Guangzhou tries to sort out its rubbish problem
Three pilot rubbish-sorting schemes kicked off in Guangzhou last week, with officials and the media going all out to promote them as a long-term solution to mountains of waste engulfing the city.
But following strong opposition to government plans to build five incinerators in the city, the launch of the pilot schemes has met with a mixed response.
Civil servants, housewives, students and volunteers are being mobilised to lead a campaign to make sure everyone knows about the new policy, with several communities involved in the pilot schemes, all based on a Taiwanese experience.
The government has also vowed to spend more on sorting and transport of rubbish and set up a public committee to monitor its expenditure. It spent 2.2 billion yuan (HK$2.67 billion) on handling garbage last year.
By the end of this year, all the communities on more than 130 streets will be part of garbage-sorting trial schemes. The Guangzhou Daily reported that the city plans to fully adopt rubbish sorting by 2015.
Many people have said that sorting garbage to separate out recyclable items is much better than just burning everything in incinerators. However, while most support the idea, some have concerns about how the sorting will actually work and have doubts about the government's commitment.
One of the pilot schemes features 'volume-based fees'. Each family will receive 60 bags a month - 30 for kitchen waste and 30 for other rubbish - designed to hold 3kg a day. Residents will be charged more if they need more bags.
Some are concerned that costs could increase - each household now pays a garbage fee of 15 yuan a month - and others have complained that the scheme is unfair to large families.
The Information Times says the scheme is designed to reduce the average amount of household waste to 1kg per person each day.
People have also raised concerns about who will profit from the mandatory use of special bags. 'I want to know where the extra bag fee will go and which company produces the garbage bags,' said Wang Xin, a Haizhu district resident.
Under another scheme, people will have to sort their rubbish at home into three bags, and trucks will arrive at specified times to collect it. If they miss the collecting time, residents will have to wait until the following day. People worry about the inconvenience, with those who do not work regular hours likely to often miss waste collection times.
Privacy concerns have been raised over the third scheme, under which special identification marks will be attached to each bag so that the origin of the waste can be determined, allowing the authorities to discover who is not sorting their rubbish properly and impose fines.
Yu Shangfeng, head of the garbage-sorting division at the city's urban management committee, was quoted by the Southern Metropolis Daily as saying that the government would decide after the pilot programmes whether to combine the three schemes into one or whether to adopt different schemes in different communities.
One woman taking part in a pilot scheme said history showed that the city government had problems carrying out such schemes.
'Guangzhou has had campaigns to control cigarettes and plastic bags, but they both went nowhere,' she said. 'Maybe this is just another show.'
She said she had previously asked the sanitation department how she should dispose of used batteries and had been told that even if they were handed in separately the department would still put them back with other garbage.
An online survey found that about 40 per cent of respondents were worried that even if they sorted their rubbish, the waste would still not be processed properly.
Some have asked whether the government will put in the necessary effort to educate residents, and especially the elderly, about garbage sorting.
'No one has taught us how to do it and I really have no idea, not to mention my parents,' said Zhang Bo, another Haizhu district resident in her 30s.
Ma Tian, a Panyu district resident, said he noticed that another rubbish bin of a different colour was placed in front of his building about a month ago, but he had no idea what it was for.
'We just put garbage in whichever bin is not full,' he said, adding that he had noticed that the garbage collectors just piled the rubbish into one truck anyway.
It is not the first time the city has attempted to introduce garbage sorting. It introduced bins for sorted rubbish more than 10 years ago, with little impact, and then ran a pilot programme in its Yuexiu district two years ago, again without much success.
Peng Peng, deputy director of the Guangdong Society of Economic Reform, attributed the previous failures to a lack of accompanying measures and publicity.
'Although residents sorted their garbage, the waste was still mixed together in the process of collecting and transporting,' he said.
'The garbage sorting was practically meaningless.'
The amount of Guangzhou's rubbish that is dumped in landfills. The city produces 18,000 tonnes of domestic rubbish a day