garbage and fertilizer, it was time for lunch! We were provided with a box of Chinese food with rice and a banana in the recycling plant’s employee cafeteria. The food was good but we did wonder if all of the plastic packaging was necessary considering we were there to think about reducing our waste. After lunch, our students were told how to separate their trash and scrape the food waste into a special bin to go back to the fertilizer plant.
For the second part of the tour we were on the bus again and off to a part of Shunyi to visit a plastics recycling factory owned by a private company called Incom. This company produces the machines now being used in several Beijing subway stations to collect PET bottles in exchange for subways tickets. We saw all the different types of plastic and what they can be turned into. Everything from clothing to vacuum cleaners can be made with recycled plastic here. We were disappointed not to be allowed into the factory to see any of the recycling operations but excited to learn that there are so many initiatives in place to help our environment by reducing landfill.
This tour is organized as an incentive by the Chaoyang Municipal Government to make people more aware of the waste disposal systems in place. The organizers provided a coach for the day, lunch and all tours for free for our school group of 35 people. For more information about how you can visit the Chaoyang Circular Economy Industrial Park, call 010-66056269.
Image courtesy of Phoebe Gluyas.