Garbage Sorting in China

With the ever-increasing amount of garbage piling up at a speed which exceeds the capacities of landfills and incinerators ability to accomodate it, the Chinese authority now seeks to deal with the problem at the source.

Author Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 06.07.10

Garbage sorting has started already in the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen and is headed to some local communities, only this time the implementation will come with strict regulations and penalties.

Making It Mandatory

There are four categories of garbage: recyclable waste; kitchen waste; harmful waste; and other wastes respectively.

The earlier garbage sorting campaigns, which were carried out as trial projects in selected communities in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, did not show much success as residents still lack the initiative and imperative to sort their own waste. To raise the effectiveness, the government was considering the possibilities to make it mandatory alongside a series of penalties for those who do not dispose of their waste properly according to the regulation.

Shenzhen – First on the List

Shenzhen was the first on the list. In this populous city in the south, daily domestic waste reaches 1.4 tonnes which means the amount of waste disposal for one week can pile up as high as a 24-floor building, according to a committee from the authority. The landfills and incinerators dealing with wastes will soon exceed their capacity. Difficulty deciding on new landfill locations (due to the long argument among the locals) is a strong reason for the government to implement mandatory garbage sorting at full scale within the city as soon as possible.

With the regulation coming into force in Guangzhou from 1 April 2011, those who are caught failing to put their garbage into the right bin will be fined up to 50 Yuan (approximately five euros). For companies which fail to do so, a penalty of 500 Yuan (50 euros) per m3 will be fined. The property management companies which do not place the bins at the designated area will be fined up to 30,000 Yuan (3,000 euros).

The promotion and education of garbage sorting started in April 2011 so that citizens could familiarise themselves with the system while penalties became effective from May 2011 onwards. City management officers, neighbourhood committee personnel, community property management staff as well as volunteers will be trained to promote waste sorting among the public.

The effectiveness, however, has yet to improve. The problems include a lack of appropriate bins for sorting, while some bins were filled with wastes from the wrong category. The concept of refuse sorting is also rather unfamiliar to the general residents. It would be hard for them to adapt to it within such a short time, facing the chances of being fined.

What’s Next?

Signs with promotional slogans in Shanghai

Shanghai seeks to launch the system in 2015 with the support and experiences of Taiwan, where the idea of garbage sorting has already become a part of everyone’s daily life. Apart from cities, garbage sorting systems will possibly start in some villages, as suggested by the newly drafted refuse management proposal of Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province of southwestern China; though temporarily planned just as a trial scheme.

The feasibility would, as with any other garbage sorting schemes, depend heavily on the awareness of the locals and the user-friendliness of the system. After all, a change in people’s consumption behaviour is necessary for reducing waste in the first place to keep waste management sustainable in the long-run.

Author: Doris Pui-ying Lee/ RESET editorial

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