Nie Feng used to toss his rubbish outside his Shanghai flat without a thought while rushing to work, but saving China from a garbage crisis now requires him to consult a complex diagram each morning.
On July 1, Shanghai launched China’s most ambitious garbage separation and recycling programme ever, as the country confronts a rising tide of trash created by increasing consumption.
But the programme is the talk of China’s biggest city for other reasons as well: confusion over rules and fines for infractions, and thousands of volunteers inspecting citizens’ private garbage each day.
Nie examines a wall-sized diagram saying fish and pork bones must be separated from each other, and from the plastic bag he carries them in.
“It’s for the good of our homeland, but we keep making mistakes,” said Nie, a trading company staffer, laughing as he struggled to separate the bag’s contents into various bins.
“We have to get this right before the fines really start.”
Shanghai is piloting a programme set for eventual nationwide adoption in what would likely be the world’s largest waste separation and recycling scheme — and it is desperately needed.
With its 1.4 billion consumers, China is becoming swamped by trash. Every day, Shanghai’s 25 million people alone produce around 26,000 tonnes — equal in weight to the Statue of Liberty.
The issue is straining municipal services nationwide and prompting unrest.