Visitors can smell this village long before they see it.
More than 100 dump trucks piled high with garbage line the narrow road leading to Zhanglidong, waiting to empty their loads in a landfill as big as 20 football fields.
In less than five years, the Zhengzhou Comprehensive Waste Treatment Landfill has overwhelmed this otherwise pristine village of about 1,000 people. Peaches and cherries rot on trees, infested with insect life drawn by the smell. Fields lie unharvested, contaminated by toxic muck. Every day, another 100 or so tons of garbage arrive from nearby Zhengzhou, a provincial capital of 8 million.
"Life here went from heaven to hell in an instant," says lifelong resident Wang Xiuhua, swatting away clouds of mosquitoes and flies. The 78-year-old woman suddenly coughs uncontrollably and says the landfill gases inflame her bronchitis.
As more Chinese ride the nation's economic boom, a torrent of garbage is one result. Cities are bursting at the seams, and their officials struggle to cope. The amount of paper, plastic and other garbage has more than tripled in two decades to about 300 million tons a year, according to Nie Yongfeng, a waste management expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
Americans are still way ahead of China in garbage; a population less than a quarter the size of China's 1.3 billion generated 254 million tons of garbage in 2007, a third of which is recycled or composted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But for China, the problem represents a rapid turnabout from a generation ago, when families, then largely rural and poor, used and reused everything. "Trash was never complicated before, because we didn't have supermarkets, we didn't have fancy packaging and endless things to buy," said Nie. "Now suddenly, the government is panicking about the mountains of garbage piling up with no place to put it all."
In Zhanglidong, villagers engage in shouting matches with drivers and sometimes try to bodily block their garbage trucks coming from Zhengzhou, 20 miles away.