Tag Archives: water shortage

Food waste research in China

Cheng, Shengkui (2014). Special session: Food waste research in China : motivation field study, and preliminary results. The Last Food Mile Conference, December 8, 2014, Philadelphia, USA. http://repository.upenn.edu/thelastfoodmile/sessions/session/21.

Food Waste Away-From-Home in the Beijing Urban Area—An Estimate Based on First-Hand Data

Reducing food waste is attracting growing public attention in China, and is widely acknowledged to contribute to abating interlinked sustainability challenges such as food security, climate change, and water shortages. However, the pattern and scale of food waste throughout the consumer stage is poorly understood in China, despite growing media coverage and public concerns in recent years. This paper aims to the estimate food waste away-from-home in the Beijing urban area, mainly based on first-hand surveys.

During the first-hand surveys in the catering sector in the Beijing urban area in 2013, 187 restaurants were investigated, which can be divided into large, middle, small, canteen and fast food categories. Finally, 3833 samples were been collected, and each sample included two parts: a consumer questionnaire, and the weight of food waste generated.

The main conclusions are as follows: (1) It is estimated that about 79.69 g food waste were generated per capita and per meal away-from-home in the Beijing urban area. Obviously, the food waste varied greatly depending on the type of restaurant. For example, the generation in large restaurants was more severe, up to 3 times that in fast food restaurants. (2) The food waste generated comprises many different food groups; the most prominent by weight were cereals (25%), vegetables (41%), meats( 13%), seafood products (11%), poultry (7%), legumes (1%), eggs (2%), and dairy products (less than 1%). (3) According to different purposes and motivations of the meals, the estimate of food waste is: friends meeting (109 g), public events (95 g),family parties (62 g), working meals(63 g) (4) Causes of food waste away-from-home identified in urban China predominantly involve: lack of awareness, portion sizes, individual food preferences, income, and age of the diner. (5) On this basis, the study estimates annual food waste generation away-from-home in the Beijing urban area at approximately 298×103 tonnes, requiring the inputs of about 93441 hm2 arable land, 774020 hm2 grassland, 2461 hm2 water area and 829×103 m3 water wasted without benefit to the consumer.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Water shortage and water prices

Canal near Shaoxing, China, Goulard Sébastien


As the population in China becomes more urbanised, water consumption is increasing. Because the country is prospering, more water is needed for agriculture, industrial use and urban dwellers’ daily consumption.

The Chinese still do not consume as much water as Americans; nevertheless, it is time for China to create incentives to significantly reduce water consumption.

In a recent conference paper1, Zhao, Guo and Marinova argued that increasing water prices may not be the solution for this problem.

The paper looks at the case of Tianjin, where water is very scarce. To solve this problem, local authorities have sought larger water supplies, over-pumping ground water and seeking to exchange water rights with neighbouring provinces. The authors feel that local authorities should take the opposite stance and aim to decrease the demand for water:

Increasing the water supply is not the answer to Tianjin’s water shortage.”

Of course, local government could decide to raise the price of water in order to encourage residents to consume less. This option has already been implemented in the past, but produced poor results in the long term. It is a policy that could be regarded as unfair, since the poorest households suffer the most from higher water prices. Moreover, irrational water prices could threaten the economic development of the city. Higher prices would be a threat to many local firms, which would become less competitive.

 The authors believe that local authorities should seek to fix a fair price that would satisfy consumers’ needs, economic development and ecological capacities. According to this paper, water prices need to rise progressively. However, according to the authors, “price” is not just about attaining a sustainable level of water consumption. China needs to adopt a sober economic development model, limit urbanisation, develop a more transparent water management system and educate people about water shortages.

Issues related to water consumption are not unique to China. Europe – especially southern Europe – is also suffering from water shortages. In the case of Europe, water shortage is not due primarily to human consumption and urbanisation, but is the result of intensive agriculture and the development of golf courses (in Spain). Unfortunately, Europe can hardly provide a single solution for China regarding water saving policies. In France, agriculture accounts for 70% of water consumption; this results in water pollution caused by pesticides. However, water management is mainly financed by household consumers, not agriculture, in order to maintain the competitiveness of French agriculture. There are, nevertheless, some initiatives to preserve water resources. For example, at the European level, the common agricultural policy’s new scheme encourages better management of water resources.

In the case of China, what can the government do to reduce its water consumption and maintain an equilibrium between human, industrial and ecological needs?

I, personally, believe it is unrealistic to restrain urbanisation, slow down development, and ask Chinese urban dwellers to reduce their water consumption. However, more attention should be focused on decreasing water pollution and preserving water resources. Although urbanisation cannot be stopped, the problem of water consumption should be better incorporated into urban planning and larger investments should be made in infrastructures for reusing water.  More importantly, management of water resources must be more transparent, as Yi, Jiao and Chen pointed out in their paper published in July 20112.

Generally speaking, environmental issues should be at the heart of every developmental policy, from agriculture to industry.

  1. Zhao, B., X. Guo, and D. Marinova (2011). “To pay more or use less: China’s urban water pricing regime and water awareness.” In The 19th International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM2011), Dec 12, 2011, Perth, WA: The Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand Inc []
  2. Yi L, Jiao W, Chen X N, Chen W (2011). An overview of reclaimed water reuse in China. Journal of Environmental. Sciences, 23(10), pp. 1585–1593 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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Drought in Yunnan: ecological and water quality factors

Yang, Fangyi and Zhou Jiading (2013). Why has water-rich Yunnan become a drought hotspot? China dialogue, 29 April. (Accessed 23 May 2013). [English version]

杨方义, 周嘉鼎 (2013). 云南为什么缺水?中外对话, 4月 29日. (Accessed 23 May 2013). [中文版本]

Yunnan’s drought continues. During China’s annual parliamentary session in March, the deputy party secretary of the south-west Chinese province, Qiu He, blamed spring floodwaters that flow through Yunnan and on into other countries for the water shortages.
He proposed a system of reservoirs, dams and tanks to store that water, which could then be distributed more evenly over time and between locations. But many complained that Chinese officials were trying to pass their own troubles on to others.
Historically, Yunnan hasn’t been known for suffering droughts. Today, however, it is famous for it.
The winter and spring droughts that started in 2009 continue to plague China’s south-west, harming the region’s vulnerable economy – particularly agriculture and forestry. Cash crops such as sugar cane and coffee have been lost, and the crisis is restricting Yunnan’s economic growth.

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云南继续大旱。2013年3月,云南省委副书记仇和在全国两会期间表示:云南不是没有水,且水资源充沛,但三江春水向南流,多流到国外了。并 建议要大中小水库、坝塘、水窖一起蓄水,提高水资源时间和空间分布不均衡的解决能力。此语引发争议,很多人认为这是一些中国官员“以邻为壑”心态的体现。

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Watts, Elleka (2013) Water scarcity and social equality in China. China power. A new world order, 23 May 2013. (Accessed 23 May 2013).




Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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