A New Era of Waste Classification — Shanghai is Looking Up To Japan

It’s a great season for some crawfish feasting in China’s southern city of Shanghai, which is also a perfect excuse to pull an all-nighter in the summer. However it’s been a mystery for Shanghaiers these days, as they are unsure what type of waste the shells of the crawfish should fall into. Waste sorting, a deed that seems tiring and troublesome is actually altering people’s daily lives, with potential positive influences for the generations to come.

Kitchen waste and other waste

According to the new regulations on the administration of household waste in Shanghai that will come into effect on July 1st, all the household waste should be divided into four categories including kitchen waste, recyclable waste, hazardous waste (batteries, etc) and other waste.

Kitchen waste, as the name implies, refers to organic waste, kitchen leftovers, nut shells, fruit peels and tea leaves, etc. In short, the waste that can be used for fertilizing can be categorized as kitchen waste. You can grind them, mix them with enzymes, and confine them in a box to make organic fertilizer for farming. Some residents even explored their own ways of categorizing trash by saying anything edible by the pigs is kitchen waste.

classified waste bins in Shanghai

The “Guidelines for Domestic Waste Classification in Shanghai” clearly states that “aquatic products and processed foods (fish, scales, shrimp, shrimp shells, squid)” belong to kitchen waste. In this sense, crawfish shells should fall into this category. However, a Shanghai local said, “Hard seashells could easily damage the grinding machines, so that it would be categorized into other waste.”

Policy forces

A friend, Sheng, who has stayed in Shanghai for seven years said, “Especially in those somewhat famous or advanced communities like the Tian Lin community, one of the demonstration communities in Shanghai, elders wearing green vests voluntarily hand out brochures while instructing residents about the details of waste classification.”

volunteers instructing residents to classify waste in Shanghai

In Pu Dong district, a district east of the Huangpu River considered to be the more modern and developed district, publicity agents would go knock on the residents’ doors to remind them to classify waste according to different time periods of the day, from 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning and from 6:30 to 8:30 in the afternoon. The community would assign personnel to “guard” the big waste containers.

Shanghai has always been a pioneer in all sorts of “avant-garde” concepts, even compared with Beijing, whether it’s some new policy, or a milk tea brand that’s become wildly popular through promotions by web celebrities. The city is strict with enforcing new regulations. Recently, a crime and mob crackdown advertisement on the giant screen beside the bund replaced the normal product and movie commercials. It was so utterly striking that people couldn’t possibly ignore it.

a crime and mob crackdown advertisement beside the bund

“I’m constantly bombarded by the replay of waste classification broadcasting in a nearby supermarket. It was crazily brainwashing. It’s funny how I would finish shopping and on my way back I subconsciously fell into the loop of trying to figure out what category the orange peel belongs to. A clean food packaging is recyclable waste, and those with cream stains are other waste.” Sheng said. It is just until recently that people began to ponder the significance of waste classification.

Coercive measures

“As long as you get used to it, it should be just fine.”

The implementation of policies needs to be accompanied by coercive measures. According to the regulation, people are required to sort household garbage into four categories—dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables and hazardous waste—and individuals who fail to do so will be fined up to 200 yuan. For companies and institutions, the fine goes up to 50,000 yuan. In addition, transport operators can refuse to pick up the waste if it’s not properly sorted.

For those individuals or units that do not perform duties of waste classification obligations and refuse to implement the waste sorting measures, relevant information of the illegal parties will be included in the public credit platform. For enterprises in collection, transportation and end treatment that are seriously in violation of the law and refuse to make corrections, their operating qualifications shall be revoked according to law.

“It undeniably raises the efficiency of recycling. We did our job so that waste disposal factories don’t need to classify the waste little by little. Every day, the amount of waste the society consumes is massive, while they need to be disposed in different ways. You can bury the nut shells and orange peels, but you can’t bury those plastic products.” Sheng expressed her appreciation for the policy. Generally speaking, it’s all about saving energy and earth’s resources, but only in an idealistic scenario when everyone does obeys the rules.

“Sometimes things can be dangerous if hazardous waste are dealt with inappropriately. I remember when I was in primary school once the fluorescent tubes exploded and people would just take it down and throw it into the trash bin. ” She recalled.

Catching up with Japan?

In Japan, such practice started as early as last century. Back in 1930, the dual classification policy of kitchen waste and non-kitchen waste were first put forward, and it was revived in 1947 duing the post-war age, when the society has gone through drastic renovations. “You can’t on the one hand appreciate Japan’s society for the extreme order and cleanness, while at the same time complaining that it is too troublesome to do it as individuals.” One top internet comment says.

In the past 4 decades since the 1970s, the previous dual classification kept getting ever more detailed and refined. A waste sorting brochure in Yokohama would go up to 27 pages in lengths, with 518 subcategories.

waste sorting brochure in Japan (source: sohu)

Combustible waste and incombustible waste are two major categories. The latter is classified according to various types of recyclable materials, such as light bulbs, toothpaste, waste paper, and cartons. A 50-year old Chinese lady Xue, who’s been living in Japan for over ten years commented, “Cosmetics, plastic bottles and glass bottles should be recycled separately, and disposable lunch boxes need a simple wash, while cartons should be cleaned and bundled, and so on.”

There is also a fixed timetable. Operators would not collect the waste if the residents fail to follow the timetable or sorting rules. In many residential areas, waste bins are nowhere to be found. Residents will throw waste in certain spots, where there are anti-crow nets and rain covers.

In Japanese TV series, housewives would keep brochures of waste classification at hand to refer to frequently. For some, it is more of a stringent lifestyle, a nostalgic sentiment, rather than a rule of law.

In Japan, every city and county in rural areas performs such a practice. In the primary stages, strict penalties are of course necessary. According to Article 25 of waste disposal law; Those that liter around will be sentenced to less than five years’ imprisonment, accompanied by 10 million Japanese yen of fine (around 0.83 million yuan); enterprises or entities that inappropriately dispose of waste will be fined 300 million yen (around 25 million yuan). “It has everything to do with the ethics and sense of morality. I think in this respect, Japanese should definitely be proud of themselves.” Xue said.

garbage truck in Japan (source: shutterstock)

She has been doing this for over a decade now, even now after she came back to China, she would still resume the practice everyday. “I’m already so used to it. It’s such a pity that we don’t have that classified waste stations here, and what I’m doing is futile. But still, I believe in the mentality and logic behind waste classification, and think it is what’s necessary.”

“If our nation wants to continue with this, long-term advocates must proceed. People must come to realize that it is for the benefit of the country, and ourselves. For instance, recycled paper waste can be used for making toilet paper in public facilities. Strict control and supervision is necessary, while punishment must be harsh enough to be successful. And of course, waste sorting method should also be designed in a humanistic, reasonable and convenient way, otherwise it would be difficult to implement.”

“I felt like Japanese are the living proof of ‘don’t cause inconvenience for others’. Whether it’s waste sorting or walking dogs. They would use water to flush away their dogs’ piss and take away the poo with them. Their environmental awareness is just outstanding.” A frequent Chinese traveler of Japan said.

As several interviewees have mentioned, they still find it troublesome to have to go a long way to dispose of waste. Rules, however beneficial in the long run, will have to conform with human nature.