Dirty story tells tale of clean skies and water
I have a very dirty story here. Dirty doesn’t even begin to describe it, and it’s OK to throw it away — as long as you recycle the paper.
I confess, I am talking about recycling, specifically the recycling of kitchen waste.
It’s not a very sexy topic, but it is in line with domestic policies as China enters a new era expected to be filled with less pollution, greener land, fresher water and bluer skies.
Recycling kitchen waste isn’t a new idea, but how it is being carried out in Beijing and other parts of the country is like compost on steroids.
In the past, compost was the way to go. Take your organic kitchen waste far enough from your door or window down wind and pile it up. The resulting matter over time is great fertilizer and soil to use in flower or vegetable gardens.
Today, that kitchen waste in several Chinese cities is transformed into compost and water, which means less pollution, less incineration and clearer skies with fewer poisons to breathe in.
That’s because it is processed in an efficient manner across cities. In Beijing, where I reside, some 2,000 metric tons per day can be processed at nearly a dozen municipal treatment centers, plus tons more at treatment equipment on site at State and municipal canteens and some communities.
As Liu Jianguo, professor of the School of Environment at Tsinghua University, put it in an interview last year with Xinhua News Agency, the disposal of kitchen waste is a challenge with Chinese characteristics.
Rather than just incinerating kitchen waste, which takes up space in landfills and sends hydrocarbons into the air, it’s safer to process the kitchen waste into compost.
Liu said China has a special food culture with sophisticated cooking styles. The nature of food scraps is different here than in other countries because Chinese cook with more oil and salt. The oil would create too much air pollution and the salt would pollute the aquifers.
In the United States, we call that a “Catch 22” — which is a term coined by a movie title about the absurdity of some situations.
Even though advantages of recycling kitchen waste are clear, many in Beijing, which has been encouraging the process since 2010, are reluctant. A study published in December 2014 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health said “the participation rate of residents is far from satisfactory”. It found that only 4 percent of the total municipal solid waste transported in 2009 had been composted. Clearly, there was a need to get people to participate. The city provided bags and cans and places to easily dump it. It rotated the program through most communities. Still, few people participated.
So last March, the central government issued a plan requiring 46 cities to begin mandatory garbage sorting by the end of 2020. By the end of November, a dozen cities took action.
Remember, we all live on our one planet. We need it, and now it needs us.
The green bins in communities are designated for kitchen waste. They’re usually alongside bins for trash and for standard recycling.
Which is where I hope this article and today’s paper end up after you’ve read it — the recycling bin.
Underneath a red lantern, two women brave a snow flurry in Beijing on Saturday. The capital had just recorded 145 consecutive days without precipitation, its longest dry spell in 47 years.