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Shanghai shifts to WtE

In China, Shanghai recently opened a second phase of what may well be the largest WtE plant in the world. The Laogang Renewable Resource Recycling Centre is located near the city’s airport in the Pudong New Area. It is next to the Laogang landfill, which has been operating for 30 years and is nearing the end of its capacity. Phase one of the site opened in 2013. You can see the exact location of the site here. Note that the current google map dates to October 2018 and shows phase two under construction.

The new second phase was begun at the end of 2016 and officially opened at the end of June 2019. It can handle up to 6,000 tonnes per day, equal to one third of all the waste generated by the city. This takes the site’s overall capacity to 8,750 tonnes per day, or around three million tonnes per year. Power generation from the plant is estimated to reach 144 MW.

This makes the Laogang site by some margin the largest WtE site in the world. It is large even by Chinese standards; according to analysis of the AcuComm database, the average WtE project in China has an annual capacity of 1,543 tonnes per day. How does this compare internationally? AcuComm lists a few pipeline projects in Kuwait, Singapore and Turkey, each with annual capacity of around one million tonnes. None are currently operational, however. The largest wholly-new plant to begin operating in Europe in recent years is in Poolbeg in Ireland, which opened in 2017 and has capacity of around 600,000 tonnes per year; one third the size of the new expansion at Laogang.

Shanghai is arguably the largest city in the world, with around 26 million people. So it is not surprising that such a huge plant is seen by the city authorities as a good solution to rising waste levels and near-exhausted landfill capacity. On a related note, the past month has also seen a new law come into force which requires Shanghai residents to sort their waste into four broad types before disposal. It clearly makes sense for better pre-sorting of waste if the city is to move to a predominantly WtE solution rather than landfill. The measure is coercive – fines can be levied on those failing to comply – and it remains to be seen how effective the law will be in practice. But that’s a subject for another day.

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