Chasing Mirages

Treasure-making garbage can follow-up

by on Apr.15, 2010, under Posts

Thanks again to everybody who submitted comments to my previous post about the mobile bio-chemical processing machine.

I enjoyed reading your comments, and it’s nice to know that I actually have 6 loyal readers, not just 2.

Though all of your answers were worthy of a good kick in the teeth, I can only pick one lucky person whom I will treat to a delicious Peking duck dinner, complete with numerous awkward silences, inappropriate comments, and puzzling facial expressions.

And the winner is…..Bryan T.!!!!!

I know you’re all crapping your pants out of surprise.  Bryan T.  was right on the money and, I must admit, turned up a few resources that I hadn’t found.  The big blue and grey beauty is a  composting machine.  Organic garbage from the nearby residences is thrown into the machine, which contains specialized composting bacteria.  The electric cable provides power for a heating element that speeds up the composting process.  I heard anecdotally that the resulting compost from these machines in urban areas is used to fertilize urban parks and gardens.

Solid waste disposal is a huge problem in China.  Urban Chinese generate 220 kg (484 pounds) of garbage per capita, annually.  As material wealth increases and more and more Chinese move to the cities, this problem will only get worse.  Separating and composting organic garbage is a start, but it’s not going to make a huge dent in the volume of garbage.  We must fundamentally change the way we package, use and dispose of everything.  One source of inspiration is the city of San Francisco, which aims to be a “Zero Waste” city by 2020.   According to this NYT article, Europeans are also onto something with their high-tech garbage incinerators.  Who knew that burning trash actually has a smaller greenhouse gas footprint than burying it!  (Credit to Bryan T. again for forwarding the article).

It’s pretty amazing what a computer-savvy engineer with time on his hands can do, even with no Chinese language skills beyond “gei wo ni de dian hua hao ma” (给我你的电话号码).

:, , ,

3 Comments for this entry

  • Don

    I heard a rumor that burning plastics could release some very toxic chemicals into the atmosphere in large quantities… for example:

    Do you know what filtering processes these plants are applying, and is there any evidence that these filtering processes are actually working?

    If possible, could you summarize the CO2 comparison: landfill vs. specific power plants… for your less astute readers?

    PS: “NO… I’m busy doing important things” is a perfectly acceptable answer :-)

    • Mirage Chaser

      All good questions. Unfortunately, I place an undue amount of trust in the New York Times. I don’t know about the filtering processes, and I’ll look into that. As for evidence that the filtering processes actually work, I assume that these European countries’ institutions for testing, monitoring and reporting information is solid enough so that media and people living nearby would very quickly find out if the filters were NOT working correctly. But that could be a naive assumption.

      About the greenhouse gas comparison for landfills vs. trash incinerators, I don’t have the specific data, but the summary goes like this: after organic wastes are buried, they decompose and release greenhouse gases, largely in the form of methane (CH4). When organic wastes are burned, CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas that’s released. Because of its structure, methane traps 8 times more heat than CO2, molecule for molecule.

      Assuming that decomposition and incineration both release a similar amount of carbon, and knowing that CO2 molecules contain the same amount of carbon as methane molecules, you can see why decomposition contributes more to the greenhouse effect than incineration. This all comes from my very basic understanding. My assumptions are probably all wrong, and I’m going to regret not doing more research before opening my mouth. But that’s the general idea. Please feel free to correct me. But if you do so, I ask that you include some references.

  • Bryan T.

    Thank you, thank you. When I get home from work most days, I have no life. Sometimes Google is my only friend. LOL

    Now I need a find a way to go East for some awkward Peking duck dinner!


    Bryan (白人)

Leave a Reply

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: