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July 3, 2020

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Today it’s trash. Tomorrow? Maybe it’s art

MUCH of the focus on Shanghai’s year-old trash-sorting program has centered on the campaign to teach residents how to separate garbage and their efforts to adapt to a new way of thinking about the waste they generate.

But what about the other end of the equation? Where does all that sorted trash end up?

The answer may surprise you.

In Minhang District, plastic bottles and waste polyfoam have been turned into sculptures in pocket parks.

That artistic solution starts with residents like Lu Yumin, a resident in the district’s Baoming Puxiuyuan complex.

Lu bundles up plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and discarded polyfoam that has accrued in her home for two weeks, and then calls to reserve a collection time.

Minutes later, community collector Liang Shuang rides an electric vehicle to her home. After taking a photo and weighing the waste, he gives her 1.5 yuan (21 US cents) — part of a modest reward program to encourage recycling.

“Enough to buy some scallions,” Lu says, with a grin.

“By the end of last year,” says Liang, “an average 100-200 kilograms of recyclable materials were collected in this complex every week. Now the volume has grown to between 500 and 600 kilograms."

Such materials, if treated like normal dry trash, would place a burden on waste-treatment facilities, he explains.

"Many residents have now formed good habits by flattening this kind of trash and emptying water from plastic bags before our collection,” he adds.

Throughout Pujin Subdistrict of Minhang, daily collection of recyclable waste amounts to more than 28 tons.

Liang transports that waste to a collection depot 4 kilometers away. There, cardboard boxes and polyfoam are smashed and compressed into cuboids, saving transport costs.

Relevant materials are transported to treatment factories to be turned into polystyrene. Foam plastic waste is recycled for use in painting, photography, mirror frames and decorative moldings.

The resulting molding looks like marble or solid wood after surface coating. Trees are saved. 

At the transit garbage station of Pujin Subdistrict, a number of sculptures, including a bumblebee, a SpongeBob figure, a bull, an eagle and a sheep, are actually made of trash.

The SpongeBob was crafted from 290 plastic bottles, while a horse figure was fashioned from 673 waste auto parts. A beaver emerged from more than 100 kilograms of waste tires, while a rabbit was made from waste polyfoam.

There’s also a moon constructed from concrete iron and deadwood, and a Chinese rose from discarded bicycle parts.

“It is most inspiring,” said Liu Jingqiang, designer of these sculptures. “If residents see their trash is turned into ’urban furniture’ with an artistic approach, they will realize the value of trash sorting. That’s more rewarding than a small cash payment.”

“They are so beautiful,” resident Lu said of the sculptures. “I want to contribute more recyclable trash, even without a reward."

Since April this year, more than 100 sculptures have been created at the station. They are placed at sites in subdistricts, greenbelts, gardens and pocket parks in Minhang.

“We hope to create a system of recyclable trash redemption this year, allowing residents to redeem items made from trash via their waste-sorting points,” said Wang Zhiye, director of the community management office of Pujin Subdistrict.

An upgrade of the city’s 170 transit garbage depots and 15,000 recyclable trash service stations is on this year’s agenda.

It’s not only art that emerges from recycling. Wet trash produced at residential communities is being turned into power in Shanghai.

In May, 9,796 tons of wet garbage were separated daily in the city, up 73 percent from the same period last year, according to the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau. 

The city has been creative in its use of such a large volume of wet trash.

At the Liming Ecological Organic Matter Treatment Plant in the Pudong New Area, nearly 80 percent of wet trash is used for biogas generation and about 3 percent is processed into biodiesel fuel.

The project, which started operation in January 2017, has generated more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

“Residents of our community visited the plant and were shown how kitchen waste is turned to power generation,” said Geng Dechao, a resident of Qishan residential complex in Pudong. “It stiffened my resolve to do a good job in trash sorting. If we fail to do it, other types of trash can get mixed in with wet waste and may lead to breakdown of machinery.”

Indeed, in the beginning, that was a problem.

“A lot of other trash, even including construction waste like steel and concrete, got mixed in with wet garbage,” said Chen Weihua, vice manager of the Shanghai Liming Resource Recycling Co. “It did lead to extra work and even machinery malfunction sometimes lasting for two months.”

Over the past year, the resource utilization rate of the plant has been lifted by 10 percent, and the company has saved more than 1 million yuan in residue treatment costs.

The second phase of the plant is expected to go into operation in late July, which will bring daily treatment capacity to 1,000 tons of wet garbage, up from the current 300 tons.

Citywide, treatment capacity of wet garbage in Shanghai is expected to reach 7,000 tons per day by 2020, up from 5,050 tons last year.


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