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It's Been One Year Since Garbage Sorting Started. This is How We Did!

Jul 1, 2020 | 11:51 Wed
It’s been exactly one year since the garbage-sorting law came into effect in Shanghai. A full year of picking out chicken bones and unwrapping stuff. Three hundred and sixty five days of double trash cans (or more) at home. In 2018, the city government announced a two-year plan in which we would: sort more than 6,300 tons of wet trash per day, keep dry trash at 11,800 tons per day or less, and recycle more than 1,100 tons of garbage per day. For comparison’s sake, a Boeing 747 without passengers weighs about 378 tons. So, how did we do?

Based on those goals, Shanghai met or exceeded most of its targets. Wet trash was 7,453 tons (up 89% from 2018), dry trash was down 18% to 17,731 tons per day (still high), and we recycled 4,049 tons of garbage. Of the 13,000 residential communities the city monitors, 90% met the standards for garbage sorting.

But these figures come with a cost, according to the Shanghai Landscaping and City Appearance Administrative Bureau, 21 million rmb was given out to 16 districts in 2019 as incentives for good behavior under the new trash law. Not much detail was given in the document on how the money was distributed, but still - that’s a lot of money spent on trash.

A neighborhood committee member and “trash guard” of a residential complex in Pudong told me that in the early months the neighborhood committee was paying eight rmb per hour “volunteers” to work the two-hour shift. Some communities may have spent more, paying trash pickers to be full-time “trash guards”.

The 21 million is just a small expense overall. According to a solid waste handling website, the cost of garbage processing in Shanghai was around 980rmb/ton by the end of 2019.

Rough math would suggest that based on that number (980) and how much trash is sorted in all four categories per day (29,233 tons), the city’s trash handling would cost roughly 28 million rmb per day or 1.02 billion rmb per year.

Sorting our garbage is only part of it. According to Ashley Fernandes, manager of Green Initiatives’ Waste as a Resource program, “Shanghai still has a lot more work to do in terms of building capacities.” He says the city can still add capacity to process all that waste. “There’s still a gap. Even though we’re separating the waste, and the waste being collected is cleaner and of better quality than before, they can still increase the capacity to handle everything.”

The real reason for this challenge, according Fernandes, is a lack of public education on waste reduction. “Shanghai has been talking about how to effectively manage the waste after it was generated, but I never see any message about how to reduce waste,” he says. Without a reduction, there will “always be a problem of trying to play catch up.”


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