Bumpy road of garbage sorting#Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

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Bumpy road of garbage sorting

From July, Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong province, started to implement a compulsory household garbage sorting regulation, and residents will be charged according to the weight of sorted garbage.

The Shanghai municipality released its three-year action plan (2018-20) late July to increase its daily waste disposal capability while requiring the garbage to be classified into four categories: dry, wet, recyclable and harmful.

These are the latest moves of Chinese cities on the garbage classification. About 20 years ago, Chinese cities started to carry out the garbage classification, but there are few successful experiences in recycling the waste.

In the 30th issue of 2018, Oriental Outlook magazine under the Xinhua News Agency ran a cover story on the country’s refuse classification, talking about the experiences and lessons.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

Some researchers have said that in an agricultural society, old used things would be reproduced or reused, and in an industrial society, the recycling system of materials turns to be unidirectional and the waste becomes part of people’s life.

In China, the rapid industrialization and urbanization have made the unidirectional system rapidly silted up, with garbage becoming a problem that cannot be ignored.

Since Beijing built up the first recycling center in 1998, many places have explored ways in recycling the waste in past two decades. There are some good examples, but better ways are needed. Even garbage classification, the first link in recycling materials, is not in a satisfactory situation.

Authorities have launched a series of measures, regulations and policies, carrying out pilot programs in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, moving from advocacy to enforcement. Economic measures are added to administrative ones.

The National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planner, recently issued a document on creating and improving a green development pricing mechanism.

According to the document, a charging mechanism on solid waste disposal will be set up, and a mechanism will be set to encourage and promote garbage classification, reduction, resource recovery and safe treatment.

Actually, economic measures have proved to be effective in the past pilots and foreign experiences, but it was not easy to give full play to such measures.

Garbage seems to be a small matter, but it needs residents, community and the government to work together in sorting, collecting, transporting and disposing the garbage.

To solve the problem of cities being besieged by waste, the key is to form a shared governance pattern involving government, communities, enterprises and the public.

Pilot programs

The country’s garbage problem became increasingly serious during the urbanization. The total amount of garbage removed in 2000 has reached 140 million tons, increasing at 8 percent annually. The total amount of rubbish dump has reached more than 6 billion tons, occupying 500 million square meters, seriously polluting air and ground water.

Against this backdrop, the former Ministry of Construction issued a document on selecting some cities to pilot garbage sorting in 2000. The first eight pilot cities were Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Xiamen and Guilin.

Beijing has demonstrated a good result. In the early stage of exploration, because China has no unified standard on how to classify garbage, the city made little progress.

As the host city of the Olympic Games, Beijing invested a lot into garbage collection due to different types of garbage and fulfilled garbage sorting in sports venues during the Olympics.

In 2009, Beijing launched a series of measures in garbage classification, and gradually formed a pattern of giving priority to the kitchen waste in separating the waste.

Further, Beijing has also carried out pilot programs in 15 communities and 59 units and schools where 147 special instructors help promote the garbage classification.

During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, the garbage classification work entered a new stage. Authorities took measures, policies and systems to improve the efficiency in sorting the garbage. More cities joined in the garbage classification.

For example, Beijing built 3,759 communities to meet the standard for garbage sorting facilities and extensively publicizing the importance of the action. Shanghai promoted ways of reducing garbage in more than 2.05 million households and more than 10,000 schools, institutions and communities.

Nanjing regulated that anyone who did not separate garbage according to its category will be forced by law-enforcement officers to rectify, and those who did not rectify their behavior will be fined up to 200 yuan.


The disposal of kitchen waste is a unique challenge in China. While Chinese people like to prepare elaborate food, they generate large amounts of cooking waste, and the organic materials could pollute other recyclable waste.

In 2005, Beijing issued measures on kitchen waste transportation and treatment. In 2009, the city issued a document, specially requiring residents to separate the kitchen waste into dry and wet.

However, though Beijing has set up bins for kitchen waste, recyclable items and other waste, every morning, these bins are filled with all kinds of waste.

Sun Jinghua, a program head at the NGO Friends of Nature, said that instructors in communities are only responsible for educating residents on how to classify garbage and supervise them, but gradually they end up taking out the kitchen waste in plastic bags themselves every day. It has become a common phenomenon.

Yang Jiancheng, an instructor in a community in Hangzhou, said that it was hard to change the long-term habits of residents, and further, many migrants move in and out of communities.

According to an online survey of the China Youth Daily in 2015, among 2,000 participants, only 38.2 percent said that they separate waste and put it in different bins.

A loophole in the first stage of garbage classification is that it is not clear who should take charge of the garbage sorting, the residents or the cleaners.

Some commentators said that although residents pay for garbage disposal, a small number of instructors could not shoulder such a heavy workload.

Shanghai has done a good job in educating the public on separating garbage. In a survey of 10,000 people in 20007, about 90 percent of the respondents understood the importance of garbage classification.

Another problem is that the developed cities are short of resources for disposing the increasing amount of garbage. In 2016, Beijing had 23,800 tons of household garbage everyday, increasing 2,100 tons to 2015.

Sun Xinjun, a Beijing official, said that some waste disposal sites in Beijing have a heavy overload, with a rate of 230 percent.

In some pilot communities in Beijing, when residents separated the garbage in bins, but they found that garbage truck would put everything together.

This represents another loophole in the garbage classification.

“Though Beijing has carried out garbage classification for many years, and invested a lot in it, the result is not perfect,” Sun Ying, a manager from Beijing Huanwei, said. The transportation and disposal is not done according to classification, sun said.

Mao Da, a founder of the China Zero Waste Alliance, said that in many years, the work still focused on separating garbage according to classification, but the collection, transportation and disposal were not.

Incentives and punishment

In June 2016, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued the draft of compulsory measures for garbage classification. Eight months later, it was enacted.

According to the document, 46 cities should take compulsory measures on garbage sorting, and by 2020, they should basically set up related regulations and systems.

Some commentators said that the document may not bring desired results. To achieve the goal, they said, there should be an incentive and punishment mechanism.

Song Guojun, an environmental expert from Renmin University of China said that the household garbage must be separated at the source, and those who do not separate should be punished. Only through this way, people can establish environmentally friendly consciousness to become their basic merit.

Besides, a special fund mechanism should be set up for educating people about garbage classification and offering subsidies to companies disposing kitchen waste and recycling materials, Song said.

Guangzhou has set a good example. In 2011, it has set up the first local regulation on garbage classification. From July 20, Guangzhou authorities held trainings to encourage participation of all industries in garbage classification.

Peng Ziliang, a Guangzhou official in charge of garbage classification, said that urban authorities are conducting research on setting up a credit system for garbage classification, and violators will be recorded in the system. Company with poor rating may face limitations on their business activities.

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