Polution in Shanghai

I am moved by Carsten, one of my reader, after I read his email to me days ago. An expat as he is, he is more concerned with the polution in Shanghai than many local residents. After getting his permission, I am posting his first email with me here:

Hi Jianshuo

I have read your blog for almost 2 years by now, it is great !

I will spend at least one year more here.

Anyway, maybe you can tell me where and what protects Shanghai against pollution, some officials in the city hall or something ?

What trigged me into this topic was that yesterday I saw some guys working outside a small repair shop for motorcycles. They should change the oil, and just opened the oil plug of the motor and let it directly down on the street and into the rainwater drain system.

Then it will go to Huangpu and then the sea, polluting about one million times more seawater than the amount of oil. (How many motorcycles in Shanghai ?!)

I think at the moment noone informs anyone what the effects of this unawareness are.

At the moment people think : If I cannot see it, it is not doing any harm.

I would like to help people here to be more aware of, and understand, that if all do a little every day, it will have a tremendous impact.

In my country (Denmark) anyone can call the environment municipal office and say if someone pollutes unnecessary, so it will be stopped.

And when people feel that the air gets cleaner, and the streets are not stinking and dirty, then it will enhance itself.

Unfortunately I think that most people here in Shanghai believe that “the authorities will take care of this”.

Best regards,


I agree that is a big problem in the polution status in Shanghai. A lot of effort should be spent on educating people on environment protection. This topic is not widely noticed yet.

Carsten continued to write in another email:

My idea was mainly to influence the people’s general attitude in Shanghai.

Shanghai is a good place to begin making people aware of this, as Shanghai soon will be the city with most influence, because the richest people lives there (you and me ?), and they are the only one who are able to pay for cleaning up after the factories waste!

But – it must begin at the factories.

My idea is – 1: start with the peoples attitude – 2: go for the polluting companies, which now buries the wonderful China in deep trash and chemical waste, just for a short term profit.

That demand must come from the people itself.

My country has been through all the same story before (chemicals – erosion, nitrogen pollution from farmers causing lack of oxygen on the sea, etc., etc.), and we have paid a tough burdon to get everything cleaned up (and still does).

As a good outcome of the efforts: in my home country’s capital Copenhagen, we are having swimming facilities in the downtown harbour for 3 years now !

See http://www.dhi.dk/News/2002/news20020802_UK.htm

It is a great idea. I have did some research and found the following information on the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau. They provide an email address to report any environment problems:

Welcome to the internet pages of Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

Here you can find out the latest development in environmental policy and about the work of the SEPB. You can download environmental reports or regulations. We welcome your ideas and suggestions.


They also provide hotline to report any pollution of air, water, soil, noise, radiation, hazardous wastes, toxic chemicals, and vehicle emission, etc.




Once some workers were digging a very big hole on Cao Bao Rd. and made unbearable noise. I called the Environmental Protection Hotline of Xujiahui and within 10 minutes, their staff came and talked with the workers. 5 minutes later, the workers left the construciton site. I was very happy that time. I hope the hotline works for any pollution Carsten reported. A joint effort will make Shanghai a better place to live. Thanks Carsten!

Update: Carsten’s photo July 25, 2004


Carsten sent me the photo he mentioned in his comment.

32 thoughts on “Polution in Shanghai

  1. It’s not just factories and big corporations “which now buries the wonderful China in deep trash and chemical waste, just for a short term profit”. As writer Carsten witnessed, this way of thinking trickles down to the tiniest of businesses on any street corner.

    However, there is another and perhaps more powerful enemy to fostering environmental awareness in China. It seems to me that for many Chinese, there are two worlds: “the people you know” and “the people you don’t know”. While Chinese love “the people they know” very much, many could not care less about “the people they don’t know”. You see this everyday in many different ways, such as the way people enter a bus, subway train or elevator; or the way people will simply drop their trash onto the ground of someone else’s neighborhood.

    Until Chinese people start to care more about “the people they don’t know”, pollution will always be “someone else’s problem”.

    When you couple this with the prizing of short-term profit over long-term loss, and refusal to accept personal responsibility when there are always “the authorities” to conveniently blame, one can easily see the formidable obstacles China faces in improving this nation’s environment.

    I think those of us lucky enough to be “foreigners” living in China need to do whatever we can in our own personal lives to help sow the seeds of environmental awareness, to help the locals we live with to better understand that pollution is indeed everyone’s problem, that responsiblity for the environment must begin with oneself.

    Oh — thanks for posting the hotline numbers! :-)

  2. I took great interest to read through all the comments above and share much fellow feeling with you. As I myself the environment reporter with Shanghai Daily, I hope to often listen to your ideas and suggestions on the environmental protection in this great city, not only for sake of my job but the concern of an ordinary citizen.

  3. Thanks, Shanghai Slim !

    Dear Cindy

    Do you have any connections or influence to write articles or have connections to make the people aware of this problem in a way so they will feel good about contributing to do something to hand over a nice and clean country to their own KIDS ? They are surely “the people they know”, if any !

    The kids of today will live in deep shit, if nobody cares. Don’t expect the kids to be environmental interested, they are busy 16 hours a day by learning (another problematic topic, not to mention here).

    My chinese collegue in the mid 30’s remembers the time when he as a boy could swim in all the nice clearwater lakes in Suzhuo. That was why he learned swimming at a very early age.

    Now nobody want to enter these waters for swimming. And it will take decades to clean up. But the people (and the government) have to 1) stop the pollution; 2) clean up.

    About the air pollution : When I come from outside countries to China, I begin to coff (but do not spit !) when I’m in the taxi from PVG.

    I’m just a visitor – I don’t have to stay.

    I can leave tomorrow if I want to, so in fact I’m a lucky guy !

  4. It seems enough good guys who really care about the envinorment in Shanghai have gathered on this board. Why not find some way we can join our effort to make difference?

  5. Media attention and policy (laws and enforcement) setting are powerful approaches to these and many other problems. Here Cindy may be a lead to the media. Others can push the goverment.

    It is nice to hear Jian Shuo’s story about calling the hotline and getting an action to stop the noice polution. People (the public) must make these calls and hopefully the agency not only responds but also keeps a record of how many complaints they receive to measure the seriousness of problems. Your idea of active efforts among your readers is an excellent one.

    Shanghai is the best place to begin an awareness education. It would also be the best place to initiate local legislations that will influence and spread to the rest of the country, and set standards for the country. I can think of improving laws/rules governing public smoking (and spitting), sewage release, grass coverage, envrironmental impact assessment on factories, construction containment, parking, honking, seatbelt use, right turns, counterfeits, and many other. Shanghai could look to the example of California, which is always one step (or steps) ahead of other states in the US, esp. in environmental standards and vehicle related laws.

    About the disposal of waste motor oil, many US cities impose an environmental fee (which is a disposal tax). The repair shop charges the consumer this $1 or $2 tax on each oil change to pay for proper disposal of the waste oil (and the used filters).

  6. It seems in a way necessary to cooperate with the authorities to do basic environment educational work here.

    That’s maybe the biggest problem to face, and not the people’s ability to understand the importance.

    Perhaps it’s best that a true native chinese finds a smooth solution to begin this, then others will join happily, I believe ! (Perhaps Cindy, – hello ! :-)

  7. Hello there,

    As an environment reporter, I search across the city to find anything related to things like garbage disposal and air quality. It’s lucky that I can produce almost one story every working day, big or small. But environment is not a topic receiving due attention, even in the media circle. The headlines are mostly hit by cop stories, and mine has to be squeezed to a titbit often. How sad!

  8. But you ARE doing something, that’s a big difference !

    Keep on the good work !

    You haven’t found any authorities, who can be awaken to this topic ?

  9. Does anyone know about the situation of foreign-invested environmental protection enterprises in the city? Do they really make money or at least believe they will finally make it in a long run? I heard that the Thames Water disposal sold the plant to local government last month as the investor were diffident about the economic return. There must be similar cases to this one.

    The market is still monopolized by the government but vulnerable to foreign competitors.

  10. I heard the news that 70% of exhibitors in the recent Environment Protection Equipment Exhibition are foreign companies. There is no many local companies working on this.

  11. So, Shanghai businessmen and -girls, here’s a blooming industry – go for it !

    Don’t let the multinationals take the whole cake.

  12. Do they really make money? That is a good question, one that only they themselves can answer. One firm pulling out does not necessarily mean all others did not make money.

    Environmental business is a peculiar field. Usually they exist not because the owner or CEO loves the environment but because there is money to be made. This is an industry that makes money on other people’s (industries’) sin, not unlike the addiction correction business. The size and profitbility of the environmental industry is highly dependent on how and how seriously the government enforces each specific environmental regulation. The government requires certain things done by a factory. The factory hires, directly or through the goverment, an environmental firm to do it, in order to comply. The environ firm (as it stands now the government) pockets the money after the job (or before).

    The environmental business comprises three segments: one, the equipment makers who research and make specialized equipments; two, the services providers who devise plans, perform monitoring, recommend, install, and maintain equipments, and consults in legal cases; and three, the strategic investors who make long term efforts in issues such as ecology and new energy sources.

    The fact that the government now has a monopoly in this field could be a good thing or bad thing, since it is a regulation-dependent industry. It may prove very efficient and remain unchanged, or it may become too costly or conflicting for the government which, in turn, would start to privatize it. The environ equipment makers sell to the government already and will always have a market. A service provider could mostly provide contract services to the government outfits, for now. They could also do scattered jobs to counter the governments case. As the country’s economy expands and becomes more WTO compliant, the need to regulate would soon trend up exponentially and so would the environ service business. No matter which way the government monopoly changes in the future, this trade is here to stay, and to grow. As long as industries have sins, the sin-remedy business will not go away. Welcome to Shanghai.

  13. Wow, today it was great weather, hot of course (37 IS hot), but great !

    In the afternoon the sun was pale and orange, because of the massive outlet of smoke from the power stations, and the temperature fell a few degrees.

    The weather is so hot here and in Anhui Province because of the “greenhouse effect”. It is unusual with so long periods of heat in Shanghai.

    The enormous amounts of CO2 keeps the heat to the ground, making it more and more hot. More hot, more aircon, more electricity needed. It is an evil spiral…

    I believe that nuclear power will be the solution for Shanghai and other big cities. It is not without danger (remember 3 mile Island and Tjernobyl ?), but the technology has improved a lot in the last 20-30 years.

    Particle filters in the exhaust system on buses and trucks will do a difference too.

  14. Carsten, how about making a small difference and getting people to stop smoking? Especailly the Dutch (Europeans) and marijuana. (Ok, I admit, the Yanks are crazy about marijuana too.) I hate industrial pollution as much as you, but I hate smoking even more. Smoking, including marijuana, directly affects my ability to even enjoy a decent meal or enjoy a drink. Let’s clear the air first of cigarette smoke before we tackle the bigger problems of industrial pollution.

    Here in California, since 1999, there is absolutely NO cigarette smoking allowed in any public place. NOT even in bars or nightclubs. I can go eat, dance, drink and be merry whereever in public and never have to worry about injesting secondhand smoke anywhere. There is no division of smoking and non-smoking sections. There is NO smoking period anywhere. In my dreams, I’d like to see that in China one day.

  15. Hi Lance

    I’m a non-smoker myself. If I do not want to be with smokers I can just go away.

    If I find too many smokers in the restaurant where I go, I tell the staff that I leave for another place for just that reason.

    It is ONLY in Holland that it is legal to buy and smoke marihuana in public bars, not all Europe.

    In Guangxi Lu some guys (muslims) says “hashish, hashish ?”, so that illegal drug are known here too. They speak english, so I usually tell them that I will go and get the police, then they don’t bother me anymore :-)

    It will be a tough job to say to the 67% of chinese men to stop smoking !

    There ARE a campaign in Shanghai to teach people that it’s a bad habit.

    At my work, I have seen some chinese guys who eats watermelon with a cigarette in the right hand ! They just can’t wait until the last bit of lunch is chewed.

    So that will be tough.

    Today it is 36-38 degrees again, but nearly no sun – the pollution is just too heavy. I don’t want to go outside today !

    I have been to LA twice, so I know that California have done something about the pollution, Shanghai have not.

    Here the regulations for exhaust emission are either weak or is not enforced.

    Come and see for yourself, Lance !

  16. I was so upset reading Carsten’s message. Is the pollution as terrible as what you described? Actually I’ve seen a brighter and clearer sky these days due to fewer clouds and intenser sun light.

    I agree with you on the government enforcement of exhaust emission regulations. I have touched upon that topic before in my stories and found out the governmetn is so feeble in coordinating among car makers, car owners and motor vehicles inspectors. The I/M (inspection and maintenance) system has been poorly carried out and dilapidated vehicles becomes the major pollutor.

  17. Cindy, do you actually live in Shanghai ??

    You MUST have seen the pollution if you live here !

    Today there was a heavy thunderstorm in Minhang where I was.

    It should clean up the air according to logic thinking.

    But am hour after, the sky was clear and sunny, but still with the same yellow colour in the high horizon…

    Anyway Cindy, can your stories be read here, or where ?

    Jianshuo : When you go by plane out of Shanghai, do you notice the tremendous

    change in visibility at 7000-12000 feet ? From 5-10km to 100 km in a few seconds. Amazing !

    The best visibility I have seen in Shanghai was a view from a plane, 500ft over Caobao Lu,

    where I could see Jinmao in the distance, wow !

  18. Carsten, maybe i have been so used to the environment in which i was brought up and till live. Or I don’t have the camparison as I’ve never visited other countries. Anyway, you may find me and my stories in Shanghai Daily, an English newspaper sold at most newspaper kiosks.

  19. I recently read an article in an overseas newspaper criticising heavily the Chinese government for pollution in the Huai river area, where apparently many local residents have lost their lives due to cancer from the polluted drinking water in the area.

    Apparently the Chinese government likes to say they have programs to reduce pollution there, but in reality this hasn’t been implemented properly at all, with local governments that want to protect state owned businesses, and protect local taxation revenues and jobs.

    I have a quesiton for Cindy. I want to know what kind of restrictions are there for newspapers in China to write articles criticising the governments actions like this? These expose stories would be good for educating people about the real environmental problems…

  20. Sorry i guess i just had to find similar foreigners living in Shanghai and “air” my complete and utter distaste for the pollution in this city….

    I’ve been coughing sans arrete since i got a flu almost a month ago and cannot recover properly because of the pollution (while outdoors) and the blatant smoking everywhere (even in the hospital wards i frequent daily!). Smoking kills, period! Second hand smoke even faster perhaps. I actually woulda liked to say i don’t keep crap shit to indifferent people who choose to smoke their lungs out (“you smoker, out the gene pool!”), too many people on this planet anyways!urrrrrgghhhh!

    OK i won’t go much further about personal (ir) responsibility:

    styrofoam box lunches, used batteries improperly disposed

    When will the Chinese learn?

  21. Sorry i guess i just had to find similar foreigners living in Shanghai and “air” my complete and utter distaste for the pollution in this city….

    I’ve been coughing sans arrete since i got a flu almost a month ago and cannot recover properly because of the pollution (while outdoors) and the blatant smoking everywhere (even in the hospital wards i frequent daily!). Smoking kills, period! Second hand smoke even faster perhaps. I actually woulda liked to say i don’t keep crap shit to indifferent people who choose to smoke their lungs out (“you smoker, out the gene pool!”), too many people on this planet anyways!urrrrrgghhhh!

    OK i won’t go much further about personal (ir) responsibility:

    styrofoam box lunches, used batteries improperly disposed

    When will the Chinese learn?

  22. Hi Chuko

    “When will the Chinese learn?” you say

    When the Changjiang and Huangpu rivers only contains mud and water (and no lunch boxes are floating around), and the air is dustfree and CO2-free.

    The moneymakers rules here, it’s even worse than in USA.

    The people don’t care much because “we can do nothing,

    the government decides everything, so why care ?”.

    In most countries people can vote the politicians who handles these things,

    but here that is not possible (yet).

    If the chinese ever learn to clean up it will be a miracle,

    but you will most likely be dead when or if that happens.

    So my advice is – forget your anger, it’s just waste of time.

  23. Hi everyone,

    So is the air pollution better now in 2006? I noticed it has been some two years since the comments were made about pollution in Shanghai.


  24. I live in the Republic of Korea, and I’ve been trying to raise awareness as to the state of the environment.

    As Koreans become richer and consume more, the amount of trash is increasing exponentially. I’ve been documenting the coastal pollution, and trying to raise awareness. However, as few Koreans have ever been out of Korea, they don’t realize what a polluted environment they live in.

    I just returned from Hong Kong, where, perhaps because of the British Colonial legacy, trashcans are easily seen. Here in Korea, the concept of the lowly “rubbish bin” has yet to catch on.

    Thank you Jin Shou for posting this blog, and I hope to take the new train from Shanghai to Lhasa, Tibet, next summer.


    Donghae Pada Ajoshi (동해바다 아저씨) In English that’s Man of The East Sea

  25. I’m getting older I cannot think that I shall be alive to see the destruction of our planet by the pollution be it from Europe, China or The USA. I worry about the future for the young, so much so that I no longer own or drive a car, I walk, my wife and I recycle every thing that we can, and use the absolute minimum of power, why light a whole house just to read a book, we use a 20w bulb.

    I hate the oppression of workers in the far East, if we in the west did not support these ‘slave’ driven manufacturers until the workers are given a decent slice of the cake, of course the goods produced are cheap, but think, the price we have to pay is low, in fact these ‘cheap’ goods are costing the earth, in CO2 emissions and all the other pollutants thrown out into the air and the sea. How long before we kill the planet.

    So a plea from an old man, keep up the pressure it is your world I am sorry that my generation may have messed it all up for uou.

  26. Just came back to Shanghai from three weeks away to India, Australia, and USA. First off, India makes China look clean but the at least the air is better there (Mumbai).

    The last two weeks in Sydney and Florida with colbalt blue skies everyday were amazing, but a sad reminder of how bad Shanghai and Beijing really are now. Perhaps if the Chinese travel more they will see how amazing this planet is and what blue skies and clear lakes are supposed to look like.

    Also, if they learn that it does not have to cost much more to be clean. As they open a new coal-fired power plant every week or two without scrubbers, how much would it cost to install scrubbers on them all (before they get built)? Not much if they had standards and enforced them across the board.

  27. hi,

    thank you very much for the information of the “shanghai environmental protection bureau”!!!

    right now it is 9:30 am and i am glad to tell you, that my neighbour – or the construction company my neighbour hired – tenderly woke me up with constant drilling 3 (three!) hours ago!

    i am proud to report, that i am taking part of the reconstruction process of my neighbour’s apartment since more than 2 weeks now!

    it is not their fault that i have to work until late night very often as well is it not their problem, that i had to do some work from home during the last week. and it is also not their problem, that i am having major sleep problems at the moment, but for god’s sake! what would these guys do, if i would start drilling near their apartment almost in the middle of the night?! and that after two weeks!

    he can drill his brain out, when i am at work. i have no problem with that. he just have to start 5 hours later!

    i am wondering what the other neighbours do! are they dead or deaf?!

    anyway, this morning i went up two times to try to explain to him in my broken chinese and with my hands and feet, that he please should stop drilling for another two or three hours, but it was fairly easy for him, to pretend not to understand me, and after i arrived in my apartment i got the non-verbal answer from him:

    NO! i can’t stop drilling!

    i know that there is a noise pollution law here! but i also know that it is seldomly used and that nobody knows about!

    so, all my support in your passion of trying to make the people more sensitive about environmental pollution, where noise plays also a big role!!!

    anyway, this whole case is a motivation to learn chinese even faster, because with the help of my chinese colleague i could make them stop drilling once!

    that was the sunday morning, two weeks ago!

  28. I am very surprise how did big brands did their factory audit on laundry when the water treatment plant is only for show.

    Recently,I was with some friends working in Shanghai and We were on the subject of the damage caused by the oil pollution in USA.My Shanghai friend told us, the people there are still LUCKY. Cos the pollution can be seen & the US govt, will have to take action. What happen in Shanghai’s pollution, NO BODY will ever know, cos money can help cover up. He told us most of the laundries that did the washing for their buyers, big brands do not treat the water. Most of them the water treatment plant is only for show as it is to costly to treat the water especially now when the buyers keep pressing for low price and request fanastic washing. I asked him, dont you think is wrong to support such laundry. Their reply was who care, after all the laundries are situated on the out skirt of Shanghai, buyer want “Cheap” price and we need to earn a living so……. everybody is happy.

    I felt very sad and disappointed but lucky for me as I am not living in Shanghai.

  29. Eeeeeesaaaaaa. Que buen comentario, no me sirvio para nada. Espero que se compren una vida,o algo por el estilo. Pq nadie los va a escuchar y nada eo.

    el chaza ama a carla jajajaja

    joako me ama (?)

    e.e adios, desde aqi mis saludos de china e.e

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