Monday, November 21, 2016

Chinese Crop Waste as Handicraft, Fertilizer, and Biomass


Over 300 million tons of straw, the agricultural waste from cereal crops, is produced yearly in China. Roughly 97% is burned by farmers, producing 380 million tons of carbon emissions, but new programs are changing this trend.

Students from the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics set in motion a plan in 2015 to help reduce emissions through the upcycling of straw.

Working with Enactus, an organization of students, businesses, and academics focusing on entrepreneurial action to create a more sustainable future, these students helped farmers and artisans realize a use for the waste product. A use that was both environmentally and monetarily beneficial.

The students started by contacting local artists, and introducing them to the material. The artisans experimented with the straw and developed a series of products, one of which was a straw box that could be sold at local markets for 3 to 5 USD. What straw was left at their project farm was then used as a fertilizer for mushroom production.

The combined sales from this project totaled 120,000 USD and eliminated 10,800 tons of carbon emission. Local projects like this one can easily be implemented at other farms in China and all over the world, without the need for government programs.


The processing of excess straw and other biomass into fuel has been a part of China's five-year planning process since 1995. In the most recent five-year plan they have introduced subsidies for feedstock, straw, and ethanol production; project funding for rural household biogas, green energy, and urban heating; low interest loans for renewable energy development and utilization; and tax relief systems that restrict taxation to 10% of income from projects, and that also provide refunds for self-produced comprehensive utilization of biomass.

The plan still lacks necessary investment and financing policies (restricting private capital in the biomass field), production standards, and pricing systems. Now two years into the current five-year plan (2015-2020) there is industry encouragement for change, change that would help to reduce China's CO2 emission, their reliance on nonrenewable energy sources, and help solve the agricultural waste problem that China faces.

Upcycling is about finding value in waste, in what would otherwise end up in the landfill or on the burn pile. Value can be found in much of what is discarded, and as is frequently the case this value has already been discovered elsewhere and a plan has been implemented to capitalize upon it. Monetary incentives are often more motivational than environmental benefits, but projects that provide both often have the most success.

We can look to other communities as examples of upcycling done right in government and industry, and implement and improve their ideas locally. For more on the project discussed in this article follow the links below.

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