As I was walking down the streets of Guangzhou, I couldn’t help but notice the severe pollution that blanketed the city with smog. It was the reason why Guangzhou had intrigued me in the first place. It was the third biggest city in China and in addition, it was the closest to Guiyu-also known as ‘Treasure Town’. Or most notably, the district entrenched with the disposal of electronic waste.

The Impact of Offshoring

Offshoring by definition is the relocation of a business from one country to another. Whether that be manufacturing, processing or in this case, recycling facilities. For the Western Would, it is a spatial fix where the waste problem is sent to another country. For Guiyu, about 80% of the electronics come from the United States seemingly offering viable means of income. Guiyu is a pollution haven in that electronic waste has become a commodity bought and sold on a market. One where the recycling of electronics by melting is supported and even enforced by the government and newfound recycling sectors.

Guiyu is the poster child for e-waste and the ‘sustainability’ of recycling but it also ignores the importance of reusing and reducing. That is, reusing products so that production is lowered and reducing so consumption is lowered. Evidently, through ignoring alternatives that can be more environmentally friendly, the inhabitants of Guiyu continue to suffer from the adverse effects of the pollution that results from these mismanaged, capital intensive recycling facilities.

After all, much of the waste from the facilities get dumped into city streams and canals, poisoning the wells and groundwater. The result is elevated rates of lead poisoning and cancer causing dioxins. 1

Guangzhou and green propaganda, ‘Eco’ for whom?

About a four hour drive away from Guiyu lies Guangzhou. A sprawling port city with tall buildings, serene temples and Baiyun Mountain. The whole city screams green in efforts to revitalize the city. Efforts that came from a joint initiative in Singapore with a newfound emphasis on sustainable development.

Asia Green Buildings is one developer in Guangzhou that markets themselves on ecological considerations. One that considers the importance of more green spaces and parks in Guangzhou at the cost of its people.

Often in vie for a new commodity, these developers alongside other political actors switch pure ecological awareness to a systematic opportunity for viable income. Viable income that caters to more affluent members of society.

There is no denying that green initiatives can work to create more sustainable means of living. The only problem relates to the political and economic relations that control it and whether these actors have true intentions.

I am concerned that the framing of Guangzhou as an ‘eco-city’ will have implications for those outside its borders-those individuals that reside in Guiyu and other mass industry districts nearby. Essentially, in a way, Guangzhou becomes a trademark for green propaganda and an artificial utopian society, hidden from reality. A reality where green initiatives will be used to segregate and ignore those who may not have the economic or social means to participate.

Essentially, a green lifestyle in Guangzhou may not be motivated by ecological concerns. If it were, more help would be offered to neighbouring cities like Guiyu and cities who in comparison, need more assistance. Rather, it is linked to notions of a more luxurious, healthy and comfortable lifestyle. One that is safe-guarded as it systematically offers promises to protect its citizens from the environmental ills beyond the city. 2

  1.  Schulz, Y. (2015) Towards a new waste regime? Critical reflections on China’s shifting market for high-tech discards. China Perspectives, 3: 43-50.
  2.  Caprotti, F., et al (2015) “‘Eco’ for whom? Envisioning eco-urbanism in the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, China,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, pp. 495-517.

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