How can China manage to practice textbook recycling?
  ·  2020-11-25  ·   Source: NO.48 NOVEMBER 26, 2020
Statistics from the National Press and Publication Administration show that retail sales of primary and middle school textbooks, as well as relevant teaching books, in 2018 were valued at a whopping 25.9 billion yuan ($3.9 billion). If these books could be recycled, at least 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) could be saved. Meanwhile, a lot of students complain that they must sell their used textbooks for scrap although the books initially were printed and transported at much higher costs. The fact that there is a huge waste of textbooks from primary school to university is a grim reality.
The voices for recycling textbooks today are getting louder. Some believe that to recycle a textbook is not only a way of saving paper and wood, but can also help to reduce pollution caused by printing books. Moreover, this is also a good method to encourage students to be frugal.
However, the difficulties in pushing forward this practice are understandable, as some argue that recycled textbooks will bite into the profits of interested parties.
Additionally, the recycling of textbooks will negatively affect class efficiency, as students are not supposed to write in the books. How can textbooks get recycled in Chinese schools and universities? Various ideas emerge from all walks of life.
Encouraging thrift
Hu Xinhong ( Many factors have resulted in the waste of second-hand textbooks. Nowadays, the circulation of such textbooks in China almost solely depends on the secondhand market. The lack of a standard business chain has led to the high cost of recycling textbooks.
The paramount stumbling block to textbook recycling is that it offends vested interests. Take the textbooks for public courses for example. Colleges directly order these books for their students, undoubtedly generating a big income for publishers.
Here, the Chinese education system has a lesson to learn from countries that are doing well in conducting textbook recycling. Some of them allow students to decide whether they would like to have new textbooks, while schools encourage the use of second-hand books. Specifically, school libraries purchase these textbooks and students borrow the books from libraries and return them after they finish the course, so that new students can use them. If such practices are followed in China, probably the use of recycled textbooks can spread widely in schools.
Lu Jingping ( In China, students have got used to getting new textbooks every time they go to a higher grade. No one really cares about the cost of not recycling textbooks. A total of 20 billion yuan every year is undoubtedly a big sum. The loss is not only about money or resources, but also about the chance of nurturing a positive attitude toward textbooks, such as being thrifty, conserving resources and not defacing them.
Students are excited to get new textbooks at the beginning of every new semester. It is a pity that their old textbooks are mostly thrown away, torn up, or sold as scrap. If schools and parents become just a bit more attentive to the state of the textbooks, telling students to take good care of them and refrain from defacing them, actually, most textbooks will be perfectly usable after one or two semesters. In that case, these textbooks can go to new students, helping to save a lot of resources and money. Or these books can be sent to schools in backward and impoverished areas, so that these schools don't need to spend money on textbooks.
To practice economy has always been part of China's traditional culture, and such customs need to be encouraged and stressed in the new era. The recycling of textbooks can serve as an important example of being frugal for students, who are expected to bring this habit to their social life after graduating from school.
Of course, to make textbook recycling a reality in China is not an easy job, so support from the government, the education authorities in particular, and commercial institutions, etc., is necessary to hit this goal.
Recycling channels needed
Yuan Guangkuo (Beijing Youth Daily): Textbook waste is totally avoidable, as long as there are smooth recycling channels. However, today, the actual recycling process still faces big obstacles.
In accordance with relevant regulations, those who are involved in the publishing and distribution of online content must already possess a publication license and must purchase the content from individuals or entities that have legal permission. These regulations do not differentiate secondhand books from new books, or commercial organizations from individual sellers. Individuals are an important source of secondhand book consumption, but it seems unrealistic to expect them to obtain the license, and thus they run potential legal risks in terms of secondhand textbook trade.
The recycling of a number of textbooks has already begun, such as music, art, information technology, and physical education; these textbooks are paid for by the government. It is through administrative means that recycling of textbooks is realized. The question now is whether it is possible to also recycle textbooks for Chinese, mathematics, and English.
Currently, only a small fraction of textbooks is recycled. Particularly in senior high schools and colleges, students pay for all of their textbooks. The circulation of old textbooks relies heavily on an underdeveloped market system and exchange platform, leading to unbalanced supply and demand. To address this conflict, one suggestion is that a secondhand book-sharing platform be opened to primary schools, middle schools and universities. Still, this requires efforts from all walks of life.
Wang Zhongdi (China Youth Daily): Currently, music, art, and physical education textbooks are already being recycled, but the recycling of textbooks is not free of disputes. Also, we must admit that there exist certain conflicts between recycling textbooks and school education. If certain textbooks are designated as recycled ones, students will not be able to take important notes or underline important content, and this is likely to lower efficiency in class. Meanwhile, when music and art textbooks are classified as recycled books, this smacks of discrimination against those particular courses.
As a matter of fact, textbooks in primary and middle schools are frequently used, and tend to wear out fast.
Comparatively, it's more realistic to recycle college textbooks. In college, it often happens that teachers do not use the same textbooks like those used across primary and middle schools, and they like to teach classes in line with their own research topics. Meanwhile, some majors do not require students to use textbooks all that often. Moreover, college textbooks are usually purchased at full price, and some are imported from other countries, which amounts to a big financial burden for average families.
As for marks or lecture notes in textbooks, in college, such scribbling will not affect effective use, and sometimes, they are what new students are looking for. On some secondhand reading materials platforms, lecture notes are extremely popular. New students hope to utilize these notes left by senior students in the same department.
Wu Kunpeng (Xinhua Daily Telegraph): To practice economy and reduce waste is gradually becoming a social consensus in China. People are trying to get rid of the bad habit of wastefulness, but when it comes to textbooks, it seems society turns a blind eye to the waste of secondhand manuals.
What is hampering the recycling of textbooks? It's because of an underdeveloped industrial chain that leads to the high cost of textbook recycling, students' dislike of markings on old books, the poor "hygienic" conditions of these books. Some even argue that as no notes are supposed to be made on recycled textbooks, students have to buy notebooks to take notes, leading to even bigger waste.
However, the fundamental obstacle to recycled textbooks is the business that is worth hundreds of billions of yuan every year. For publication agencies and the related commercial entities, the sales of new books mean high profits, whereas the recycling of books means a loss of profits. As a result, in spite of the huge waste of paper resources, practically new secondhand textbooks are sold as scrap while students keep buying brand new books. One ridiculous explanation is that the input of billions of yuan into new textbooks every year is a way of stimulating domestic consumption.
What a pity it is to depend on resource waste for the sake of domestic consumption. In a lot of Western countries, the lifespan of a single textbook is around four to five years, while in China, this goes up to half a year. Isn't it better to reduce the consumption of wood resources and relieve average families of their financial burdens?
Putting a halt to the waste of textbooks is an important part of China's efforts to build an economical society. It is hoped that the day textbooks are widely recycled in schools and universities will arrive soon.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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