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Waste Classification: A Major Step to Solve the Problem of “Garbage Besieged City”



By Zhou Hongchun, Deputy Inspector and research fellow of Research Department of Social Development, DRC

The waste problem is a common issue in China’s urban areas, requiring each city to address it with great efforts. The waste problem has received high concern from the Chinese government. The Ministry of Commerce, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and some local leading enterprises have all taken an active attitude towards waste treatment and disposal in cities. But some of the measures taken are divorced from reality and the results are naturally not that satisfactory.

At present, the waste disposal industry in China is experiencing some new changes. First, the number of workers responsible for waste recovery is decreasing; second, some enterprises in charge of waste recycling could not gain a place for business because some people think they are unsightly. As a result, the city’s ability to dispose waste is weakened; third, some cities couldn’t find a proper place to stack the waste; and fourth, the function of waste disposal industry is not clear. Knowing these changes well is of great importance to make solutions for handling waste problems.

On June 20, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development jointly issued the “Exposure Draft on Scheme for Obligatory Waste Classification”. The document is focused on obligatory waste classification, laying emphasis on reducing the clean-up amount and the final disposal amount of garbage, the recycling of important resources from the waste and the cultivating of social awareness on resources and environment. According to the document, every city should make clear whether its waste treatment and disposal is adaptable with the requirement and implement the related institutional arrangements set in the document in light of local conditions. In terms of the classification standards for garbage and renewable resources, theoretically it can be defined by the fact whether value created by recycling is higher than its cost. But due to the instability of the market performance, the classification standards should be set by the government and relevant public institutions.

With regard to the waste issue, the government should have an overarching plan and each city should have its own solutions. Classification is only one of the measures to solve waste problem, but not the general scheme. The government needs to formulate relevant regulations to address related issues such as how to make government sectors establish recycling groups, how to make the market play its role to the fullest extent, and how to guide capital into the field of waste disposal.


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