Editor's Note: President Xi Jinping recently underlined efforts to cultivate the good habit of garbage sorting to improve the living environment and contribute to green and sustainable development. What are the serious garbage-related problems China faces and how can they be solved? Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily's Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:
Adopt eco-friendly policies to reduce household garbage
China recycles on average 25 percent of the plastic waste it generates every year. Yet just a small percentage of the packaging waste generated by the food delivery sector including plastic boxes and bags, and disposable chopsticks, is collected as they are light in weight, soiled with oil and leftover food and do not fetch enough return for trash collectors.
China's food delivery sector has seen significant growth in recent years, particularly in big cities, which in turn has increased the amount of packaging trash, especially from 2015 to 2017. The total amount of packaging waste generated last year was estimated at 2 million metric tons, and the figure is likely to keep growing because of the expansion of the domestic food delivery industry.
Since the waste generation rate is high and recycling rate low, environmental pollution will greatly increase if proper measures are not taken to address the packaging waste problem and plastics end up in landfills and incinerators or are burned in open air.
The polypropylene and polystyrene containers that restaurants use to save costs will stay on the planet long after we are gone because they are non-biodegradable. And it's a pity that despite the availability of more environmentally friendly alternatives, most restaurants use plastic packaging materials.
To deal with the increasing pollution problem, the government should encourage restaurants to use biodegradable containers, urge people to reduce trash, and take measures to ban materials that cause pollution. It should also take steps to ensure chemical enterprises, food delivery platforms, restaurants and customers share the extra cost for using biodegradable packaging materials.
In addition, research should be conducted to develop more eco-friendly and cheaper materials that can be used by the food delivery sector, in order to reduce plastic garbage and develop an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Duan Huabo, an associate professor at the College of Civil and Transportation Engineering, Shenzhen University
More firms should enter waste disposal sector
China still dumps most of the garbage it generates in landfills, which could contaminate soil, water and air. Today, China is facing a problem similar to the one Japan faced in the 1970s, especially in its coastal cities which have a relatively high economic growth rate and dense population but comparatively limited land space, resulting in serious environmental pollution.
China has just started its garbage sorting journey, and it will take time for the people to make it a habit of sorting garbage at source.
The least we can do at present is to shift from dumping wastes in landfills to incinerating them, for which sorting kitchen waste should be the first priority, as it can be used to generate methane for electricity. As for dry waste excluding plastics and toxic materials, they can be incinerated or dumped in landfills.
Many urban communities already have special dustbins for kitchen waste but some people complain that their waste-sorting efforts are frustrated because garbage collectors mix all the waste before putting them into incinerators or dumping them in landfills.
So rules should be made to ensure garbage collectors do not mix the waste sorted at source and unsorted garbage is separated before being dumped in landfills or incinerated.
In addition, the number of trash cans on pavements should be gradually decreased and people should be made to pay for disposal of waste. But such decisions should be taken only after soliciting people's opinions.
Moreover, the government should use its economic leverage to encourage more qualified and professional companies to enter the waste-disposal industry by offering them subsidies because the investment in the sector is high and returns low.
Zhu Dajian, a professor at the College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tongji University
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS