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Waste Management & Research Characterisation of municipal solid waste and its recyclable contents of Guangzhou
Shan-Shan Chung and Chi-Sun Poon Waste Manag Res 2001; 19; 473 DOI: 10.1177/0734242X0101900603 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Waste Management & Research

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Characterisation of municipal solid waste and its recyclable contents of Guangzhou

Waste characteristics are essential data for waste disposal facilities planning and waste management policy formulation. However, waste composition studies are rarely carried out in mainland Chinese cities and even when it does, the methodologies used are not stringent. A yearlong field survey on the physical components of waste and the recyclable in the waste stream has been conducted in Guangzhou to fill the information gap and to provide further experience for waste characterization study in mainland China. It was found that the ash content in the waste stream has decreased considerably. But the proportion of plastic materials in the waste stream has increased and is now comparable to its more urbanized cities. Although this lends support to the recent controls on expanded polystyrene food containers implemented by the Guangzhou environmental protection bureau, more detailed analysis shows that the focus should not only be on disposable food containers, but also on film plastic waste. Furthermore, the abundance of composite materials in the waste stream solicits attention from the waste management authority to step up the monitoring of their generation pattern and to consider imposing control measures.

Shan-Shan Chung Chi-Sun Poon

Research Centre for Urban Environmental Technology and Management, Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, China Keywords Waste composition, recyclable contents, consumer batteries, waste characterisation study, composite materials, recyclability of waste, Guangzhou, mainland China

Corresponding author: C. S. Poon, Research Centre for Urban Environmental Technology and Management, Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, China Received 05 May 2000, accepted in revised form 02 March 2001

Waste characteristics, including both the physical and chemical compositions, are essential data for designing appropriate pollution control measures in the waste disposal facilities and for waste management policy formulation and evaluation. Waste recycling in particular is material specific and has high specifications on the homogenity of the waste materials. Composites, such as liquid paper board1, composing more than one type of

generic material, would generally be more costly to recycle than other non-composite wastes. Waste-toenergy is another treatment method that requires knowledge of moisture contents and the make-up of the waste streams. However, the waste characteristics of a city are not always available in mainland China owing to the lack of funding to carry out appropriate field studies and the lack of awareness among local waste management officials of its importance.

This is a formal term for paper board containers which are also lined with film plastics and/or metal foil.

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This paper presents the findings of a year-long field study on waste characterisation in Guangzhou and compares the results with those of the Hong Kong Self Administrative Region (HK), Dublin (in Ireland) and Heidelberg (in South Africa). The data of these three cities were selected for comparison mainly for the reason that the respective field characterisation study methodologies were also known either through published literature or through direct communication with the relevant authorities. As the data and the methodologies form a complete set and they have higher reference values. In addition to the presentation of findings and the comparison, the limitations of waste characterisation in the field will be acknowledged and suggestions to improve on the methodology of waste characterisation studies will be made. The last two sections of this paper discuss how the findings and experience gained in this research study can be applied in waste management in Guangzhou.

other items (such as unconsumed fluid in containers) are not accounted for. This is particularly a concern if the moisture contents of waste are crucial data to the users. In addition, this approach also fails to address variations in local waste generation conditions (Martin et al. 1995). Waste characterisation can also be obtained by conducting questionnaire surveys on waste generators. Although this is a lower cost alternative to other approaches, researchers generally regard questionnaire estimates as no more than an educated guess (Yu & Maclaren 1995). An earlier study of Yu & Maclaren (1995) showed that waste composition data on industrial waste obtained from questionnaire surveys correlates poorly with field data.
Methodology review of the field characterisation approach and its pros and cons

Approaches in characterising municipal solid waste and their pros and cons
Municipal solid waste (MSW) can be characterised by its physical or chemical parameters. To characterise the chemical fraction of the waste stream, representative samples are to be prepared (careful mixing, grinding and pulverising) for laboratory chemical analysis. However, the metal fraction of the waste samples cannot be addressed adequately by this method. Thus, Brunner & Ernst (1986) suggested assessing the chemical composition of the waste stream from the products of waste treatment process that involves substantial chemical transformation of the waste matters, such as incineration, refuse-derived fuel processing and composting. However, in a number of countries, including mainland China, most of these processes or facilities are not in use or found. More commonly, waste management authorities characterised MSW by its physical contents. There are three different ways to do this. One that is adopted by the United State Environmental Protection Agency is the material flows approach. In this approach, the waste content and waste quantity are estimated on production data for materials and products with adjustments for imports, exports, recycling and product lifetimes (Franklin Assoicates 1999). An inherent drawback of this approach is that product residues associated with

The last one is the field characterisation approach. This is the most direct and often the only way to get to know the waste stream, especially in small to medium-sized open economies. As a result, it is more widely adopted. Yet, a commonly recognised sample selection process to minimise sampling bias does not exist. A review of the required size of each sample extracted for characterisation in the survey shows that there are wide variations in practices. Tchobanoglous et al. (1993) and Martin et al. (1995) suggested that each unit of the sample should be about 91 kg while ERRA (1993) recommended a larger unit size of 100-200 kg. In South Africa, each waste sample taken by Blight et al. (1999) weighed from 20-30 kg or 85 litre in volume. Focusing on a relatively small Irish community, Dennison et al. (1996a, 1996b) were able to sort all the waste that had been arranged to be delivered to the study site. In Hong Kong and Germany, samples were extracted by volume. One cubic metre of solid waste (average 190 kg) was measured in Hong Kong (EPD 2000, pers. comm.) and 1.1 cubic metre was used as the extraction standard for each sample of waste in Germany (Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety 1993). In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Environment and Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (1993) recommended a sampling time frame of 5 consecutive seasons, with every sampling period consisting of 7 consecutive days, sampling about 5 to 7 tonnes of waste per week for domestic waste. Similarly, the ERRA (1993)


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Characterisation of municipal solid waste and its recyclable contents of Guangzhou

recommended that to give the annual estimate, waste analysis studies have to be carried out at three-monthly intervals wherever budgetary and operational factors allow. It also recommended that the sampling size should vary according to the size of the population but with at least 0.5 tonnes of waste to be sampled at each study interval and up to 12.5 tonnes of waste if the number of households at the population exceeds 50,000. Martin et al. (1995), on the other hand, found that analysing 25 random samples, with each weighted at their recommended fig., would give adequately accurate approximation at 2% error and 95% confidence level. The sampling plans for a number of research studies carried out in Chinese and European cities are also quite different from the ones suggested above. Dennison et al. (1996a, 1996b) carried out a waste characterisation study by performing field sorting on 57.1% of the target households in their research (or 12 tonnes of waste in aggregation) in just one season (autumn/winter period). In Heidelberg, Blight et al. (1999) conducted waste characterisation studies in all four seasons of the year2. In Hong Kong, the characterisation study for the city average is obtained by field sorting on a 6-month interval at two climatic seasons (summer and winter), but analysing a larger number of samples. Usually, about 300 to 320 samples, adding up to 59 tonnes of waste, were analysed in a year (EPD 2000). In Dongguan, a medium-sized city in South China, the two most recent waste composition studies were carried out in 1993 and 1995. In the 1993 study, six samples weighing about 0.6 tonnes in total were randomly extracted for composition determination and were analysed over a period of three consecutive days in June, i.e. summer time (Lu 2000, pers. comm.). In the 1995 study, again only six samples were analysed (Zheng 1997, pers. comm.). Concerning sample extraction, ERRA (1993) and Tchobanoglous et al. (1993) proposed using the coning and quartering method in extracting waste samples. The variation in these proposed and adopted procedures suggests that waste characterisation approaches are set out in accordance with the availability of budget and the unique social and customary practices. Other than the lack of a standard sampling framework, there are operational limitations in the field char2 3

acterisation approach. Sorting of waste with the presence of moisture means that small fragmented objects, such as ashes, are likely to stick to the larger and entire waste items. Thus, the resulting readings are likely to overrepresent entire items but underrepresent smaller waste items. However, this approach has several obvious advantages over other appoaches. It can offer data on specific waste streams and it does not require data on the production sector and the ingress and egress of goods and products for a place as in the material flow approach. It also gives researchers firsthand data on the state of waste and recyclable arisings of a place.

Limitations of previous waste composition analysis in Guangzhou and objectives of the present study
Guangzhou is the capital city of the Guangdong province. It is situated in the southern part of the Peoples Republic of China. It has four distinct climatic seasons with the wet seasons being in summer months. As of 1998, it has a population of 3.99 million and a per capita GDP of RMB 32,514 per year3 (Guangzhou Yearbook 1999). In mainland China, waste characteristics are not considered important and waste characterisation studies are accorded low priority in view of general budget constraints. In a lot of mainland Chinese cities, waste characterisation study, if carried out at all, is conducted on an ad hoc basis, using single season data to represent a yearround situation. Yet, the technical memorandum released by the Chinese Ministry of Construction (1988) required the waste composition to be known before designing and constructing landfills. A number of limitations are found with regard to the previous waste composition analyses in Guangzhou. First, they were only occassionally carried out owing to budget constraints and generally the data of only one sampling period (covering one season only) were used to represent a years waste composition (see Guangzhou Environmental Health Institute 1996 and Lei 1997). Second, researchers of past waste composition analyses took samples from both selected waste collection points at residential districts and at landfills. The data were

The aggregated amount of waste sorted was not reported. 1USRMB8.5

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Table 1. Details of the sampling plan Jan, 1999 (Spring) No. of samples from each administrative district Total no. of samples Total weight for the samples prior to sorting (kg) Total weight of the waste sorted (kg) No. of days for the field study 2 16 1881 1588 2 May, 1999 (Summer) 6 48 5090 4986 3 Oct, 1999 (Autumn) 6 48 4896 4507 3 Dec, 1999 (Winter) 6 48 4796 4481 3

then compiled to form one data set to represent a single year. This ignores the fact that waste scavenging activities take place at all levels of the waste collection process (see Chung & Poon 1998). As a result, waste at the landfills is generally scavenged more intensively than waste at the waste collection points. Direct aggregation of the waste composition data from two different waste collection levels has obscured the effect of waste scavenging in the waste stream and the data will also have the recyclable portion overrepresented. Third, past studies only surveyed the generic composition of the waste matter but did not give information on the recyclable contents and the recyclability of the materials is assumed on the basis of their generic material types. Therefore, the potential of recycling as a tool to reduce disposal waste stream is not clearly known. In view of these limitations, a full-year study was carried out by the authors in collaboration with the Zhongshan University of Guangzhou in 1999 to determine the percentage distribution of waste, recyclable components and the moisture contents of domestic solid waste in Guangzhou. The material flows approach is not used as there is no detailed record of the flow of goods and products in and out of the city. Also, in view of the absence of incineration, refuse-derived fuel and composting plant in Guangzhou, deriving the chemical fractions of the waste in Brunner & Ernsts (1985) approach is also not an option. The traditional handsorting field characterisation of the physical composition of MSW is, therefore, the only feasible approach in the case of Guangzhou. The findings and the lessons learnt from the study should provide relatively reliable and updated data for the preparation of waste management plans for Guangzhou.

Sampling plan

The sampling plan should be designed to capture representative waste samples. Theoretically, the number of samples for field determination of waste characterisation depends on the variation in the waste composition of each sample in the sampling point. With thorough mixing, even a small number of samples can reliably reflect the percentage composition of the waste stream. In reality, however, ideal conditions are hard to find. Owing to seasonal, demographic and customary factors4, waste receiving at different points of time at the reception facility may vary considerably. Thus, the timing of the survey must be such that the main variations within the designed research timeframe are captured but does not include the one-off erratic cases. In addition, the determination of sample size also depends on the budget availability of the relevant authority. In view of the lack of common consensus among waste management practitioners and researchers in the timing of the study and the sample size, and taking into consideration the large seasonal range in the humidity of the South China region, the authors decided to conduct sampling in all four seasons. Field characterisation studies were carried out in four different periods, namely, January, May, September and December of 1999, to find out the representative composition and moisture contents of the waste streams for the four seasons. Each field study period lasted two to three consecutive days. In order to obtain samples that would be typical of all the administrative districts in Guangzhou, an equal number of samples5 were taken from the waste stream of each of the eight administrative districts.

4Waste composition is influenced by customary practices in the following ways: i) the generation of greater amount of fruit skins, such as water melon skins, in summer; ii) the generation of more textile waste and waste of durable goods during the late winter months prior to the Chinese New Year; and iii) a greater amount of food and packaging waste is likely to be generated during early spring time soon after the Chinese New Year and in mid-autumn after the Mid-Autumn Festival. 5The actual residential/industrial/commercial mixes of waste among the eight districts are not known by the waste management authorities of Guangzhou. Thus, an equal number of samples were taken from each district and the data from each district is also given an equal weight in working out the total waste composition.


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The sample selection process started with selecting the residential refuse collection points (they are also called huan wei zhan, literally, environmental hygiene stations, in mainland China). Two to six refuse collection points in the residential areas from each administrative district were randomly selected. The staff of the selected refuse collection points were instructed not to dispose of the waste in the normal location but at the surveying field during surveying periods. A total of 160 loads of waste were sorted in the four field studies. Table 1 states the details of the sampling plan for this study. With the additional resources from the Municipal Environmental Health Bureau of Guangzhou, the study was able to expand the total number of samples from 16 to 48 for the summer, autumn and winter studies. The field work was carried out at the Li Keng landfill, one of the two landfills in Guangzhou. The Li Keng landfill was chosen as it accommodates the majority of the solid waste in Guangzhou and, thus, reducing the need for the refuse collection vehicle drivers to change routing. About 6.6% of the waste (the discrepancy between the weight of the sample before and after sorting of the samples) taken was not sorted due to the following reasons: i. Wind blown error: since the sorting process was carried out in the open, when wind is strong at times, especially during January and December, part of the sample, especially the lighter portion, was blown away. It was observed that film plastics were the most susceptible materials to this cause. Paper waste, generally wetted, was less affected. But it is believed that this is not a main factor; ii. Water loss error: evaporation and draining away of leachate or fluid remaining in the waste matters were the causes; iii.Non-domestic waste: despite careful selection of sampling points, clinical wastes were found in the waste samples. This is due to the presence of small state-run out-patient clinics in the residential areas and the clinical waste was handled together with domestic waste. Since clinical waste is out of the scope of our research, they were ignored in the subsequent weighing of individual materials causing a discrepancy between the extracted and sorted waste; and iv. Human error: First, some sorters had the tendency to keep the more valuable materials found during the sort-

ing process despite repeated warnings from the research team. This was more prominently found during the first survey. To minimise such error, sorters with poor discipline were not hired in the subsequent surveys. Second, due to the presence of moisture, the fine materials in the waste were found to stick to the sorting platform, containers and tools. Researchers were not able to extract them for further sorting and weighting. A third but minor possibility was the cumulative error in weigh measurement as a result of infrequent calibration of the scales. The shares of individual waste materials presented in Table 3 are expressed as a percentage of the waste sorted (reported in row five of Table 1). Compared to the sampling size of similar studies conducted in Hong Kong and the recommended sample sizes of ERRA and the German environmental ministry, the sample size of the present study is smaller. The residual or unknown fraction (<15mm) of the surveyed waste stream was, however, small and should not be a concern (see Brunner & Ernst 1986).
Sampling process

In view of the practical difficulties in extracting the waste by volume in our study site and following the recommendation of Tchobanoglous et al. (1993), Martin et al. (1995) and ERRA (1993), a sample of at least 100 kg was extracted from each selected truck-load of waste sample. The coning and quartering method, as proposed by Tchobanoglous et al. (1993) and ERRA (1993) was not used in this study however owing to the operational difficulties in spreading out and dividing a large load of waste on ground. Instead, a mechanical shovel was used to randomly extract samples from the unloaded pile of waste until the desired quantity was obtained. The waste matters were then spread out on a piece of plastic sheet where handsorting was performed by a team of about 10 sorters who were briefed on the sorting requirements. Each sorting team was supervised by three researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Zhongshan University and the Guangzhou Environmental Health Institute. The sorting took place in an outdoor uncovered, unenclosed area. All four sorting studies were carried out during dry periods, although in order to avoid rainy days, sorting studies were postponed for a number of times throughout the summer survey.
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Characterisation process

Table 2. Categorisation of waste and recyclables Waste < 15 mm ash, sand & unrecognisables* 15 mm putrescibles* Rock, stone & sand* Paper Ferrous metals* Non-ferrous metals* Rags & textile products* Bamboo, wood & rattan* Glass Plastics Recyclables

A major step in a waste characterisation survey is to decide how the waste shall be categorised. The classification system used should be able to provide adequate information for waste policy formulation and should also be able to allow instant field identification. A principle used in physical classification of waste is to group waste types by the generic material types (such as plastics, paper, textile, metals, glass, etc) of which the waste is made up. In Hong Kong, for instance, liquid paper board, composing mainly paper but consisting also of film plastic and/or metal foil is classified as paper waste in Hong Kong (EPD 2000, pers. comm.). This is also the approach adopted in previous waste composition analyses in the present study. It should, however, be noted that in Hong Kong, some composite products, such as cameras, are classified in the others category, together with unrecognisables and the less commonly found materials, such as leather (EPD 2000, pers. comm.). To render the findings from this study comparable to previous findings, the classification system used in the present study largely follows previous ones with the exception of making consumer batteries a category on its own. This is due to the consideration that Guangzhou has plans to build a number of waste-to-energy facilities in the near future and the heavy metal contents in consumer batteries will, therefore, become a concern. The classification for recyclable contents used in Hong Kong was adopted in this study so that the findings of the two cities could be directly compared. There was also the intention to further sort each recyclable material according to its recyclability into good, average or poor. Another more detailed classification system was proposed by ERRA (1993) and was used by Dennison et al. (1996a, 1996b) in their study. The extracted sample was then handsorted into 19 categories (marked with * in Table 2) under the supervision of the research team. For the readings of the waste streams, the data from the 19 categories were then regrouped into 12 principal categories (column 1 of Table 2). Active sorting was performed on all materials, except for putrescibles. Towards the end of each sorting exercise, the remaining waste matters were put through a 15 mm sieve. Fine materials passing through the sieve were classified as sand, ashes and fine unrecognisables. Further detailed sorting was performed to pick out all recognisable items (such as small pieces of paper,

Newspaper* Other waste paper*

Tinted glass* Clear glass* Expanded polystyrene food containers* Other expanded polystyrene* Plastic beverage containers* Coloured plastic bags* Clear/white plastic bags* Other plastics*

Rubber* Consumer batteries*

plastics, stones, consumer batteries, etc) from the materials that did not pass through the sieve. The remains were categorised as 15 mm putrescibles. The 40 mm and 20 mm sieves were used by the German Ministry for Environment (1993) and ERRA (1993) respectively to separate the fine particles from the rest of the waste. But in this study, to be concordant with previous waste composition analyses conducted in Guangzhou, the 15 mm dimension was chosen for fine particles. During the sorting process, the contents of any containers or bags found in the waste were emptied. Liquid was drained away and solid matters were sorted together with all other waste. No further cleaning of the waste matters was performed before weighing. High-density polyethylene containers and rattan baskets with no covers were used to contain the sorted materials. All the materials were weighed with sorting containers on mechanical scales that were calibrated each day before being used for the measurements. The data on waste composition of this study represent the percentage of the waste matters in the domestic waste stream on a wet weigh basis.
Moisture contents

Separate samples were randomly taken from the same waste load. Each sample was extracted and put in aluminium containers, tightly covered and then transported


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Characterisation of municipal solid waste and its recyclable contents of Guangzhou

Table 3. Seasonal and yearly averages of waste components in Guangzhou (1994 and 1999) % (by weight, on a wet basis) Jan May Oct Dec Yearly average (1999) 9.0 2.8 58.1 0.3 0.3 6.3 4.8 14.5 0.4 3.1 2.00 0.1 47.4

1994 21.2 59.6 0.6

<15 mm ashes, sand & unrecognisables Brick & stones >15 mm putrescibles Ferrous metals Non-ferrous metals Paper Rags Plastics Rubber Wood, bamboo & rattan Glass Consumer battery Moisture content (NB: Fig.s may not add due to rounding)

10.4 4.8 48.0 0.3 0.4 8.4 5.3 14.6 0.8 3.8 3.6 0.1 48.9

8.8 2.5 58.7 0.3 0.2 6.4 3.7 13.9 0.3 2.9 2.4 0.2 51.5

7.5 1.9 54.7 0.5 0.2 6.9 5.9 15.1 0.2 3.2 1.8 0.1 45.9

9.3 2.0 59.4 0.2 0.3 5.8 4.1 14.4 0.4 2.3 1.8 0.01 43.2


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to the laboratory for the drying and weighting process on the same day when the sample was taken. The time lag between the sample collection and such laboratory processing varied from 4 hours (for the last batch of samples of the day) to 12 hours (for the first batch of samples of the day). A total of 1,024 samples were analysed for their moisture contents in this study. This sample size was comparatively large6.
Bulky waste

and plastics are the two main categories. As expected, the moisture content of waste is strongly influenced by the weather. It is the highest in summer and spring months.
Recyclable contents

Bulky waste refers to white and brown goods, furniture and large pieces made up of more than one generic material. The present sampling method is not able to analysis bulky waste contents in the waste stream as they are transported to the landfill in separate trips by general purpose trucks if they are not already recovered in the waste transfer process. This is similarly the case in Hong Kong where the bulky waste is delivered separately to landfills or refuse transfer stations. In Western cities, white and brown goods are also considered special items and collected on special trips at regular intervals by the waste collection authorities.

Table 4 states the proportion of recyclables found in the waste stream. The data are expressed as percentages (by weight) of the total waste stream. The measurement of each subcategory, expressed as a percentage of the total recyclables found in the waste stream is shown
Table 4. Recyclable contents in the waste stream of Guangzhou year average (on wet weight basis %) Paper 1.4 5.0 Metals 0.3 0.3 Rags 4.8 Wood, bamboo & rattan 3.1 Glass Tinted glass 0.7 Clear glass 1.3 Foam plastics Plastic foam containers 1.0 Other foam plastics 0.3 Plastic beverage containers Plastic beverage containers 0.1 Plastic bags Coloured plastic bags 6.1 Clear plastic bags 4.9 Other plastics Other plastics 2.0 Non-recyclables 68.8 Newspaper Other paper Ferrous metals Non-ferrous metals Rags

Waste composition and moisture contents

Table 3 states the seasonal and yearly averages of the waste composition of Guangzhou in 1999. Putrescibles

Hong Kong, only about 147 samples are taken for the measurement of moisture content in each half yearly survey (EPD 1999b, pers. comm.).

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Fig. 2. The domestic waste composition of Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Dublin and Heidelberg. (Source of data for Hong Kong: Environmental Protection Department 1999a; source of data for Dublin: Dennison et al. 1996a; source for Heidelberg: Blight et al. 1999)

Fig. 1. Composition of recyclables in Guangzhou (1999)

in Fig. 1. Among the plastic recyclables, which represent 47% of the total recyclables, the majority is made up of plastic bags, especially coloured plastic bags.

Waste composition

Table 3 states the waste composition of Guangzhou in 1994 and 1999. Over the four years, there has been a decrease in the sand and ash content of the waste but increases were found in the plastic, paper and rags waste. The proportion of putrescibles reduced slightly but still made up the majority of the waste stream. Such changes in the waste composition are found to be consistent with the trend of increasing domestic use of fossil gas fuel to replace solid fuel for heating and cooking purposes in Guangzhou7 and with the belief that economic growth8 tends to increase the proportion of manufactured materials, such as plastics, paper and rags, in the waste stream. Other than having an implication on the physical make-up of the waste stream, such a change has an additional implication on pollution control at the landfills. Andreas & Bilitewski (1999) found that as the ash content of waste decreases through time, the acid neutralisation capacity of the landfill decreases. Therefore, hazardous substances, such as heavy metals,

tend to be more mobile, making the leachate from these newer landfills (with less alkaline ashes and fine materials) more toxic. Fig. 2 compares the domestic waste composition of Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Dublin and Heidelberg, a medium income community in South Africa. The main differences in the domestic waste streams of the four cities are that: a) Guangzhou has the least paper and metal contents; and b) the amount of putrescible waste is the highest. Other than that, the waste stream of Guangzhou is similar to the other cities compared. The former is probably a result of the highly efficient paper and metal recovery system in Guangzhou. The high putrescible content is, however, a traditional trend in the waste stream of Guangzhou (see Table 3). An explanation usually given is that vegetable produce sold in Guangzhou is not thoroughly pre-processed to eliminate the inedible parts. Calculations show that about 25% of the purchased fresh vegetable matter is discarded by Guangzhou citizens (Guangzhou Construction Committee & Guangzhou Environmental Health Bureau 1999). It is also possible that passive sorting on the putrescible waste has overrepresented its share in the waste stream as even the finest sorting process will not be able to pick out all the non-putrescible matter in the remaining waste.
Recyclable contents

The researchers originally intended to further classify the recyclables according to the level of contamination and homogenity of the materials into recyclables having good, fair and poor recycling values. However, during the characterisation process, it was found that only a

7In 1994, about 84% of the households in Guangzhou were using fossil gas fuel with the remaining 16% using coal. In 1998, 99.2% of the households were using gas fuel (fig.s derived from Guangzhou Yearbook 1995 and Guangzhou Yearbook 1999). 8 The per capita nominal GDP of Guangzhou in 1994 was 15497 and in 1998, this has risen to 32514 (Statistical Yearbook of Guangzhou 1997; Guangzhou Yearbook 1999).


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very small proportion (less than 5%) of the recyclables could be considered good. It was also noted that even the supposedly dry recyclables were found to be considerably wetted and, thus, the surface was contaminated with fines. Three causes were noted: 1. Cross-contamination resulting from mixed waste collection and transportation with putrescibles: paper waste, film plastics and rags were particularly vulnerable to such contamination; 2. The disposal habits of householders. Householders tended to use the plastic bags as trash bags and tended to put discards in unwanted containers before putting out for waste collection; and 3. The presence of composite materials. A substantial proportion of the materials in the other paper category consisted of diapers, personal hygiene items and liquid paper board. This contributed to the low recyclability of this category of products. The research team was not able to determine which of the above reasons was the main cause of the low recyclability of materials in the waste stream. But all phenomena together confirmed that in addition to a source separation network, product manufacturers/packagers and waste generators alike have important roles to play in enhancing the recyclability of materials.
Non-plastic recyclables

Fig. 3a. Non-plastic recyclables in the domestic waste stream of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Dublin

As previously reported (Table 4), recyclables accounted for 31.2% of the domestic waste stream. Fig.s 3a and 3b compare the recyclable contents in the domestic waste streams in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Dublin. In Hong Kong and Dublin, about 51.4% and 50.5% respectively of the waste matters are recyclables in the domestic waste stream (EPD 1999a; Dennison 1996a). The lower percentage of recyclables in Guangzhou is likely a result of the more intensive profit-driven recovery activities by the Guangzhou householders. Previous surveys found that paper and metals are popular items set aside for redemption at private recycling depots (see Chung & Poon 2000). On top of this, another plausible reason for the lower newspaper content in the waste stream of Guangzhou is that newspapers in mainland China are generally printed in thinner issues.
Plastic recyclables and plastic waste management

Fig. 3b. Plastics in the domestic waste stream of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Dublin (Source of data for Hong Kong: EPD 1999a; source of data for Dublin: Dennison et al. 1996; source of data for Guangzhou: authors)

Management and control of plastic waste has become a

major issue in mainland China. The waste and litter from plastic products has been dubbed the white pollution. The proportion of plastic waste as a whole in Guangzhou is only slightly less than its more urbanised counterpart, Hong Kong, and has already exceeded those of other more developed Western cities (Fig. 2). A closer examination of Fig. 3b reveals that plastic beverage containers are found in relatively small proportion and the majority in the waste stream is film plastic products.
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Composite materials

With the increasing application of composite materials in products and product packaging, identification of waste type in a field sorting survey according to the above approach may be difficult. One example is to fit a steel teaspoon with a large plastic handle into the traditional framework. It is not at all obvious whether it should be treated as a metal item or a plastic item. Another example is a household cleaning tool such as a mop that is made with textile, plastics, wood and metals. The textile part of a mop (after absorbing moisture) may outweigh the wooden or plastic portion and be required to be grouped into the rags category. But the same mop, if it absorbs less moisture, can be classified as wood waste. Determination of the major material constituent (by weight) in a field survey situation has become increasingly arbitrary also owing to the extensive applications of modern manufacturing technology. Two or more generic materials can be manufactured to form a new material, such as fibreglass. Modern manufacturing and polymerisation technologies are also able to make different materials look alike. As such, footwear made with plastics may appear like leather shoes. To classify these composite items using the traditional classification framework without more detailed testing and measurements reduces the accuracy of characterisation findings. Another defect with this traditional classification system is the false impression created for the recyclability of the waste stream. Whenever there is a lack of further detail on the recyclable contents of the waste stream, the natural approach is to treat the generic material groups in the waste, such as paper, plastics, metals, and glass, as recyclable items. This is in fact the only way to infer the recyclable content of waste for Guangzhou in the past (see Lu 1997). However, such an inference cannot reflect the real recyclability of the waste stream should a substantial proportion of waste items identified as paper is, in fact, liquid paper board or nappies. And this is exactly what was found with the domestic paper waste stream of Guangzhou. Since composite materials as such are difficult to be materially recycled, paper is no longer an obviously recyclable material under this classification. An alternative is to make the composite waste materials a category of its own. In Germany (Federal Environmental Agency 1998), three types of composites

in the domestic waste stream are separately measured: disposable nappies, packaging composite and composite (household appliances made of a number of materials, also known as bulky waste in other waste characterisation studies). This appears to be a more reasonable approach as making arbitrary judgement in the field for most composite items can be avoided. At the same time, users of the information would have better understanding of the recyclability of these materials. One of the reasons for classifying waste according to the traditional framework is that different generic materials have unique heat values. Thus, the heat value of mixed waste can be estimated, among others, from the proportion of these materials in the waste stream. In order not to compromise on the informative level of waste composition data by deviating from the traditional classification system, the stand-alone composite materials group can be subdivided into two categories: composite with metals or glass and composite without metals or glass. This can limit the variation in the heat values of the composite materials within each category.

The heavy metal contents in consumer batteries have been a worldwide concern. According to a rough estimate (Ke 1998), consumption of consumer batteries in mainland China is around 600,000 tonnes a year or about 0.5 kg/capita yr1. Since 0.13% of the domestic waste stream is made up of consumer batteries (see Table 3), about 2,161 tonnes per year9 or 0.54 kg/capita yr1 of battery waste are generated in Guangzhou. This is very close to the national estimate. In comparison, Dennison et al. (1996b) found that the domestic waste stream of Dublin consisted of only 0.03% of consumer batteries in 1991. It appears that the disposal rate of consumer batteries in Guangzhou has been approaching that of developed cities and China as a whole is also consuming more consumer batteries than some developed areas. Since the use of mercury and other toxic heavy metals in consumer batteries is still legally permitted in China, a high rate of battery consumption would be a waste management concern.

Other than the errors that were reported earlier, there are a number of uncertainties to be addressed for

is derived from the daily waste generation rate of 4,555 tonnes for the domestic and commercial streams in 1998 (Lei 1999).


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Characterisation of municipal solid waste and its recyclable contents of Guangzhou

improving future solid waste characterisation in Guangzhou. First, although the quantity of battery waste is known, the quantity and types of heavy metal used in the batteries are not covered in this study. Generally, heavy metals contents and the level of chlorine in the waste stream are also important data for planning waste management facilities. Thus, further studies on the chemical compositions of the waste stream in Guangzhou are desirable. Second, the infrequent calibration of the weighing equipment may be a significant cause of the 6.6% waste loss in the characterisation process, although such an error can easily be reduced in future studies. Third, as scavenging of recyclables is also taking place at the landfill proper in Guangzhou, what our study shows are, therefore, the waste and recyclable contents without such landfill scavenging activities. The actual proportion of recyclables landfilled should be less than what we have found. However, it is difficult to obtain accurate data for recyclables scavenged from the landfill owing to the unwillingness of the recyclable contractor to disclose such information.

the importance of planning for leachate collection, wastewater treatment facilities and the use of engineering measures to reduce leachate at present and future landfills. For Guangzhou, this would mean that a higher landfill compaction ratio, more extensive leachate collection systems and more efficient leachate treatment systems should be aimed at in the future.
Cross-contamination and household waste management education

Our present study shows that the waste in Guangzhou has high moisture contents. Visual inspection of individual waste materials at the field indicated that even the paper and plastics are moisture laden. However, it was not known if they were wetted by the householders before mixed waste collection or due to mixed collection. To find out the real cause of contamination, it would be necessary to carry out studies in earlier points of the waste flow such as at the door-to-door collection stage. Knowing these would give insights to how and at what point source separation should be carried out and what roles household waste management education should play in enhancing extensive recycling.
The role of composting

Implications on waste management of Guangzhou

Waste characterisation studies provide information on the properties and make-up of the waste and waste stream at the point of disposal. A number of inferences pertinent to the management of waste can be derived from such an experience.

From the findings reported in previous sections, putrescibles have been the major component in the domestic waste stream of Guangzhou. Thus, large scale or centralised composting should be able to achieve effective diversion from the disposal facilities in Guangzhou given the implementation of source separation programmes.
Management and control of film plastic waste

Ash content and pollution control in landfills

With the rapid phasing out of solid fuel in domestic use, ash contents in the waste stream have decreased rapidly. Without the alkaline ashes as the agent for fixing the metals in general waste matters, it is not at all wrong to say that the leachate from modern solid waste streams is more toxic than in olden days. In particular, it is found that the waste stream in Guangzhou contains quite a high level of consumer batteries and plastics. Thus, the heavy metals from batteries, from colourants in polymer, plating of utensils, etc, are more likely to be leached from the waste and found in the leachate. This underscores

From the present study, it is no false alarm that reducing the generation of plastic waste should be of top priority in Guangzhou. However, the current waste policy in Guangzhou is dominated by the measure10 to render the relatively minor plastic waste stream, namely, the EPS food containers, biodegradable. The effectiveness of the ban on non-biodegradable EPS food containers has been broadly criticised (see Zhao 1998). In our survey, despite the ban, these containers were still commonly found and used. Our study has pinpointed that film plastic waste is equally a concern, if not more, in

See the law on banning the use, manufacturing, and sale of non-biodegradable food containers which was enacted in 1997 (A Compendium of Environmental Protection Laws 1994-1997).

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S. S. Chung, C. S. Poon

waste management terms. Other than advocating source separation and greater recyclability, imposing a product charge on film plastic products and packaging should also be considered.

Sampling points

Implications on future waste characterisation studies in mainland China

The review on the way domestic waste characterisation studies have been carried out shows that there is no single standardised way to select samples, sample sizes and to categorise waste materials. In the course of this study, a number of deficiencies and limitations are noted on the characterisation methodology and classification system commonly used in mainland China. This section focuses on addressing these limitations and deficiencies and, whenever possible, suggestions for improvement are recommended. Some of the suggested modifications to the traditional approach on waste characterisation studies have implications in a much wider context.
Sampling recyclable contents

In Guangzhou, as well as in other developing country cities, waste scavenging is common in all parts of the waste flow. It is recommended that only measurements deriving from the same level in the waste disposal route can be aggregated. Measuring the moisture contents of different categories of waste materials at various nodes of waste collection will also show the effect of mixed collection on cross-contamination of recyclables. As discussed above, this will have an implication on the role of household waste management education.
Bulky waste

From our experience, bulky waste cannot be readily analysable with normal household wastes. Where weighbridges are available, it would be more appropriate to estimate the proportion of bulky waste in a waste stream by measuring the bulky waste and normal household waste streams separately.

It was found that the waste composition of Guangzhou has experienced two major changes in the past half a decade: a decrease in the ash content and an increase in the share and absolute amount of manufactured product wastes, such as paper, glass and plastics. While this is generally believed as a sign of urbanisation and economic growth, it also indicates the necessity to set out corresponding waste management measures. Particularly of concern are the high percentages of film plastics and consumer batteries in the waste stream when compared to other modern cities. In view of this, carrying out a chemical composition analysis on the waste stream would be desirable before planning for future waste management facilities, such as waste-to-energy plants, in Guangzhou. Knowing the waste characteristics is important to waste policy making and monitoring. However, in most part of mainland China where even the basics of waste management, for example, waste collection and public cleansing, are not carried out in a satisfactory manner, it is of no surprise that waste characterisation has not been assigned enough importance. However, with the landfill crisis and the growing awareness of the need to reduce and recycle, it is expected that waste characterisation studies will play a more important role in

This is largely ignored in mainland China. Even in more developed countries, such information is not always available. Our experience has shown that combining recyclable content surveys with routine waste characterisation studies will only marginally increase the costs of the survey while valuable information can be obtained. Thus, it is urged that recyclable content survey shall be considered an important extension of traditional waste characterisation studies.

Generally, it is taken for granted that materials classified as paper, plastics, metals, etc, are recyclables. With the increasing use of composite materials, a simple classification system may need to be revised. It is recommended that the traditional classification scheme for waste characterisation studies shall be modified to include two additional waste groups: composite with glass/metal and composite without glass/metal. The data set will then be a better indication of the recyclability of materials in the disposal waste streams. Such data will also be more useful for monitoring the trend of the generation of such difficult-to-recycle materials and become one of the decision-making bases for introducing, if necessary, producer responsibility measures.


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assisting policy formulation. Past waste characterisation studies carried out in Guangzhou and in other mainland Chinese cities left much to be desired in terms of their sampling procedures, sampling sizes and the waste classification schemes used. The findings brought out by this paper should be able to refocus attention on this investigation tool. This paper also states the significance and the necessity of extending the scope of purely waste characterisation to examine recyclable contents at different points of the waste flow in future studies in mainland China. In short, waste and recyclable content surveys should no longer be treated as an ad hoc or dispensable

assignment but be regarded as a regular operation in cities of mainland China.

The authors would like to thank the Hong Kong ad