China’s mighty migrating mandate

China’s mighty migrating mandate

Country has to get serious about its trash problem as its fast-paced economy expands

What happens in China, doesn’t always stay in China. In fact, when it comes to tough new garbage and recycling restrictions, they may migrate elsewhere sooner than you might think.

For example, Shanghai is one of the world’s largest cities with 26.9 million people. It is suffocating under mountains of trash its residents generate daily. It lacks an effective recycling and disposal system.

“Instead, it has trash pickers to sift through the waste, plucking out whatever can be reused,” The Economist magazine reported earlier this month. “As people get wealthier, fewer of them want to do such dirty work. The waste, meanwhile just keeps piling up.”

China is now a “throw away” culture. Garbage cans fill faster as more people have more money to purchase “stuff.” Too much trash has to be either burnt or buried.

Shanghai is generating 9 million metric tons of garbage each year. Something had to be done. Authorities issued marked bins for categories of recyclables, but in practice they become additional garbage cans. People simply weren’t taking time to sort their trash.

The growing garbage problem drew China President Xi Jinping’s attention. He traveled to Shanghai last year to “emphasize” the need for change. On one hand, Xi’s velvet glove was celebrity packed “peppy ad campaigns” calling citizens’ attention to recycling. On the other hand is the iron-fist full of unforgiving edicts. Government leaders formed a 3,600 quasi-police force to crack down on violators. They have the power to issue stiff fines and unusually tough penalties.

To drive the point home, the first violation was issued to the Swissotel, a swanky five-star hotel used by wealthy foreigners. Hotel owners were cited for improperly sorting trash, received a 200 yuan fine, and a heap of embarrassment.

The Economist reports: “For repeat violators, the city can add black marks to credit records, making it harder for them to obtain bank loans or even buy train tickets.”

Under the city’s recycling laws, refuse must be divided and put into the proper recycling bins. Food wastes are the most difficult problem and people are required to tear open their plastic bags for inspection before they empty their contents into the community vats.

While the Shanghai system is messy and can be smelly, it is a way to capture people’s attention and change habits.

The garbage problem is getting worse worldwide. Every year we collectively dump a massive 2.12 billion tons of waste. If all this waste was put on trucks they would go around the world 24 times. By 2035 the World Bank estimates trash volumes will increase by 70 percent to 3.4 billion tons.

China has to get serious about its trash problem as its fast-paced economy expands. It surpassed the US as the world’s largest waste generator in 2004. By 2030 the country will likely produce twice as much municipal solid waste as the United States.

If Shanghai’s rules were to migrate to Washington state, they would create turmoil and outrage. Can you imagine taking your leftovers to a neighborhood recycling drum and having it inspected before dumping?

Currently, residents in many U.S. cities are issued three-cans – garbage, recyclables and yard waste. In Vancouver, garbage is collected weekly and yard waste and recyclables in alternating weeks. While it is convenient for residents, it is a big problem for recyclers.

In Shanghai, the onus shifted to those creating the refuse. That shift in responsibility could be coming to our country as well.

The trash problem is a global environmental ticking time bomb. Hopefully, “good old American ingenuity” will lead us to better ways before government is forced to act.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@auburn-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.auburn-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Local and county election forecast for 2021 | Roegner

With Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announcing she is not running for re-election,… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Working from home is here to stay | Brunell

With COVID-19 vaccines being widely dispensed, will an end to this pandemic… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Western wildfires were big polluters in 2020 | Brunell

While the coronavirus and its devastating effects on people and economies worldwide… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Cities have progressive agenda for next legislative session | Roegner

There are 281 cities that belong to the Association of Washington Cities… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
A legislative session like no other we’ve seen | Roegner

In even numbered years such as 2020, the legislative session is only… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Public officials say and do the darndest things | Roegner

As Will Rogers used to say, “I only know what I read… Continue reading

A Christmas card from December 1956 was sealed and stamped. But for some reason it had never been mailed. Courtesy photo
A Christmas card that was lost in the clutter | Guest column

While clearing out and boxing up my parents’ home recently, I discovered… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Local governments to add racial equity staff | Roegner

The 1960s were about Black people getting the right to vote, and… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
E-waste reduction requires innovative approaches | Brunell

One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century is dealing with… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Why not call a special session of the Legislature? | Roegner

Why not call a special session of the Legislature? That question has… Continue reading

Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.
A Thanksgiving to remember | Guest column

“Pass the yams! And pass the turkey! Pass the iPad, too! I… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Coronavirus and the silver lining for airline industry | Brunell

It’s no secret that airlines and airplane manufacturers have been clobbered by… Continue reading