Cultivating a new habit: Shanghai's sustained enthusiasm for a greener way of life

Wang Yong
Three years after Shanghai established garbage-sorting regulations, residents are getting used to separating household and residual waste, thus reducing the city's carbon impact.
Wang Yong

Three years after the city introduced garbage-sorting regulations, Shanghai citizens have not just fostered a new way of life but also reduced their carbon footprints.

Shanghai Observer, a local news portal, reported on Thursday that nearly 9,500 tons of household waste, commonly called wet waste, were sorted out every day between July 2019 and May 2022, up 73 percent over the first half of 2019.

By separating more and more household waste from residual waste, or dry waste, the city has been able to burn less waste, thus cutting its carbon footprint. Fruit peels and rotting vegetable roots, for example, can be decomposed into organic fertilizer for communal gardens or urban grasslands.

The report marked the third anniversary of the city's implementation of the regulations on mandatory waste sorting and management, the first of its kind in China. The regulations took effect on July 1, 2019.

Another publication, Xinmin Evening News, reported on Thursday that 98 percent of nearly 150,000 Shanghai citizens surveyed gave the thumbs-up to the city's garbage-sorting efforts. Moreover, the paper noted that 95 percent of the city's communities and work units were up to the standard in waste sorting.

A temporary citywide lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus over the past two months had caused inconvenience to certain communities over sorting garbage, as the flow of people, including janitors, was affected. But within one week after the lockdown was lifted on June 1, nearly 99 percent of the communities were back garbage sorting, Xinmin reported. To a certain extent, this attests to people's sustained enthusiasm for a greener way of life. Three years are not very long but are enough to cultivate a new habit for the collective good.

In my community, located in the western suburb of Shanghai, garbage sorting has become a new communal norm, thanks to the efforts by everyone, especially by our middle-aged janitor.

During the lockdown, she chose to sleep in an underground office room of our property management firm so that she could continue to work as usual. In case we had to stay at home as required by quarantine policies, she would come and pick up our sorted garbage at the doorstep.

'A new fashion'

Situations vary from community to community, but as Shanghai Observer pointed out, garbage sorting has become "a new fashion" for the city's more than 24 million residents.

Adding to the "new fashion" is a mobile app developed by a group of environmental experts in Shanghai, which can calculate how much you have contributed to a low-carbon life with your garbage-sorting effort. The app, named Carbon Major Domo (CMD), hit the shelves on June 9.

I opened the app this morning and wrote down the weight of wet and dry waste my household produces each day. Then I tapped on the "calculate" key and quickly got the result of how many carbon footprints I had reduced.

Here is the real picture: On average, my household produces a standard bag (12 liters) of wet waste and an equal amount of dry waste each day. Because my wife and I sort wet waste from dry waste every day, my household reduces its carbon footprint by 4.44 kilograms a day. That translates into a reduction of about 4,862 kilograms of carbon footprint in three years.

Every small step matters. Garbage sorting seems trivial, but it can work wonders if everyone keeps at it.

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