Us­ing waste in good taste

A look into Shang­hai’s textile re­cy­cling ini­tia­tives and what com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als have done to re­duce the city’s high waste out­put

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - In Shang­hai


There are only two moun­tains in Shang­hai. The first is a pop­u­lar travel des­ti­na­tion for lo­cals in the She­shan Na­tional Tourist Re­sort in Songjiang dis­trict. The other has the ig­nominy of be­ing a moun­tain of trash.

Shang­hai has a daily waste out­put of 22,000 tons and about 70 per­cent of it is chan­neled to the Lao­gang Land­fill, which oc­cu­pies 4.1 mil­lion square me­ters of space near the East China Sea in Shang­hai’s Pudong New Area. The re­sult is a mas­sive pile of trash that stands as an in­di­ca­tion of a prob­lem that re­quires ur­gent at­ten­tion.

“The large amount of dis­posed re­sources re­quire us to pay se­ri­ous no­tice to re­cy­cling ef­forts, such as of­fer­ing more pol­icy sup­port, es­tab­lish­ing an ef­fi­cient re­cy­cling sys­tem, and in­creas­ing the added value of re­cy­cled prod­ucts,” said Sun Huaibin, deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of China Na­tional Textile and Ap­parel Coun­cil.

There are nu­mer­ous ways that the city can re­duce its high waste out­put, and it seems that re­cy­cling its dis­carded textile prod­ucts could pro­vide one of the most ef­fec­tive op­tions. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the China Na­tional Textile and Ap­parel Coun­cil, re­cy­cling all dis­carded textile prod­ucts would gen­er­ate the same amount of energy as 24 mil­lion tons of crude fuel, equiv­a­lent to more than half of the an­nual out­put of Daqing Oil­field, one of China’s largest oil­fields.

Apart from energy sav­ings, cloth­ing re­cy­cling can also help re­duce China’s car­bon foot­print. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Xin­, textile re­cy­cling can cut car­bon diox­ide emis­sion by 80 mil­lion tons ev­ery year.

How­ever, less than 10 per­cent of dis­carded textile prod­ucts are cur­rently re­cy­cled in ma­jor cities such as Shang­hai and Guangzhou, Guang­dong province.

The Shang­hai mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment had in 2011 ini­ti­ated a pro­ject to ad­dress this is­sue, pro­vid­ing var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties in Shang­hai with 2,000 re­cy­cling boxes for un­wanted clothes. These boxes col­lected 1,100 tons of sec­ond­hand cloth­ing in 2014.

“Peo­ple pro­duce trash day af­ter day, and re­gard­less of whether it’s han­dled by in­cin­er­a­tion or land­fill­ing, this trash will hurt the en­vi­ron­ment where all of us live. Through re­cy­cling prac­tices, we can make our own con­tri­bu­tions to the im­prove­ment of our en­vi­ron­ment,” said Yang Yinghong, who serves as chair­man at Shang­hai Yuanyuan In­dus­trial Co Ltd, one of the three en­ter­prises in­volved in the launch of this gov­ern­ment pro­ject.

Last year, 21.32 tons of warm cloth­ing that were still in good con­di­tion were sent to help peo­ple in China’s poorer re­gions, while vol­un­teers helped to take apart and reweave another 1.15 tons worth of sweaters be­fore send­ing them to needy stu­dents in less de­vel­oped re­gions.

“Since 2012, our vol­un­teers have weaved more than 5,000 sweaters from used clothes for stu­dents of Hope Pri­mary Schools in An­hui, Guizhou, Shaanxi prov­inces, Guangxi Zhuang and Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gions,” said Yang.

Yang added that sum­mer clothes, which ac­count for 12.8 per­cent of the to­tal re­ceived, are usu­ally ex­ported fol­low­ing a se­ries of dis­in­fec­tion pro­cesses. The ma­jor­ity of the col­lected clothes will be sent to re­lated en­ter­prises for fur­ther re­cy­cling — for in­stance, gar­ments could be shred­ded to cre­ate house­hold prod­ucts like clean­ing cloths and mops.

Fu­eled by a grow­ing mid­dle class with in­creas­ing amounts of dis­pos­able in­come, China con­sumes about 1.6 tril­lion yuan ($258 bil­lion) worth of clothes ev­ery year. In cities like Shang­hai, the av­er­age spend­ing of its peo­ple’s last lux­ury pur­chase is $1,010, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Mi­lan-based com­pany Con­tac­tLab.

Four out of five Shang­hai res­i­dents sur­veyed pur­chased at least one lux­ury prod­uct within the past year, and 91 per­cent said they would be ready to pur­chase another item within the next six months, com­pared to just 77 per­cent of New York­ers.

The rapid ex­pan­sion of fast fash­ion busi­nesses have also led peo­ple to buy more clothes than they need, thus gen­er­at­ing more cloth­ing wastage, said Zhang Na, an in­de­pen­dent de­signer work­ing on a non-profit pro­ject to re­fash­ion dis­carded cloth­ing.

“In­cul­cat­ing a spirit of dan­shari may pro­vide a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem,” said Zhang. Dan­shari, orig­i­nally a book from Ja­pan, is the no­tion that one should get rid of un­needed items in life and adopt an aus­tere, min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to pos­ses­sions.

Zhang added that the clothes she uses for her pro­ject gen­er­ally come from three sources. “We do not know the own­ers of the ma­jor­ity of the clothes we re­ceive. About 20 per­cent of the clothes sent to us have a story be­hind them while another 10 per­cent is made up of un­mar­ketable prod­ucts by lux­ury brands,” Zhang noted.

In 2013, Swedish re­tail cloth­ing gi­ant H&M be­came the world’s first fash­ion com­pany to launch a global clothes re­cy­cling pro­gram called the Gar­ment Col­lect­ing Ini­tia­tive. The brand, which has been rapidly ex­pand­ing its oper­a­tions in the Chi­nese mar­ket, al­lows cus­tomers to do­nate their un­wanted cloth­ing at any of their stores around the world.

“Any pieces of cloth­ing, re­gard­less of its brand and the con­di­tion it’s in, are ac­cepted. In re­turn, the cus­tomer will re­ceive a voucher for each bag of cloth­ing brought in,” said Mag­nus Ols­son, coun­try man­ager of H&M Greater China.

In 2014, H&M launched its first batch of “close the loop” fash­ion prod­ucts which are made from re­cy­cled cloth­ing. The com­pany is also aim­ing to in­crease the pro­duc­tion of such cloth­ing by 300 per­cent by the end of this year.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search re­port on textile re­cy­cling by the China Na­tional Textile and Ap­parel Coun­cil, such clos­ed­loop prod­ucts can help re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of gar­ment wastage and ef­fec­tively cut re­source con­sump­tion.

H&M’s gar­ment col­lec­tion pro­gram had amassed more than 13,000 tons of tex­tiles world­wide in 2014, dou­ble the amount in the pre­vi­ous year and equiv­a­lent to the weight of about 65 mil­lion new t-shirts. As of July 14, 2015, H&M China has col­lected more than 870 tons of tex­tiles in the Chi­nese main­land.

While 95 per­cent of dis­carded clothes can be re-worn or re­cy­cled, only a small amount are ac­tu­ally be­ing re­pur­posed, il­lus­trat­ing that much more needs to be done to ad­dress the is­sue. Tap­ping onto an in­creas­ing aware­ness of this prob­lem, a num­ber of young Chi­nese en­trepreneurs have en­tered the fray with clothes re­cy­cling busi­nesses.

Li Bowen is one such en­tre­pre­neur and he has been work­ing on his re­cy­cling busi­ness for nearly two years. Since the of­fi­cial launch of his com­pany in March last year, Li and his col­leagues have col­lected 20 tons of clothes from com­mu­ni­ties in Changn­ing dis­trict.

The 24-year-old is hop­ing to ex­pand his busi­ness to more Shang­hai dis­tricts in the com­ing years while also plan­ning to of­fer tai­lor-made ser­vices to re­fash­ion used clothes.

“I want to of­fer a ser­vice that re­designs used clothes for cus­tomers so that these gar­ments get a sec­ond lease of life,” he said.

While com­ing for­ward with un­wanted gar­ments for re­cy­cling is a good thing to do, Hu Kaishen, the founder of Fu­tian En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ed­u­ca­tor, has urged peo­ple to be con­sid­er­ate and ex­er­cise some re­spon­si­bil­ity by do­nat­ing only the spe­cific cloth­ing re­quired by re­spec­tive col­lec­tors.

Hu’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, which helps pro­vide win­ter cloth­ing for 5,000 adults and 5,000 kids in Yushu, Qing­hai province, ev­ery year, said that a lot of do­na­tions are sum­mer cloth­ing and they are “use­less for peo­ple liv­ing in the grass­lands”.

He added that clothes must be san­i­tized be­fore they are do­nated or they could end up as waste in­stead. “All do­nated clothes should be 100 per­cent clean — no­body wants to wear a piece of cloth­ing that could have pos­si­bly been worn by some­one with an in­fec­tious dis­ease,” he said.

“Used clothes that can­not be re­cy­cled prop­erly will just cause fur­ther pol­lu­tion in­stead of help­ing the sit­u­a­tion. If we’re go­ing to do some­thing good, let’s at least do it right,” urged Hu.


There are many prod­ucts to­day made us­ing re­cy­cled cloth as aware­ness for sus­tain­abil­ity grows in the city.

A woman places a bag of un­wanted clothes at the gar­ment col­lec­tion point in an H&M store in Shang­hai.


Cre­ations from de­signer Zhang Na's Re­cloth­ing Bank give old gar­ments a new lease of life.

De­signer Zhang Na (left) works at her stu­dio in Shang­hai.

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