A big silvery cage was erected in the garden of my residential compound recently. Turned out it wasn’t to contain miscreant kids or dogs, but to hide from view some of the trash that has been infecting that corner of the garden for several years, despite the best efforts of the recycling guy to keep up with it all. And since the city has swung back to life after the end of the Spring Festival holidays, apartment renovation season has started too. There’s nothing like seeing random abandoned toilets or gas cookers propped up where trees and flowers should be to make you wonder if there isn’t a better system to deal with all the waste.
Still, what is the point of having a shiny place to cover up the garbage if people won’t take it there – choosing instead to dump outside the door, in the case of big items, or just casually tossing it on the ground or out of the car window?
Of late, there have been plenty of articles in the Chinese press bemoaning the state of waste in the country, and proposing suggestions as to how it should be dealt with. Many commentators and environmentalists have called for trash sorting systems at the residential level, akin to the system in Europe, for example. But this requires effort and knowledge about the categories of waste, and also a change in mind-set to one where reusing or repairing items (upcycling, to put it in a fancy term) becomes just as acceptable as buying new. It won’t put people out of business – it’ll just create new ones.
When I go home to the UK, everyone at the individual household level is used to recycling – the local council provides special bins for different types of waste – recyclable, garden waste, food waste and regular waste. It’s not perfect, of course – according to the European Environment Agency, only 39 percent of the UK’s waste is recycled. Top of the trash heap is Austria, with 63 percent, with Germany only 1 percent behind. Bottom of the landfill is Bulgaria – 0 percent, with Turkey and Romania at only 1 percent. The average for Europe is 39 percent.
In Asia, according to the OECD, South Korea, which has highly developed recycling systems, recycles 49 percent of its waste, with Singapore 47 percent and Hong Kong at 45 percent snapping at its heels. Of course, we know that it is not always the case that the waste we put out is genuinely recycled, but that is another issue.