Dirty story tells tale of clean skies and wa­ter

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Page Two - Con­tact the writer at kei­thkohn@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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