Beijing Besieged by Waste: Photographer Wang Jiuliang Investigates
One of the primary problems every city must continually contend with is waste processing – its collection, the spaces required to house it, sort it, and the urban infrastructure these operations demand. But the rapid pace of China’s urban transition presents a unique case that requires special management; a challenge many Chinese cities are now struggling to meet. In only one decade, one can say that China has become a highly urbanized and consumerist society. In Beijing, 23,000 tons of garbage is produced every day by its 20 million residents, and this number continues to grow (10% per year).
As explained by photographer Wang Jiuliang, facing such an overwhelming waste production rate, municipal waste management and collection services were not able to adapt quickly enough. While public opinion sometimes opposes the construction of new incinerators, garbage continues to pile up. With the 23,000 tons of garbage produced every day in Beijing, there is more than 7,000 tons of waste being deposited in dumps around the city.
While this situation may not be obvious from within Beijing’s city center, where the avenues are generally well-maintained, it has serious consequences for the outskirts of the city. Wang Jiuliang has documented what he calls the “seventh ring road”: the waste and landfills scattered throughout the city’s periphery. His photo story, which earned him first prize at the International Festival of Photography in Lianzhou in 2009, reveals the darker side of China’s rapid urbanization: tremendous mountains of waste comprised of cans, cartons, cucumber peels, excrement, and old appliances are piled sky-high in huge open dumps. Wang Jiuliang noted the position of each landfill he visited and has identified them on a map of Beijing via Google Earth.
Finding no decisive solutions to reduce the amount of the city’s waste, the municipality of Beijing must, however, find a way to mitigate the growing problem for its inhabitants. Since the odour escaping from the landfills is offensive to many residents, more than a hundred giant deodorants have been purchased and installed on site.