Waste-to-Energy Sector in China: Perspectives

China is the world’s largest waste generator, producing as much as 175 million tons of waste every year. With a current population surpassing 1.37 billion and exponential trends in waste output expected to continue, it is estimated that China’s cities will need to develop an additional hundreds of landfills and waste-to-energy plants to tackle the growing waste management crisis.


China’s three primary methods for municipal waste management are landfills, incineration, and composting. Nevertheless, the poor standards and conditions they operate in have made waste management facilities generally inefficient and unsustainable. For example, discharge of leachate into the soil and water bodies is a common feature of landfills in China. Although incineration is considered to be better than landfills and have grown in popularity over the years, high levels of toxic emissions have made MSW incineration plants a cause of concern for public health and environment protection.

Prevalent Issues

Salman Zafar, a renowned waste management, waste-to-energy and bioenergy expert was interviewed to discuss waste opportunities in China. As Mr. Zafar commented on the current problems with these three primary methods of waste management used by most developing countries, he said, “Landfills in developing countries, like China and India, are synonymous with huge waste dumps which are characterized by rotting waste, spontaneous fires, toxic emissions and presence of rag-pickers, birds, animals and insects etc.” Similarly, he commented that as cities are expanding rapidly worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find land for siting new landfills.

On incineration, Zafar asserted that this type of waste management method has also become a controversial issue due to emission concerns and high technology costs, especially in developing countries. Many developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control systems”. Mr. Zafar’s words are evident in the concerns reflected in much of the data ­that waste management practices in China are often poorly monitored and fraudulent, for which data on emission controls and environmental protection is often elusive.

Similarly, given that management of MSW involves the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste, Zafar explains why composting has also such a small number relative to landfills for countries like China. He says, “Composting is a difficult proposition for developing countries due to absence of source-segregation. Organic fraction of MSW is usually mixed with all sorts of waste including plastics, metals, healthcare wastes and industrial waste which results in poor quality of compost and a real risk of introduction of heavy metals into agricultural soils.”

Given that China’s recycling sector has not yet developed to match market opportunities, even current treatment of MSW calls for the need of professionalization and institutionalization of the secondary materials industry.

While MSW availability is not an issue associated with the potential of the resource given its dispersion throughout the country and its exponential increase throughout, around 50 percent of the studies analyzed stated concerns for the high moisture content and low caloric value of waste in China, making it unattractive for WTE processes.

Talking about how this issue can be dealt with, Mr. Zafar commented that a plausible option to increase the calorific value of MSW is to mix it with agricultural residues or wood wastes. Thus, the biomass resources identified in most of the studies as having the greatest potential are not only valuable individually but can also be processed together for further benefits.

Top Challenges

Among the major challenges on the other hand, were insufficient or elusive data, poor infrastructure, informal waste collection systems and the lack of laws and regulations in China for the industry. Other challenges included market risk, the lack of economic incentives and the high costs associated with biomass technologies. Nevertheless, given that the most recurring challenges cited across the data were related to infrastructure and laws and regulations, it is evident that China’s biomass policy is in extreme need of reform.

China’s unsustainable management of waste and its underutilized potential of MSW feedstock for energy and fuel production need urgent policy reform for the industry to develop. Like Mr. Zafar says, “Sustainable waste management demands an integration of waste reduction, waste reuse, waste recycling, and energy recovery from waste and landfilling. It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis”.

Future Perspectives

China’s government will play a key role in this integrated solid waste management strategy. Besides increased cooperation efforts between the national government and local governments to encourage investments in solid waste management from the private sector and foster domestic recycling practices, first, there is a clear need to establish specialized regulatory agencies (beyond the responsibilities of the State Environmental Protection Administration and the Ministry of Commerce) that can provide clearer operating standards for current WTE facilities (like sanitary landfills and incinerators) as well as improve the supervision of them.

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

Without clear legal responsibility assigned to specialized agencies, pollutant emissions and regulations related to waste volumes and operating conditions may continue to be disregarded. Similarly, better regulation in MSW management for efficient waste collection and separation is needed to incentivize recycling at the individual level by local residents in every city. Recycling after all is complementary to waste-to-energy, and like Salman Zafar explains, countries with the highest recycling rates also have the best MSW to energy systems (like Germany and Sweden).

Nevertheless, without a market for reused materials, recycling will take longer to become a common practice in China. As Chinese authorities will not be able to stop the waste stream from growing but can reduce the rate of growth, the government’s role in promoting waste management for energy production and recovery is of extreme importance.

Why Are We Converting Waste Into Energy?

The world is running out of fossil fuels, and we need to find new ways to generate energy. Converting waste into energy is a clean and efficient way to generate power. It doesn’t produce the same level of pollution as traditional fuel sources, and it helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

We need to find ways to convert waste into energy today in order to address the issue of climate change. By converting our waste into energy, we can reduce our reliance on polluting fuels and help preserve our environment for future generations.

Reasons to convert Waste to Energy

What is waste to energy?

Waste to energy is a process of turning waste into electricity. This is a clean and efficient way to generate power, and it doesn’t produce the same level of pollution as traditional fuel sources. Converting our waste into energy can help reduce our reliance on polluting fuels and preserve our environment for future generations.

Can all types of waste be used?

The different types of waste that can be used in waste to energy are municipal solid waste, agricultural waste, and industrial waste. Municipal solid waste is the most common type of waste that is used in this process. It includes everyday items like paper, plastic, and metal. Agricultural waste includes things like manure, straw, and wood chips. Industrial waste includes things like slag, ash, and boiler dust. Municipal solid waste is the most common type of waste that is used in waste to energy.

Is Waste to Energy the same as Biomass?

The similarities between waste to energy and biomass are that they are both renewable resources, and they can both be used to create energy. The main difference between them is that waste to energy uses organic material that would otherwise be thrown away (like food waste), while biomass uses plants specifically grown for the purpose of creating fuel.

WTE plant

Waste to Energy – Frequently Asked Questions

Is waste to energy effective?

Yes, waste to energy is an effective way to generate power. It doesn’t produce the same level of pollution as traditional fuel sources, and it helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Converting our waste into energy can help preserve our environment for future generations.

There are many reasons to believe that waste to energy is a more efficient renewable energy source than other types of renewables. First, waste to energy facilities can be located near population centers, which reduces the amount of energy lost in transmission. Second, waste to energy plants tend to have higher capacity factors than other types of renewable energy sources, meaning that they produce more electricity per unit of capacity.

Finally, waste to energy plants can use a variety of feedstocks, including municipal solid waste, construction and demolition debris, and sewage sludge. This flexibility gives waste-to-energy plants a significant advantage over other renewable energy sources that are limited to a single feedstock.

Is waste to energy sustainable?

The short answer is yes – waste to energy (WtE) is a sustainable solution for managing municipal solid waste (MSW). But it’s important to consider the whole picture when making decisions about sustainability. That means taking into account factors like greenhouse gas emissions, financial costs, and other renewable energy options like solar and wind.

When it comes to conserving energy, there are many things that people can do to help out, both big and small. Saving energy at home can help reduce the amount of waste going to energy plants, and it can also save homeowners money on their monthly energy bills.

WtE plants use MSW to generate electricity, and they can actually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because when MSW is incinerated, it doesn’t release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that’s produced when MSW breaks down in landfills. In fact, WtE plants are so efficient at reducing methane emissions that they’re actually considered carbon-neutral.

WtE plants are also cost-effective, and the technology is constantly improving. In the past, WtE plants were criticized for being too expensive to build and operate. But new plants are much more efficient, and the costs have come down significantly.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of waste to energy?

The advantages of waste to energy are that it is a sustainable solution for managing MSW, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and it is cost-effective. The disadvantages of waste to energy are that it requires high initial investment, and it produces some air pollution. Overall, waste to energy is a good option for communities looking for a sustainable and cost-effective solution for managing MSW.

What are the alternatives to waste to energy?

The main alternative to waste to energy is landfill gas-to-energy, which captures methane gas produced by decomposing MSW in landfills and uses it to generate electricity. Landfill gas-to-energy is less expensive than waste to energy, but it has a higher greenhouse gas emissions footprint.

Other renewable energy options include solar and wind power. Solar and wind power are both carbon-neutral, but they are more expensive than waste to energy. Waste to energy is a good option for communities looking for a sustainable and cost-effective solution for managing MSW. It has some disadvantages, but overall it is a good option for communities looking to reduce their environmental impact.

Why are we converting Waste to Energy?

We need to convert waste to energy today because the world is running out of fossil fuels. The use of coal, oil, and natural gas has created an unprecedented level of pollution, which is damaging our environment and contributing to climate change. In order to reduce our dependence on these polluting fuels and address the issue of climate change, we need to find ways to convert waste into energy.


Sweden is one of the best proponents of waste-to-energy in the world

In recent years, waste to energy (WtE) has become increasingly popular as a means of generating electricity. However, not everyone is convinced that WtE is the best option for the environment. Some critics argue that WtE actually damages the environment and is not worth the investment.

One of the major criticisms of WtE is that it emits pollutants into the air. When waste is burned, it releases harmful chemicals and particulates into the atmosphere. These pollutants can have a negative impact on human health, as well as the environment. In addition, WtE plants are often located in close proximity to populated areas, which means that the pollution they emit can affect a large number of people.

Food waste and waste to energy are two important topics that we should be thinking about more. With the right infrastructure in place, food waste can be used to create energy, which can help to power our homes and businesses. In addition, by reducing food waste, we can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Another criticism of WtE is that it is actually less efficient than other means of generating electricity. WtE plants typically have lower efficiency rates than coal-fired power plants, for example. This means that more waste needs to be burned in order to generate the same amount of electricity. This can lead to more pollution and more damage to the environment.

Critics also argue that WtE plants are expensive to build and operate. The initial investment can be significant, and the operating costs can be high. This means that WtE may not be the most cost-effective option for generating electricity.

Despite these criticisms, some experts believe that WtE can be a valuable tool for generating electricity. WtE plants can help to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfill, and they can provide a source of renewable energy. In addition, WtE plants can create jobs and boost the economy.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use WtE should be based on a careful consideration of all the pros and cons. WtE may not be right for everyone, but it could be the best option for some.