China Is Building World's Biggest Trash Incinerator

It generates energy--and C02--but its builders say it's better environmentally than burying the garbage. Continue reading →

Even though China's explosive economic growth seems to be slowing, the Asian nation continues to struggle with the problem of what to do with the mountains of trash generated by its cities.The average person in China produces about two and a half pounds of residential trash per day. Thanks to a shortage of disposal options, the Chinese capital of Beijing is ringed with more than 1,000 unregulated landfills where the lack of environmental controls is causing air, soil and groundwater pollution.

That's why the Chinese increasingly have been turning to burning their trash to generate electricity. Already, China has about 20 such plants in cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou. Now, in the mountains outside the city of Shenzhen, plans are underway to build the world's biggest waste-to-energy plant.

VIDEO: Why Don't We Burn Our Trash, Too?

Schlaich Bergermann Partners, one of several German design firms who are working on the project, posted images of the plant on its website. The plant, which will be nearly a mile in diameter, will burn 5,000 tons of trash each day, which is about a third of what Shenzhen's 20 million inhabitants generate.

Here's a video about the facility.

Burning trash might not seem like the best solution for a nation that's already grappling with nasty air pollution. But Chris Hardie, partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, told that while the plant will produce a metric ton of C02 per metric ton of waste, the trash actually will contribute less to the greenhouse effect that way than it would if it was buried in a landfill and giving off gigantic quantities of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

"One metric ton of waste will ultimately produce somewhere in the region of 60 cubic meters of methane as it decomposes - and this has more than twice the negative effect on global warming," Hardie told the publication.

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The incinerator will be powered by nearly half a million square feet of solar panels on the roof, so that the net result will be a small amount of electricity being put into Shenzhen's grid.

The New York Times reported in 2015 that trash-to-energy plants are common in Europe. They're also making a comeback in the United States, even though they're opposed by environment groups, who say the emissions are harmful to urban residents.