On the 31st of January, 2019, Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress passed the “Shanghai Domestic Waste Management Regulations”, and declared that the regulations would be officially implemented from July 1. 

Yicui Yin, Director of Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee, pointed out that “This is the first local regulation in China that regulates the management of domestic wastes, which was reviewed and approved by local people’s congresses. We would like to make garbage classification another good example of ‘rule of law’ in the social governance of mega-cities. Citizens will fully experience the effects and benefits of the regulations.” —edited from Xinhuanet.com

However, it is not easy for Shanghai residents (who have zero garbage pre-sorting experience) to turn garbage classification into a daily habit. Therefore, the enforcement of these new regulations is not only a “tough campaign”, but also a “protracted battle.” 

Pre-sorting Challenges

Shanghai’s new mandatory garbage sorting system now require households and enterprises to sort waste into four categories: wet garbage (household food), dry garbage (residual waste), recyclable waste and hazardous waste. After pre-sorting own waste, residents have to dispose pre-sorted garbage to designated trash collection stations during specified periods of the day. 

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One of the biggest challenges the regulations are facing is that people lack of enough knowledge and proper education to distinguish the correct category every waste belongs to since most of them do not have any garbage pre-sorting experience previously. From the 25th of February this year, a local newspaper has posted a total of 133 questions in its “Small Waste Classification Knowledge” section, and the 10 questions with the lowest correct answer fill rates (less than 50%) are obtained in the next paragraph, which illustrates some common “blind spots” of waste classification. 

The ten items with the lowest correct answer rates are: sewing needle (the correct category is dry garbage, correct answer rate 8%), crab shell (dry garbage, correct answer rate 15%), black plastic bag (dry garbage, correct answer rate 24%), pencil that has not been used up (dry garbage, correct answer rate 25%), big bone (dry garbage, correct answer rate 27%), puppy’s stool (it cannot be classified into the four categories of current waste classification system, correct answer rate 28%), power bank (recyclable, correct answer rate 39%), melon seed shell (wet garbage, correct answer rate 40%), durian shell and coconut shell (dry garbage, correct answer rate 42%), wet tissue (dry garbage, correct answer rate 42%). —edited from Sina.com

Besides the challenge of knowledge and awareness, Shanghai residents also keep complaining that the work and efforts involved in garbage classification almost drive them crazy—-especially after dining. One Shanghai employee Yuanyuan Yang said: “After the waste pre-sorting regulations have been enforced, I only eat for ten minutes and classify food waste for half an hour during my lunch break.” —edited from People.cn

Chinese dietary structure consists of much more shells, bones and liquids comparing with Western diet. Therefore, it takes much more time and effort for residents to sort their food waste.

Shanghai Residents: Good Move but Nothing Convenient

At present, Shanghai’s new scheme is strictly being enforced. Residents can only throw out their pre-sorted trash between certain hours, in public bins under supervision, and food waste must be disposed without packaging. Individuals who fail to comply face charges of RMB200 (around AU$40), while companies and organisations flouting the new rules could be fined RMB50,000-500,000 (around AU$10,000-AU$100,000). If communities don’t abide by the regulations, trash collectors must stop clearing their waste. 

Shanghai government understands that complete hardware facilities are the premise and basis for operating the entire system of garbage classification. To ensure the success of new waste management process, Shanghai has completed the transformation of more than 10,000 residential area trash collection stations, equipped and painted 781 wet garbage trucks, 3002 dry garbage trucks, 28 hazardous garbage trucks and 21 recycling vehicles. Shanghai government has also remolded 41 transfer stations and configured 50 classified containers to assure the success operation of the whole garbage management chain. The city’s dry garbage incineration capacity now reaches 19,300 tons per day, and the utilization capacity of wet garbage resources reaches 5050 tons per day. -edited from Xinhuanet.com

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Although the government seems to put a lot of effort and resources into the new scheme, most Shanghai residents are not responding positively. All of the general rubbish bins which used to be in everywhere have been removed, and government replaces them with designated garbage disposal sites. Residents now have to travel to the nearest (possibly strange) garbage disposal site with trash carried in their hands. “My daughter took a box of expired medicine from her workplace to the trash collection station near our home yesterday because she couldn’t find the local bin for hazardous waste,”  Shanghai citizen Li said. —edited from Mandy Zuo & Alice Yan, South China Morning Post

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Other than the inconvenience in travelling, there are many to complain about the lengthy procedures. A Shanghai resident Jianhua Wang told journalist that “Environmental protection is a good thing, but it is too complicated.” He explained that the community he lived collected garbage at 7pm every night, but many people could not keep up with the time because it was often beyond 7pm after they returned home from work and finished dinner. Due to the hot weather, people are reluctant to leave trash at home to stink. Jianhua Wang said : “Residents used to throw their garbage into the general trash bin regularly but now there is no place to throw it after designated time. I went out at night and saw that there was rubbish everywhere on the ground.”

Economic Impacts of Waste Management

The enforcement of Shanghai Domestic Waste Management Regulations marks that China garbage classification has officially entered the era of refined management, and the capital market has also become more active under the influence of business opportunities behind garbage sorting. Wind data shows that the garbage classification index (consists of 17 listed companies) rose by 8.83% from June 1 to June 28. The stock price growth rate of China Tianzhu and Longma Sanitation, Weierli and Shanghai Environment all exceeded 30%. At the end of June, the environmental protection sector and the public utilities sector both outperformed the market due to the growth of waste classification concept stocks. —edited from bjnews.com

Du Huanzheng, Director of the Recycling Economy Institute at Tongji University, said: “Without proper classification, a lot of garbage that can be recycled is burned, and that’s a waste. After being classified, items suitable to be stored and transported can now be recycled.” —edited from Mandy Zuo & Alice Yan, South China Morning Post

In the economic aspect, trash recycling not only reduces incineration budget and raw material cost directly, but also facilitates the development of a sustainable circular economy. 

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Garbage classification also helps to increase thermal power generation so that it potentially leads to cheaper electricity resources. There is still a shortage in China’s incineration capacity, mainly because that current kitchen waste accounts for 36%-52% of the total domestic waste. If those unsorted kitchen garbage are dumped directly into the incinerator for burning, the wet garbage will lower the calorific value and makes it difficult to reach 850 degrees, while dioxin (a carcinogen) are also more easily to be produced. Therefore, when garbage is not classified, the power generating efficiency of incineration decreases, and more dioxin and heavy metal pollution are formed. 

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Entering the “Compulsory Era” of garbage classification has delivered many development opportunities to both new and old industries. Trash management service is a brand new business that appears after the new regulations has been enforced. Individuals and families who are too busy or too lazy to sort and throw their garbage could simply leave the trash with certain service provider to deal with by paying RMB200-400 (around AU$40–AU$80) per month. Varieties of new products are also launched in online retailing market followed by the new scheme. The top sellers include domestic classified rubbish bin, garbage classification puzzle games and trash shredder. The increasing needs of these new products and trash bags have facilitated the development of traditional manufacture industry and stimulated the overall China economy. In addition, a number of listed kitchen waste disposal companies have been benefited from the overwhelming demand increase in wet garbage disposal market. Likewise, due to the growing amount of recyclable waste, companies engaged in recycling of renewable resources are also promoted directly. —edited from Jiao Ren,bjingnews

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As a large garbage producing country with short trash classification history, China still has a long way to go in the battle of waste management. However, this battle differentiates itself from the others since it intends to benefits its people in the long run. 
Edited by Jack Zhao