M.S. Thesis: Assessment of the Waste-aware Indicator for Selected Cities in the U.S. and China.

By Yibo Yang

Advisors: Dr. A.C. (Thanos) Bourtsalas and Prof. Nickolas J. Themelis

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science
Columbia University

December 2018

 This study uses the ‘wasteaware’ indicator to compare the waste management performance of selected cities in the US and China. The rates of waste management disposition in the US has remained the same since the late 1990s. In 2011, 63.5% of the waste was landfilled, 29% of the waste was either recycled or composited and 7.6% was sent to waste to energy facilities. In China about 35% of the waste was combusted for energy and around 5%-10% was recycled. Around 60% of the waste was sent to landfills. (Shin, 2014)The indicator used in the analysis, integrates six dimensions for evaluating the systems with different backgrounds. Three dimensions are for quantitative analysis purposes, they focus on the physical drives of the systems: public health, environment disposal, and resource recovery. The other three components mainly focus on the governance aspect – inclusivity, financial sustainability, and sound institution and proactive policies.

The comparative analysis looks first at waste generation rates and wastes composition rate. A radar diagram is prepared for each city as a powerful tool to evaluate the solid waste system in a comprehensive way. The traffic light coding system is applied to visualize the results. By using the indicator set, the reference cities in the US and China with significant differences in the income levels and policy backgrounds become comparable. The cities selected in China are capital and regional capital cities. They have had relatively sophisticated systems but are still seeking innovation, such as improving incineration and energy recovery processes to increase the thermal efficiency. The cities in the US heavily rely on the current systems, whereas innovation is rare. For the future improvement of systems, it is recommended that China should put more effort into the quality of the system performance and the US should adopt policies to encourage the waste to energy recovery.

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