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For a Greener China
“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere,” said Annie Leonard. Recycling seems boring, unnecessary or just a thing people do on a small scale that doesn’t really help us. However, the world is facing a huge garbage crisis. Landfills are filling up, and incinerators may be effective, but they are polluting the environment. The average American produces about 726kg a year, although they aren’t even the ones that produce the most garbage. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet (pg. 7 fig.8) shows the landfill composition by types of waste and a lot of which are easily recyclable. It was shown that 21%, also the biggest component of the landfill, was food. 18% was plastic, 14% was paper and paperboard and 10% was rubber, leather, and textiles (Kinhai). That all added together is 63%, which shows that the majority of the trash in landfills are actually recyclable. Further, the United Nations initiated 17 development goals to help address these on a global scale. Recycling particularly falls under goals #11, sustainable cities and communities, and #12, responsible consumption and production.
The question of efficient recycling is a problem in need to be solved in China. China lacks a sustainable and productive recycling system. Recycling in China is done by the scavengers; people who search through trash cans for recyclables and sell them for money. An estimated 160,000 collectors in Beijing make a living out of searching through trash cans and selling plastic bottles, paper, and any other kind of recyclable to factories and companies. Consequently, individuals are not aware of the impacts or even the concept of recycling itself (Branigan). China is now getting close to being the number one waste producer globally, however still lacks strong incentives or regulations to encourage recycling which leads to low rates of recycling. With overwhelming landfills and polluting incinerators, the environment and even the people are can get harmed. For that reason, the government and individuals should strive to improve the local recycling system for a better environment and future.
Recycling benefits the environment enormously and also is beneficial to the people. Some may say that there are negative consequences for recycling such as costs and the pollution emitted in the process. However, the advantages of recycling overcome its negative consequences. According to the University of Michigan, "Just one person recycling their newspaper, magazines, plastic, glass, and metal for one year is enough to save 471 pounds of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere." Not to mention, the Times report states that incineration of waste is not a recycling solution because it pollutes the air and water. Besides the environment, incinerators can affect human health and safety, as it increases the risk of acute respiratory infection or diarrhea by six times. According to a Springfield College address by Professor Frank Torre (pg. 6 & 7), recycling paper reduces air pollution by 75% and steel from recycled sources cuts air emissions by 85% and cuts 76% of water pollution. Moreover, increasing the recycling rate to 35 percent would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 5.2 Million metric tons of carbon dioxide ("Climate Change | Recycling”). Recycling can help decrease water and air pollution. Not only that, it can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions which can minimize global warming. Recycling can also decrease the amount of incinerators and landfills which decreases landfills and incinerators which have negative impacts on the environment. Not to mention, the 2005 US Senate report states that recycling one ton of office paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, and saves energy enough to heat an average home for six months. Furthermore, manufacturing one ton of office paper using recycled paper stock can save 3,000 to 4,000-kilowatt hours compared to making that amount using raw materials. A recycling rate of almost 30% is equivalent to removing 30 million cars from the roads. 95% of the energy required to produce aluminum cans when they are recycled. The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to light a light bulb for four hours. In fact, recycling decreases the extraction of natural resources which helps protect the environment (Rinkesh). Just an act of throwing a piece of paper in the recycling bin can cause a huge difference. Besides that, recycling usually saves the amount of resources that would have been used if the material was extracted again from the Earth. Further, the decomposition time of the materials that are used daily are pretty big numbers. Cans take up to a hundred years to decompose and disposable diapers can range from one hundred years to never. Glass bottles, jars and plastic bottles may not be able to decompose at all. There are endless piles of trash ended up in landfills, that can take up to thousands and thousands of years for it to all decompose (Dorion, 7). Landfills are piling up, and the Earth is running out of space, landfills aren’t the best solution to our garbage crisis. It can easily be concluded that the simple act of recycling benefits simply not just the environment, but also the people.
It is certain that people should be more aware of the impacts of recycling. However, some may argue and say that raising awareness does not ensure that people will recycle. Yet studies show that raising awareness encourages people to recycle and it is better to do something than nothing. At Stanford GSB, professor Kate White of the University of British Columbia shared studies which showed that recycle bins with messages that highlighted the negative consequences of recycling motivated people to recycle. In fact, more people wanted to recycle at the moment than thinking that they should do it later in the future. White explained that, "Matching the content of the messaging makes it easier for people to understand what to do — and therefore more likely they will do it." (Rigoglioso) Having messages that show how their action makes an impact encourages and motivates people to recycle. Likewise, the Recycling Best Practices Report from the University of Michigan shows results of their custodians’ thoughts on their recycling education system. Furthermore, the education of recycling practices for custodians, across the University, seems to be extremely important as custodians at the high rate facilities said that they received recycling information at their initial training (75%) and that they receive continuing information on changes in recycling practices (69%). In fact, “63% of the respondents stated that receiving recycling updates was helpful or necessary. Even though 90% of the custodial staff received training regarding recycling when they were hired, 95% of the custodial staff say they receive continual information regarding recycling practices, and they feel that this continued education and information is necessary and beneficial.” This shows that by having educational programs, it can benefit the recycling program in places such as schools. Till 2010, the Chinese government does not have any fines or incentives related to trash, recycling or disposal. This does not encourage the citizens at all, which causes the lack of awareness on this issue (Ulrich). As a matter of fact, survey data shows that about 75% of the people surveyed did not know what recycling was. This pattern was showed especially with elders in that area (Recycling Survey).
China lacks awareness of recycling due to the fact that recycling itself is done by the scavengers, not themselves. Furthermore, China's weak incentives and regulations do not encourage the people to recycle. Thus, this proves how raising awareness will help exhort people to recycle more and improve Beijing's recycling industry.
Beijing must invest in a new, more efficient system where they have a trash can for each type of recyclable. Yet, some may disagree and say that the implementation might be challenging as it might have a high budget and Beijing has a big population. Despite the financial resources and time invested in this program, it will benefit the environment and people far more than its costs. Indeed, the inefficiency of China's recycling system is in need for adjustments and the deficiency of it can be observed easily. Dane Christianson, an environmentalist, said that, "I found these garbage and recycling bins in every city in China I’ve been to. I’ve looked in tons of them, and I have never seen a properly sorted bin in the three months I’ve been here. I’ve seen swarms of maggots in the recycling bins before! Doesn’t anyone in China care about recycling? Does China even have a recycling program?”. These recycling bins are phony as they do not have the content they are supposed to have. He also states that separating recyclables creates value, raises the standard of living, and saves the environment. No modern technology can do the same thing for free. This shows how the current recycling system needs serious modification to make it more efficient and productive. Moreover, in Shanghai, which has a similar recycling system as Beijing, 40% of the trash is incinerated, and 60% goes into landfills. But even so, about 85 % of this trash can be recycled or repurposed, however they are not separated and ends up in incinerators or in landfills (“Recycling in China”). At the moment, China suffers from a lack of space for landfills as about 85 percent of China's 7 billion tons of trash is in landfills, much of it in unlicensed dumps in the countryside. On top of that, only 1/3 of this trash is getting properly recycling or composted. With this, it shows how inefficient China's current recycling system is compared to a recycling system like Japan or Taiwan. Even more, it is crucial to start changing the recycling system in Beijing. The recycling program in South Korea demonstrates a system where individuals have to divide each recyclable by type and has to pay for the official trash bags that they have to pay for. South Korea currently recycles 100% of their paper, plastic bottles, cans and any other recyclables. In 1985, South Korea’s national average waste generated per person per day was 4.85 pounds. By 1995, after the implementation of the volume-based fee system, it had decreased to 4.43 pounds. This average has consistently decreased to 2.11 pounds in 2010. In 2010, Seoul recycled 66% of its residential waste, put 14% into landfills and incinerated 20%, according to the Environment of Ministry and Korea Environment Corp.’s “2011 Report of South Korea Waste Generation and Disposal.” (Lee) Even in a small country, South Korea demonstrates a strong, stable and productive system in contrast to China. Given these points, it is evident that there needs to be a new or modified recycling system in Beijing as at the moment, it is very unproductive.
There should be more incentives and regulations for recycling. On the contrary, some may say that the government has other major conflicts to stress about. What they fail to realize is that recycling is also a big issue that needs to be solved. As mentioned above, recycling can have negative impacts on the environment. Careless disposal of waste can lead to more air and water pollution. Additionally, it can minimize landfill sites and incinerators which pollute the environment. Recycling is beneficial as it conserves natural resources and minimizes global warming (Rinkesh). Recycling currently is a major matter that requires a solution at hand. These negative impacts can not only disrupt the environment, but also us, humans. Not to mention, the Chinese government has tried to improve its system in the past. For example, in 2014, 34 recycling vender machines, where people could pay plastic bottles for transportation credit or mobile phones minutes, were placed in high-trafficked areas (Martinko). Additionally, in 2013, China announced Operation Green Force, a campaign introducing regulations for imported recyclables (Koty). However, these incentives and regulations weren't strong enough or not focused on China itself, which did not help solve this issue on a large scale. With the unsuccessful implementations China has tried, there could be stronger and maybe more incentives and regulations they can provide. According to Making Good Choice About Recycling and Reuse only 1/3 of the people under a voluntary recycling program (a system where citizens are not as pushed) recycle. On the other hand, 1/2 of the people under a mandatory recycling program actually recycle (Watson, 17). Germany demonstrates a great example that successfully implemented a mandatory recycling system. Germany's recycling program, also known as the 'green dot system', was the first successfully large-scale public implementation of extended producer responsibility (EPR). This program gas proven to be so beneficial that since the mid 1991s, fifteen European Union countries as well as Korea, Taiwan and Japan all enacted variations of the German green dot (Young, 38). By changing China's recycling system towards a more mandatory system, it can help improve the system enormously as mandatory systems tend to encourage the citizens to recycling more. Germany sets a great example of a successful mandatory system. From this, it is shown that this kind of system that provides incentives and regulations can influence people. It is clear that by having more incentives and regulations, it can improve the recycling program in Beijing.
Governments should invest more in large scale recycling industries. It can be debated that the recycling industry is not as important than other sectors. However, the recycling industry is in need for support. In late 2008 and early 2009, in the midst of the global economic crisis, the recycling industry in China collapsed as demand for packaging plummeted. Official media reported that four-fifths of China's recycling units closed and millions lost their jobs. Across the scrap trade, prices have halved or worse in a matter of months. Each link in the chain is disintegrating, from factories to scrapyards to collectors (Branigan). The recycling industry has already experienced a major fall so it needs some kind of support to continue. Besides the fall of the industry 7 years ago, a key challenge to China's recycling industry is low concentration. Right now, the majority of the recycling in China is done by individuals or small companies. On the other hand, only 20% of the recycling is done by large companies that are scattered everywhere across China. That being the case, the industry concentration is low. Professor Zha said that the recycling industry can't be done by only the private sectors. She also states that the recycling business is a sector where the government can play a leading role and is very crucial. She also believes that governments should provide some kind of financial subsidies for these large scale recycling industrial companies (“Recycling in China”). Currently, the recycling industry in China is not as developed compared to other countries. With the low concentration of these companies across China, it is even harder for it to strive. As a result, the government needs to give support and invest in large recycling industries.
The recycling process in Beijing should be modified and enhanced to help not only the environment, but also mankind. Recycling is clearly advantageous to the environment and people. Moreover, with more people being aware of this issue, and providing more incentives and regulations, the citizens will be encouraged to recycle. Not to mention, adjusting the local recycling system and investing more in large scale recycling industries, it will certainly make the system more efficient and productive. Recycling doesn’t seem as crucial as other matters such as poverty or gender inequality. However, in the end, waste management can lead to drastic results such as air, water and land pollution. Remember, a flap of a butterfly can later cause a tornado.
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Appendixtion of these companies across China, it is even harder for it to strive. As a result, the government needs to give support and invest in large recycling industries.
Branigan, Tania. "China: Largest Importer of Waste Collapses | Environment | The Guardian." The Guar