At the end of 2013, the BeijingMunicipal Commission ofCity Administration and Environmentrevealed that it wouldraise the processing fees for unsorted trashand may reduce categories for future wasteclassification. None of these measurestarget residents. Pushing local governmentsto shoulder greater responsibility in wasteclassification is a major challenge facingthe Chinese government today.
History of Waste Classificationin China
Chinese people realized the importanceof waste classification a long timeago. Decades ago, China’s metropolisesbegan exploring sorting trash. In the1950s, Beijing launched waste classificationamongst its residents. Beijing Dailypublished the article Trash Needs to beCollected After Sorting in July 1957. Atthat time, Beijing residents began sorting items such as toothpaste tubes, orangepeels, glass, old newspapers and sent theseparated waste to state-owned scrapyards.The measure proved a tremendous success,in fact, and some foreigners even came toBeijing to study it.
During that era, the primary purposeof sorting trash was utilitarian valueof the waste rather than environmentalawareness. Due to widespread poverty atthe time, recyclable and reusable waste was scarce. “Even rotten vegetables wereplucked from the trash to feed chickens,”reveals Wang Weiping, a garbage collectionand processing expert and environmentalist.Hazardous waste wasn’t evenaround yet. “Until 1979, Chinese peoplerarely threw away plastic. People kept andreused every piece of it.”
In recent years, China has been investingconsiderable manpower and otherresources into waste classification, andagain Beijing is taking a lead role. Inthe late 1990s, residents in some Beijingcommunities began sorting trash spontaneously.
Interestingly, agencies promotingsocial progress were the first to noticesuch activities. Later, environmentalprotection groups started getting involvedand ultimately the issue reached governmentalagendas. After Beijing became oneof China’s eight pilot cities for waste classificationin 2000, the government graduallybegan dominating the process. By theclose of the 2008 Beijing Games, Beijing’senvironmental protection organizationsreported that the local government hadinvested nearly 10 billion yuan in wasteclassification and treatment.