Sorting garbage a headache for Shanghai residents

July 10, 2019 09:01
A volunteer checks whether garbage is properly sorted at a refuse collection point in Shanghai.  Photo: Xinhua

Shanghai has introduced mandatory garbage sorting, effective July 1.  It aims to emulate the success of similar policies in Japan and Sweden.

Household waste in the city now has to be sorted into four categories: wet garbage, dry garbage, recyclable waste and hazardous waste. Individuals who violate the rules could face fines of up to 200 yuan (US$29) each time, while companies and organizations could be fined up to 50,000 yuan.

Rapid economic growth has led to more consumption and, consequently, more waste. Every Chinese generated an estimated 1.12 kilograms of waste per day in 2015, compared with the world average of 0.74 kilogram.

Shanghai’s population has soared to 26.32 million from 16.73 million in 1990.

As a result, its landfills in the suburbs are fully used up, and there are a number of garbage hills in the city's outskirts. That has led to disputes with neighboring cities such as Suzhou and Kunshan.

The city hopes to improve garbage recycling efficiency through the stringent sorting rules. There are also plans to expand the pilot scheme nationwide if it proves successful.

Shanghai's urban management officers have already issued 199 fines only a week after the scheme was introduced.

Residents, however, complain that the new rules are driving them crazy. In other cities, such as Tokyo and Taipei, garbage is simply classified into paper, plastic, kitchen waste, etc.

In Shanghai, it's not easy to classify waste according to the rules. Chicken bones, for example, are considered wet garbage while pig bones are dry.

Building an incinerator plant is another way of dealing with waste. However, most people don’t want such a plant in their backyard.

For several days last week, thousands of citizens in Wuhan, the capital city of central Hubei province, took to the streets to protest against a waste incinerator being planned in the Xinzhou district.

Police reportedly arrested hundreds of protesters and dispatched armored vehicles to quash the protest.

The local government has imposed a curfew and shops near the protest sites have been ordered to shut at night.

As garbage has become a big urban issue, those who rate cities should perhaps look at garbage management, in addition to GDP, as an important yardstick.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 9

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist