Reporter: Tong Shuquan
In a building on Beijing’s East Third Ring Road, all trash is collected for sorting and recycling. A specialist divides waste into 10 categories and, once all of the recyclables are removed, only 20 percent of the pile will be left for the sanitation department—reducing waste management fees by around 50,000 yuan and allowing trash sorting companies to make even more in annual earnings.
At the northeast corner of Jinsong Bridge, on the first underground level of Fudun Tower, there is a waste collection room of about 20 square meters. Inside is Liu Chunyang, a man of around 40. In front of Liu are 10 or so large black trash bags, full of domestic waste, that have just been brought down this morning from the building above. Behind him is a pile of plastic bags, plastic boxes, paper boxes, and other items all sorted and stacked together. Wearing gloves, Liu rummages through the waste. In less than 10 minutes one large bag is nearly empty, its remaining contents barely sufficient to fill a milk carton and weighing only about one-tenth of the bag’s original weight. “This is from an office building,” says Liu, “there’s a high proportion of recyclables.”
Liu picked out half-empty takeaway boxes, plastic cake boxes, bottles and cans one at a time and put them into different plastic bags. He separated waste paper into various categories including cardboard boxes, soft paper and toilet paper. Each of these bags and categories is further divided into wet and dry trash, and discarded cloth is also recycled separately. In the end, only kitchen waste and a small portion of other garbage is left in the bins to be disposed of by sanitation workers.
“Once the trash has been sorted, the latter stages of recycling are more manageable and profits are higher,” says Li Zhen, a young man born in 1982 who takes part in the sorting and recycling business. “It’s the same for plastic; after separation and collection, hard plastic can be broken down and made into plastic products, and plastic bags can be used to make trays for flowerpots. Copperplate paper, newspapers and printing paper can also be used to make different products.” Li reveals that meticulously sorted plastics are easier to wash during remanufacturing, and that “the difference in price for clean versus dirty plastic is 3,000 yuan per ton.”
As Li Zhen explains, this gated commercial and residential complex has 632 residents, 200 office building clients and 15 shops producing about 60 barrels of trash each day. After sorting only 10 barrels are left, a reduction of about 80 percent.
Sorting trash makes economic sense. Before sorting was implemented, Fudun Tower paid around 100,000 yuan per year in waste management fees based on the quantity produced. Now that they have entrusted Li Zhen with the responsibility of handling all their waste, annual fees are only 46,000 yuan. Since Li separates trash into 10 categories, nine of which are recyclable, his final waste management fees, based on quantity in accordance with official regulations, are only slightly over 30,000 yuan. Moreover, selling salvaged waste to remanufacturing companies can bring in 50,000 yuan per year, and generate stable monthly salaries of 2,500 yuan to 3,000 yuan for Liu Chenyang and another worker.
“There is a lot of potential in waste management,” says Li. “Now I understand why Japan divides its trash into more than 30 categories; more specific sorting means less trash, and more recyclables mean higher profits.” Going forward, Li hopes to increase the scope of his contracts and by analyzing, sorting and classifying domestic waste, to increase from today’s nearly 100 tons into the hundreds. He also intends to increase the number of trash classifications.
Trash Sorting’s Green Supply Chain
On the way from the building’s trash room to the logistics center, the final link in the supply chain consists of around 10 downstream remanufacturing enterprises. “We are different from property managers in that we actively establish links with dozens of remanufacturing companies; it is clear that there is profit to be made in finding a new destination for waste and increasing its value.” Li Zhen said that the daily trash he processes ends up at paper and plastic factories in Tianjin, Tangshan, Hebei and other areas to be made into various industrial products and put back on the market, completing the resource and industry cycles. In this cyclical market-driven process, everyone wins: property managers, Li Zhen and trash sorters benefit directly, while sanitation departments avoid of the cost and stress of transporting large quantities of unsorted garbage, and remanufacturing enterprises reduce their production costs with sorted, high-quality raw materials.
Translator: Li Jiahou
Proofreader: Megan Ko;Samuel Harding