Who is responsible for the 580,000 tons of leachate in Guangxi province?


Who is responsible for the 580,000 tons of leachate in Guangxi province?

What is an example of leachate?

Leachate seeps from the landfills into the waterways. Arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium are four of the many minerals that come from the leachate.

Why is leachate a problem?

Leachate forms when waste breaks down in the landfill and water filters through that waste. This liquid is highly toxic and can pollute the land, groundwater, and waterways.

The People's Government of Guangxi Autonomous Region recently published an announcement on the accountability of environmental protection inspectors. The report pointed out that 24 of the 51 active waste landfills in Guangxi were overfilled. As of the end of 2020, 73 of the landfills in the region together reached 582,000 tons of leachate. The city of Chongzuo was held accountable for discharging a large amount of domestic sewage directly into the Zuojiang River. As of the end of 2020, the city’s annual centralized collection rate of sewage was only 6.7%.

From April 9 to May 9, 2021, the central environmental protection inspection team carried out the second round of the environmental protection assessment in Guangxi province and discovered some major issues with the way the sewage was handled.

01 The construction of disposal facilities for domestic waste in the region is lagging compared to the rest of the country

According to the investigation, there is a large gap in the capacity of disposal of domestic waste in the whole region, and the construction of some planned disposal facilities is lagging. Among the 51 active waste landfills, 24 are overfilled, and the amount of landfill leachate far exceeds the treatment capacity. By the end of 2020, the accumulation of landfill leachate in 73 landfills in the region reached 582,000 tons; due to the large gap in disposal capacity, environmental pollution problems in some cities and counties occurred frequently.

02 Inadequate management of black and odorous water bodies in Chongzuo is a result of the low centralized sewage collection rate

A large amount of domestic sewage was discharged directly into the Zuojiang River. In 2020, the centralized sewage collection rate was only 6.7%; the supervision of the use of sewage treatment service funds wasn’t in place, and the construction of the sewage pipe network was lagging. The local authorities in Chongzuo had problems such as inaction in tackling black and odorous water bodies, the construction of pipeline networks, and collecting sewage.

How serious are the problems of domestic waste disposal and sewage treatment in Guangxi according to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment?

In April 2021, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment identified the problems with waste disposal in Beihai and other places in Guangxi, and with the management of black and odorous water bodies in Chongzuo, with the following conclusion:

On April 28, 2021, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced that in April 2021, the seventh central environmental protection inspection team inspected the domestic waste disposal in Guangxi and found a large gap in the capacity of waste disposal, the construction of planned disposal facilities is lagging, with a large amount of accumulated landfill leachate. As a result, the environmental pollution caused by domestic waste is common, and the environmental violation is obvious.

01. General Overview

The central environmental protection inspectors request that the local authorities of the Guangxi province improve the construction and operation management of environmental protection infrastructure such as domestic waste disposal. Guangxi proposed in the "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan for the Construction of Treatment Facilities for Urban Household Waste in Guangxi" that "by the end of 2020, the treatment rate of urban household waste in cities reach more than 95%, as well as the plan to build 45 projects related to waste treatment facilities, which will contribute to an additional waste treatment capacity of 19,200 tons/day. It is planned that the facility with the 17,200 tons/day capacity would be completed and put into operation before the end of 2020.

02. Identified problems

The construction of planned projects is lagging, therefore a large amount of landfill leachate has been accumulated. The production of domestic waste in Guangxi was supposed to reach 29,000 tons/day in 2020, but the disposal capacity of Guangxi's domestic waste is only 21,600 tons/day, while the actual disposal volume is only 20,900 tons/day.

The "Thirteenth Five-Year Plan for the Construction of Treatment Facilities for Urban Domestic Waste in Guangxi" proposed the construction of 45 new waste treatment facilities, but by the end of 2020, nearly 1/3 of the projects failed to be completed. The Beihai Municipal Solid Waste Incineration Plant Project (formerly Beihai Baishuitang Domestic Waste Incineration Plant Project) has been stranded since its establishment in June 2012 and has not yet been completed, resulting in the long-term overloaded operation of the Beihai Municipal Solid Waste Landfill. The gap in disposal capacity has brought enormous pressure to the operation of the existing landfill facilities in Guangxi. Inspectors found that of the 51 active landfills, 24 were overfilled. The total designed disposal capacity of these 24 landfills is 4,600 tons/day, but the actual landfill volume is as high as 8,300 tons/day.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment identified some major issues with the way the sewage and wastewater were handled in Guangxi province.

Environmental pollution incidents occur frequently as a result of illegal practices

The leachate treatment capacity of Beihai's domestic waste landfill is insufficient. The output in 2020 was about 700 tons/day, and the actual processing capacity was only 200 tons/day. Since 2016, the landfill has illegally transferred the landfill leachate to the waste transfer station in the industrial park without the approval and consent of any department.

Furthermore, the pollution control facilities often fraudulently obtain government funds. The actual landfill volume of the domestic waste landfill in Guiping also far exceeds the design capacity. The designed landfill volume is 200 tons/day, and the actual landfill volume is 500 tons/day. Using clear water in wells and other methods to forge the operation of leachate treatment facilities and defrauding the government of pollution control funds is some of the typical problems in Hengxian County.

The inspection team found that due to the fraudulent collection, transportation, and treatment of rural waste in Guangxi, the open burning of rural waste has been repeatedly prohibited. After the incineration treatment facility near the city of Cenxi was shut down, waste from the surrounding area was still continuously transported to the incineration site every day and burned directly in the open near the factory area. The tar mixed with the landfill leachate was overflowing into the outside environment. According to the on-site garbage transfer staff, the amount of garbage transported to this point for open burning was about 4-5 tons a day!

Further investigation has been carried out after a large amount of sewage was directly discharged into the Zuojiang River. It is found that the root cause of the black odor in some ponds in the city of Chongzuo is that the construction of the sewage pipe network was not well handled, and a large amount of domestic sewage wasn't included in the urban sewage system. 

The inspection reviewed the regional data and found that the centralized sewage collection rate in Chongzuo in 2020 was only 6.7%, which is the lowest collection rate in the region, comparable to only a few other places in the country. The low collection rate exposes the lack of urgency of Chongzuo 's local authorities in tackling environmental issues, and only offering superficial, "cosmetic" solutions.

Furthermore,  the inspection found that more than 10,000 tons of sewage were discharged directly into the Zuojiang River every day at the drainage pump station of the department store only hundreds of meters away from the sewage treatment plant. The discharged sewage contained total phosphorus of 2.48 mg/L, reaching the "black odorous" level. The sewage was also discharged directly into the Zuojiang River from the Lijiang Gas Station on Lijiang South Road. Further inspection found that the Jiangnan sewage treatment plant, the only sewage treatment plant in Chongzuo, is only a few hundred meters away from the spot where the sewage was directly discharged on Lijiang South Road and less than 2 kilometers away from another spot at the drainage pumping station of the department store. Since the treatment plant had been completed and put into operation in 2010, it has been operating at a processing load of only 40%. The designed daily treatment capacity of the sewage treatment plant is 30,000 tons, and the actual average daily water treatment capacity in 2020 was only 11,200 tons! However, Chongzuo local authorities pay a sewage treatment fee that is based on the contracted guaranteed minimum daily water treatment capacity of 30,000 tons. Only in 2020, the local authorities paid a sewage treatment fee of more than 10 million yuan, obviously without reaping any benefits from it as the treatment plant operated at only 40% of its processing capacity. 

 The Chongzuo case signals an important paradigm shift related to illegal environmental practices and environmental values and awareness in China, as national funding is diverted in a progressive campaign to support local environmental efforts in China's third-tier cities and punish any illegal practices.