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Too much trash

The trash generated by China's economic boom has drastically altered a small village. One community of 1,000 people has gone from pristine to losing its crops and choking on gases.

A woman and her daughter stand in the doorway of a home buried by waste metal waiting to be recycled at a center in Beijing, China. Garbage is piling up everywhere in China, posing problems for public health and people's livelihoods in a less savory measure of the country's rapid burst from poverty to prosperity. "If the government doesn't step up efforts to solve our garbage woes, China will likely face an impending health crisis in the coming decade," warns Liu Yangsheng, an expert in waste management at Peking University. Greg Baker / AP
Workers sort garbage at a recycling center in Beijing. The amount of garbage in China has more than tripled in two decades to about 300 million tons a year, according to Nie Yongfeng, a waste expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University. Americans are still way ahead of China in garbage, but for China the problem represents a rapid turnabout from a generation ago when families, then largely rural and poor, used and reused everything. "Trash was never complicated before, because we didn't have supermarkets, we didn't have fancy packaging and endless things to buy," says Nie. "Now suddenly, the government is panicking about the mountains of garbage piling up with no place to put it all." Greg Baker / AP
A woman rinses rice in a pot as others sort garbage at a recycling center in Beijing. Protests in Chinese cities are driving trash to the countryside. Beijing residents swarmed the Ministry of Environment last year, protesting the stench from a landfill and plans for an incinerator there. In July, the incinerator plan was scrapped and the landfill closed four years early. In eastern Beijing, officials invested millions of dollars to make a landfill and incinerator one of a handful in China to meet global health standards. That was after 200,000 residents petitioned about the smell. Greg Baker / AP
Recyclers search through garbage at a dump site in Changchun, northeastern China. At least 85 percent of China's estimated seven billion tons of trash is in landfills, much of it in unlicensed dumps in the countryside. Most have only thin linings of plastic or fiberglass. Rain leaches heavy metals, ammonia, and bacteria into the groundwater and soil, and the decomposing stew sends out methane and carbon dioxide. AP
A villager looks at the massive landfill near Zhanglidong, a town that visitors smell before ever seeing. In less than five years, the Zhengzhou Comprehensive Waste Treatment Landfill has overwhelmed the village of 1,000 people. Peaches and cherries rot on trees, infested with insect life drawn by the smell. Fields lie unharvested, contaminated by toxic muck. Every day, another 100 or so tons of garbage arrive from nearby Zhengzhou, a provincial capital of 8 million. Andy Wong / AP
A truck dumps garbage at the landfill near Zhanglidong. On a recent visit by an Associated Press reporter, more than 100 dump trucks piled high with garbage lined the narrow road leading to Zhanglidong, waiting to empty their loads into the landfill as big as 20 football fields. Andy Wong / AP
A villager of Zhanglidong shows her damaged plants. The dump has poisoned not just the air and ground, but relationships. Some villagers say they were never consulted about the landfill, and suspect their Communist Party officials were paid to accept it. They also often engage in shouting matches with drivers and sometimes try to bodily block the garbage trucks coming from Zhengzhou, 20 miles away. Andy Wong / AP
This boy in Zhanglidong has a skin disease that his mother believes is tied to pollution from the nearby landfill. Wang Ling, a spokesman for the Zhengzhou Ministry of Environment, says the landfill has a polyethylene liner to protect the ground beneath. "Test results of the local soil, water, and air quality, in 2006 and this year, showed that everything was in line with national standards," he says. Residents say the liner has tears and only covers a fraction of the landfill. Andy Wong / AP
A truck empties garbage that is quickly searched by recyclers at a landfill in Changchun. After millennia as a farming society, China expects to be mostly urban in five years. Busy families are shifting from fresh to packaged foods, consumption of which rose 10.8 percent a year from 2000 to 2008, well above the 4.2 percent average in Asia, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. By 2013, the packaged-food market is expected to reach $195 billion, up 74 percent from last year. AP
Recyclers work atop a garbage mountain at a landfill in Guiyang, southwest China. Some of China's garbage is eventually incinerated but a Chinese government study found that regulations allow incinerators to emit 10 times the level of cancer-causing dioxins permitted in the U.S. AP