The story appears on

Page A7

November 14, 2018

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Opinion » Chinese Views

Shanghai sorting out a sustainable future

ON November 6, President Xi Jinping, while visiting a community center in Shanghai’s Hongkou District, commented that waste-sorting is a “new fashion,” and that Shanghai should make sure that garbage management is done well.

Waste management is a growing issue for cities and, increasingly, villages as well. An enlightened resident can no longer simply drop anything into a rubbish bin and forget about it. We are all well aware that unless our trash is disposed of properly — every day a more challenging affair — it may return to haunt us, not just in the bulging suburban landfills encroaching upon us, but also in the air, water and food that our lives rely on.

Sorted garbage saves landfill space, as some trash can be recycled, reused, incinerated or used as fuel.

In 2000, Shanghai was one of first eight cities to pilot garbage sorting. By the end of this year, 46 cities are expected to demonstrate best practices in rubbish separation.

On the face of it, sorting should be a simple procedure, at least for residents who have woken up to the fact that trash categorizing is vital to the treatment and efficient disposal of waste.

In reality, promoting sorting as a general practice across a neighborhood — not to say across the city — is a great challenge.

After ten years of “sorting,” on a trial basis, in the eight selected cities, it was found that sorting was more about publicizing than a matter of substance.

Effective garbage separation needs to be done with resolution, perseverance, innovation and finesse.

In Longbai Huayuan in Changning District, for instance, originally four bins labeled “wet,” “dry,” recyclable” and “hazardous” were placed side by side. While the fine distinction makes a lot of sense, upon consideration, the number of trash boxes has been reduced to “dry” and “wet,” on the assumption that this is enough for beginners.

The challenge for arriving at semantic clarity also explains some of the confusion observable on the streets.

Today, predominant trash receptacles generally consists of two units labeled “dry” and “recyclable,” though I am still trying to figure out how these two labels come to be dichotomies, and why the corresponding English equivalents given are “residual waste” and “recyclable.”

Icons and verbal instructions clarify the situation somewhat, though they are not always available, or conspicuous enough.

Adding to seeking semantic clarity is the challenge of educating people long accustomed to viewing trash disposal into any garbage bin as a civic virtue.

This entails meticulous work, not just for each individual who produces rubbish, but community work as well: giving lectures in neighborhoods, handing out pamphlets and brochures, giving people trash bins for their homes with separate chambers for dry and wet waste, friendly persuasion, and on-site patrols. In some kindergartens children play a game designed to teach them how to properly sort their trash.

Throwaway society

An old neighborhood in Shanghang New Village, in Changning District, was among the first to test fixed-time, fixed-location garbage drop-off.

The initiative first met with some resistance in this neighborhood largely peopled by migrants from other provinces.

What emerged was that it is more effective for fellow townsfolk to persuade each other, than to be preached by “outsiders.”

In some communities, Party members and officials are on site to ensure compliance.

According to an ambitious municipal three-year plan, household garbage sorting should be a general practice by 2020. By then all households will be expected to classify their trash into four types: hazardous, recyclable, dry and wet.

Significantly, the daily volume of dry waste would be reduced from 21,400 to 18,100 tons.

In a world that prides itself on convenience, as represented by disposables and consumerism, the matter of waste sorting entails a conceptual leap forward, whereby a process of simply dumping anything we want onto one giant bin becomes a complicated, messy business.

Pampered by convenience in all its multifarious forms, we are accustomed to easy answers, gift-wrapped solutions, a silver bullet.

It has never been easier to get “stuff.” Huge quantities of what will eventually become trash are delivered to our doorsteps as a direct result of a few desultory taps on our phones.

A simple, passing impulse is all that is required. It is only when we are confronted with the messy and smelly stuff left behind that we begin to question the throwaway society we have created.

Garbage sorting and fixed-time collections put the onus of garbage categorizing on those responsible for creating the trash in the first place. The tedious business should make us think twice before we splurge out on something we do not really need and will junk soon afterwards.

Inconvenience should compel us to link our individual excesses with such issues as prolonged heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and a myriad signs of environmental deterioration on this finite planet.

By exemplifying the best practice in sorting, Shanghai is playing a role in ensuring that our inevitably shared future is a sustainable one for all.

Shanghai people have long been recognized for their astuteness, attention to detail, heightened sense of discipline and a ceaseless pursuit of perfection.

All these qualities, as expressed through this sorting endeavor, will be valuable weapons in what is bound to be an uphill battle.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend