Doing the Best With Waste
Waste classification is the new challenge for many Chinese urban dwellers
Editorial  ·  2019-08-19  ·   Source: NO. 34 AUGUST 22, 2019

Before you chuck your trash into the nearest can, think for a moment. As per government rules in a number of cities, not all your garbage can be dumped into one trashcan. It needs to be sorted out with different piles going into different bins. Waste classification, a practice that has long been the norm in developed countries like Japan, is the new challenge for many Chinese urban dwellers. However, though initially you might need to rack your brains to figure out which trash goes into which can, in the long run, the result is well worth the effort.

According to a report issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in December 2018, the household garbage in 202 large and medium-sized Chinese cities amounted to 202 million tons in 2017, with the four first-tier cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, being the largest producers of waste. A Beijing resident generates about 1 kg of garbage every day on average.

Landfills, sites where waste is buried and covered over with soil, are a major method of disposing of residential waste in China. However, given the environmental hazards associated with burying refuse, there is a pressing need to reduce the amount of waste that goes into a landfill. Classification, sorting waste into different categories such as harmful waste, recyclables and kitchen waste, is a key solution.

Currently, 46 cities across China, including the big four, are carrying out a pilot program that aims to put in place a classification-based garbage disposal system by the end of 2020. It is hoped that this will reduce the quantity of waste that ends up in landfills by a large margin. Many cities have even proposed the idea of zero landfills.

Shanghai came into the media spotlight in early July after it implemented mandatory garbage sorting with people who fail to dispose of garbage properly liable to be fined. Beijing is deliberating revising its regulations to follow in Shanghai's footsteps. The new rules may cause short-term inconvenience but they are meant to help residents imbibe and follow the concept of garbage classification for the common good.

As the pilot programs show, residents can gradually develop this habit given their growing awareness and with the help of advanced technology. In future, this practice should be adopted across China, in urban and rural areas alike. With extensive public involvement, China's garbage sorting initiative will contribute not only to the nation's sustainable development but also to making the planet a better place to live in.

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