China launched a pilot project in Shanghai to educate people to recycle. But while the Dragon address the issue of environmental protection betting on rising awareness, Chinese companies are already taking the lead in offering profitable recycling solutions
As the world hits the point of no return for garbage volume, China is taking giant steps towards recycling and sustainability. And although recycling is often seen as a way to “pollute less”, Beijing is showing it can also be a big business.
To reach the goal of building zero-waste cities, recently, the State Council issued a plan, which promoted the “Internet Plus recycling model” for the appliance of advanced technologies to garbage sorting.
More than 10,000 AI-powered waste bins have already been disseminated around 33 Chinese cities in order to manage waste recycling while building zero-waste cities. And now a new pilot project in Shanghai is encouraging people to embrace recycling.
© Unsplash. Shanghai has installed more than 13,000 waste stations, so far covering 75% of the city, and has replaced more than 40,000 streetside trash cans for different types of waste.
This pilot program to create “waste-free cities” is designed to use resources more efficiently and eliminate the growing health and environmental risks caused by trash. The project’s measures include better sorting of solid waste, improvements in urban planning, and the construction of new treatment facilities.
Indeed, trash sorting was a hot topic in Shanghai in the weeks before the Regulations on the Administration of Domestic Waste in Shanghai came into effect on July 1, requiring everyone, from households to businesses, to sort their trash into recyclable. Revolutionizing the garbage classification, Shanghai is carrying out the most ambitious garbage revolution in history.
Since July, in China’s most populous city, fines have been in force for those who do not respect the new rules on recycling, as part of the Chinese government’s plans to increase the share of recycled waste and reduce their environmental impact.
After a first announcement on the occasion of the World Cities Summit in Singapore in 2018, the Council of State of the People’s Republic published its work plan last January. According to the document, the initiative aims to create new circular economy centers “made in China”.
In other words, the project aims to create advanced urban development and management models that “promote ecological lifestyles, minimize the amount of waste produced and strengthen recycling programs”, making the best use of resources and reducing risks for health and the environment.
In Shanghai, the waste disposal project plans to divide the waste into four bins, for glass and cans, special waste, wet waste, and for the undifferentiated. In some areas, the waste must be taken to special centers, where every citizen must identify himself with a code to show that he has made the sorting according to the rules.
To disseminate the rules and exceptions, the city has released 100,000 packs of playing cards divided according to the categories of waste. According to the government, the aim is to facilitate the understanding of the Shanghai system and the waste disposal while the fines should encourage more virtuous conduct by the population.
© Unsplash. Guangzhou, Guangdong. Following Shanghai, another 45 cities in the Chinese mainland will introduce similar regulations, including Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.
Xi Jinping has recently made several references to the importance of recycling to make China’s economic expansion more sustainable. The country has launched numerous projects to reduce its environmental impact, starting with stricter policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of global warming.
China’s decision to make recycling a small business begins in 2017 when the PRC decided to ban foreign waste and instead encouraged the domestic recycling industry to make the best use of domestic resources.
As strange as it may seem to many, the concept of Ecological Civilization comes right from the Middle Kingdom, whose environmental crisis is well-known. However, while Donald Trump announces to withdraw from the Paris agreements and Australia and Brazil decide not to cooperate on the issue of climate change, China’s President reiterates the country’s intent to respond to global climate disruption with a new form of human civilization, the one based on ecology and sustainability.
One of the main decisions to address the environmental crisis has been the Chinese ban on foreign waste imports. In 2017, China notified the World Trade Organization that it would no longer import plastic waste from the US and EU starting from January 2018. This was notable since China has been the world’s dumping ground receiving 25% of global plastic and paper scrap for over 25 years.
However, although behind Chinese recycling projects there are surely the best intentions to fight the environmental crisis, the truth is that dealing with waste represents a big business as a large number of investments will be needed if the current trash-sorting program in Shanghai is going to be implemented across China.
Experts say that the output value of recycling and reuse of solid waste in China is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030 and will create jobs for 40 million people.
A recent report by Orient Securities calculated that the market in Shanghai for the whole industrial chain will be worth over a billion dollars, including education, monitoring of garbage disposal, transportation, and construction of waste treatment facilities. According to the report, after projecting the Shanghai model to the national level, the estimated market size will exceed $29 billion.
China plans to set up domestic waste classification systems in 46 major cities by 2020, while other 300 cities at prefecture level and above should have similar systems to classify and dispose of trash by 2025, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
However, in addition to waste treatment, many startups are now eyeing opportunities in other parts of the long value chain.
For example, on Chongming Island, in Shanghai, a biological kitchen waste treatment center is about to open. The center, operated by Shanghai Yuanshi Environment, is going to use kitchen waste to feed fly maggots that can be used as animal feed to produce fertilizer. According to the company’s co-founder, Na Chenning, the profit from processing 1 ton of kitchen waste through the center’s technology is about 700 to 800 yuan.
Therefore, Shanghai’s compulsory waste sorting will actually make once valueless trash profitable.
© Unsplash. As the world hits the point of no return for garbage volume, the Dragon aims at building zero-waste communities with the help of advanced technologies.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China produced 215 million tons of domestic waste in 2017. The State Council plans to reach a recycling rate of at least 35% of domestic waste in the 46 major cities by 2020, thus creating big opportunities for the recycling industry.
The development of new technologies will, therefore, represent a key factor to reach those results. And as new technologies in waste processing will receive more investments, the upgrade of waste facilities will also push both the industry and the country’s growth.
Today, the Middle Kingdom produces about 10 billion tons of solid waste every year. Therefore, it requires the participation of every Chinese citizen to win the battle against pollution and climate change. An environment researcher at Guotai Junan Securities, Song Ya’nan, said the trash-sorting program has created social consensus on supporting businesses related to environmental protection, thus helping the industry grow in China.
Waste management powered by artificial intelligence is spreading in China while the country implements its green economy and residents realize the importance of garbage sorting and recycling through smart disposal bins and smartphone apps.
Therefore, while many Chinese major cities have already developed facilities for sorting, collecting, transporting and treating trash, local regulations related to domestic trash classification are making sure both people and the industry are going in the same direction.
The People’s Republic thus aims to tackle the “junk” issue, which has become a heavy problem in recent years. In fact, after decades of rapid industrialization and urbanization, landfill volumes have reached unsustainable levels for the country.
But what the Shanghai model reveals is that China now knows how to educate its people to recycle, but above all, the Dragon knows well how to turn its trash into a fruitful business.
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