Garbage sorting for a cleaner environment
The residents of the Youhe Jiayuan housing complex in the Jing’an District are among the city’s pacesetters in turning wet garbage into neighborhood greenery.
The complex is a model of the kind of garbage sorting that Shanghai authorities are trying to promote. It has a beautiful roof garden, a greenhouse and a tidy garbage room painted in bright colors. All wet garbage is turned into fertilizer for plants.
The residential area of more than 700 households started promoting the sorting of garbage into wet and dry in 2015.
"First, we had to overcome the entrenched habit of dumping garbage into a single bin on the first floor of each building and encourage residents to separate wet from dry and take it to a designated sorting room,” said Huang Bei, Party secretary of the Luoshan neighborhood committee. “Many refused to cooperate."
So the committee came up with its own approach.
A wet garbage bin was installed in each building and a “green account” system was instituted to reward people who sorted properly. A team of 15 resident volunteers, mostly retirees, was formed to assist the effort.
The volunteers start work as early as 7:30am every morning, helping people sort garbage and issuing reward points to “green account” cardholders who dump trash into the correct bins.
"Many residents were moved by the hard work of our volunteers and started to cooperate,” said Huang.
But it was still far from enough.
"Garbage sorting challenges long-term habits that are hard to change,” said Huang. "Simple incentives are not enough, and there is no compulsory requirement to sort garbage.”
Residents were solicited for suggestions on how to make recycling more popular.
"They told us that they will be very happy if they could have a small garden in the roof," said Huang.
At that time, the roof was an eyesore dumping site for construction waste. The 40-square-meter space was subsequently redesigned as a garden featuring such plants as rosemary, chamomile and rose. It uses composted wet garbage from the complex as fertilizer.
The garden is eco-friendly in other ways. It has a solar power system, rain collection storage and automated irrigation system.
"The message it conveys is that participating in garbage sorting brings benefits to the community," Huang said.
Wu Xiaoling, 67, is an enthusiastic participant in the initiative. She’s a garbage-sorting volunteer and a member of the community association that tends the roof garden.
"Garbage sorting changes our life,” she said. “I am very happy when I see garbage is properly sorted and residents are enjoying the garden. Compost from wet garbage is much better for the growth of plants than chemical fertilizers."
The community greenhouse is used for propagating seeds of plants for the roof garden. Excess supplies are sold at a charity bazaar every month to benefit public improvement projects in the community.
Residential complexes in Shanghai have distinctive characteristics and thus need individualized plans for promoting garbage sorting.
The Yanchang complex in the Jing'an District is a community of about 1,800 households, built in the 1970s.
In tackling the garbage issue, neighborhood committee officials turned for help to nongovernmental organizations that specialize in garbage sorting and "green account" awards programs.
The Luluo Center of Environmental Protection was established under the initiative of the Shanghai Feilin Public Welfare Development Center. The center classifies garbage into more than just categories of wet and dry. It has set up seven separate bins for items such as paper, plastic, electronics, glass and aluminum cans.
Residents are offered incentives if they throw garbage into the appropriate bins.
"Green account" users can redeem points at the center.
As of last month, more than 4 million households in Shanghai were enrolled in the “green account” program, which was launched in 2013. Points accrued are redeemable for items such as milk, soap, toothpaste, phone cards, tickets to tourist attractions, and payment of utility bills.
The city’s environmental authorities have partnered with Alipay so that points can also be redeemed for coupons at online supermarkets.
The volume of garbage burned or sent to landfills in Shanghai dropped to 16,491 tons a day at the end of last year from 18,902 tons five years earlier. Most of that decline is credited to garbage sorting. Last year, 2,400 tons of wet garbage was recycled.
Feilin encourages residents to come and view how sorted garbage is recycled into productive use, said Zhou Meifeng, the organization’s secretary-general.
"Residents may feel garbage sorting is complicated and troublesome, but inviting them to come and see what we are doing can be very persuasive," she said.
The organization conducts training classes for volunteers and resident representatives from each building, and visits schools with educational messages on recycling. Neighborhood committee officials also visit households who haven’t signed up for “green accounts.” The efforts have paid off.
"At first, I wasn’t willing to sort garbage because it wasn’t convenient, but it has become a habit now, and it’s not troublesome once you get used to it,” said retiree Zhou Changrong. “Recycling makes for a cleaner environment.”
Feilin has been involved in garbage sorting and recycling at three residential complexes in Jing'an and is expanding to cover all communities in the Xuhui District.
The organization hosted a night tour for children from the Aijianyuan residential complex in Xuhui to visit the Shanghai Botanical Garden last summer. The event was aimed at raising the eco-awareness of children and getting them to appreciate the idea of garbage sorting as part of a nature-friendly environment.
"We hope to interest more youngsters in garbage sorting by such events,” said Zhou.
The Springs Residences complex in Yangpu District has 996 households and started garbage sorting as early as 2015. It uses another approach that involves the property management company.
At first, only 20 percent of households were participating in garbage sorting, according to Kang Qingde, secretary of the neighborhood's comprehensive management center.
The neighborhood committee began working with the property management company, Colliers International, as the city called for more efforts in garbage sorting.
"We found that many residents couldn’t distinguish between dry and wet garbage,” said a property manager surnamed Ye. “So we have distributed information about that on a WeChat account of all property owners and we have also used posters and multimedia to get the message across.”
To drive the point home, the neighborhood committee had to be even more innovative.
"We came up with a system to rate the performance of households,” Kang said.
Cleaners at the complex serve as examiners, giving scores on garbage sorting efforts and posting the results on the first floors every week. Those who fail to sort garbage properly are given a yellow star instead of a red one. Each floor gets a performance appraisal.
"The system plays on the self-esteem of people,” Kang said.
But peer pressure works. Some 91 percent of residents now sort their garbage.
To make garbage rooms a less odious experience, cleaners keep the areas tidy and sweet-smelling.
The community has been selected as a model complex of garbage sorting by the Yangpu District Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau.
In Shanghai, garbage sorting and recycling extends into all areas of life. Schools, hospitals and government offices will be included in a compulsory program by the end of this year.