Today, we are talking about garbage recycling.
Starting from the global trip, to living in Canada, to recently moved to Germany, there is one thing that no one can ignore. That is, should we category our garbage?
First of all, recycling is a really important deal in Germany.
Here, the blue bin is for paper and cardboard, the green and white bins are for glass, the yellow/orange bin is for plastic, metal, the brown one is for biodegradable goods, and the black bin is for everything else(Berlin & Germany, 2020).
Therefore, I was happily putting my banana peels and apple cores into the compost box, collecting my milk boxes, and waiting to bring them down to the garbage bins. My German boyfriend was standing quietly behind me, and said, “Don’t bother. I never really do it.”
在这里，蓝色的桶是放纸制品和纸箱子的，绿色和白色的桶是放有色无色玻璃制品的，黄色是塑料和金属，棕色是biodegradable（可降解）垃圾，灰黑色的是其他垃圾(Berlin & Germany, 2020)。
[ 中国 ][ China ]
Honestly, living in China for more than 20 years, I never separated my garbage. First, we don’t have any established recycling system. Second, if nobody else is categorizing their garbage, there was no point for me to do it alone.
But we do have a somehow different system. When I was a kid, paper and bottles are something you will collect and sell to the recycle man. I mean, it was not bad. Anything valuable will be reused, and everyone is motivated by the potential extra money. But this also means – recycling will only happen when it is profitable.
When the price of used plastic bottles dropped after the decrease in the oil price (producing new bottles are cheaper and more reasonable), we barely collect those bottles anymore.
‘Up until the 1980s, there was relatively little garbage in China. The country was poor, so people didn’t buy much, and they certainly didn’t waste much. ” (Fifield, 2020)
And then, entered the great 21st century, everything changed. The economy growth also brought us tons of waste. Every click I had online, every delivery I ordered for lunch, brought me along with convenience was the magnificent amount of garbage.
The government has realized this emerging problem decades ago. Slogans and recycling bins are everywhere in the community. But what is the motivation for residents to sort out their garbage? Of course, we are not willing to separate those garbage. What is the point for me to waste my time if I know they will be mix at the end anyway?
In 2017, Shanghai started its mandatory waste classification. But the result was not satisfactory. Shanghai’s regulation requires people to sort trash into four categories – dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables, and hazardous waste. I have not lived in Shanghai but I would like to post this question for my friends who live there – why there is no option such as “general garbage”?
Of course, the absurdity of the process has posed many complaints from the resident, which focus on the conflicts between working hours and the recycling hours. Young people complain about every time they go back home from work, the garbage bins had already been locked.
知乎上有一篇文章就叫，“被垃圾分类逼疯的上海人”(“知乎盐选 | 南风窗 2019年14期”, 2020)。
There is an article on this topic on zhihu.com. it is called “the Shanghainese who drove crazy by their garbage ”(“知乎盐选 | 南风窗 2019年14期”, 2020).
Changing behavior can take a great amount of time.
Rules are easy to make, but how to make it work is the problem we need to think about. Rather than forcing the residence to do something, motivating them might have a better result in this case.
[ 德国 ][ Germany ]
（超市里的自动回收机 The recycling machine in the supermarket）
In Germany, there is a bottle return system called the Pfand system. When you purchase your drinks, you pay a deposit for the bottle. When you return the empty bottle, you get your deposit back. Most of the bottles cost 25cent, about 2 yuan in Chinese currency. This applies to Beer bottles, Soft drink bottles, Aluminum cans, etc.
(几个瓶子就有四欧元的押金，大概是人民币32块钱 A recipt of 4 euro for a few bottles)
When I was traveling around Europe, I always return those bottles to the supermarket. And the machine would give out a recipe which you can then use for paying your grocery in the cashier. I was very motivated to do so. Why? Come on, it is 2 yuan a bottle!
There is something you might find weird in Germany.
There are plenty of beer bottles sit outside of the garbage can. It is kind of a rule that everyone follows. If you do not bring this recyclable bottle back to the supermarket, then leave it outside or on top of the bin, someone later will take it back for the deposit.
Not only is it saving the shame of going through the garbage bins in public, but in some places, it is even illegal to do so. People who take things out of the trash for those bottles may face huge fines.
And there is even a slogan for it. Pfand Gehört Daneben.）
[ 北美 ]
[ North America ]
In Vancouver, the significant difference is the number of homeless people living on the streets.
Therefore the opportunity for donation is widely available and it became a popular way to get rid of the things you no longer need.
（我捐掉了所有的书和杂志给当地社区 Donating all my books）
在我搬离加拿大的时候，我把自己所有的东西打包装在纸箱子里，大部分的衣服进入到了当地女性sexworker支持中心，大部分的厨具和家用品我送到了流浪汉收容所。两个地方的名字分别是：Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre和Wish drop-in center.
When I moved out of Canada, I donated most of my clothes to local charities. They are easy to find and open for donations most of the time during the day. Most of my old clothes went to a charity for female sex workers. It is called the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
And all of my household supplies went to a shelter for homeless people in easter Vancouver, which is called Wish drop-in center.
（整理捐赠的衣物 Organizing my old clothes for donation）
I am not a noble person. But I know that if I throw these large pieces of garbage in the ordinary garbage bins, I will most likely receive a fine.
[ 相关研究 ]
[ Related Study ]
* 信息透明度 (Thomas et al., 2003)
In one research conducted in the UK, it indicates four factors, which are:
- General awareness and understanding
- Beliefs, attitudes and behaviours
- What people feel about service provision
- The key influencing factors and trusted information sources (Thomas et al., 2003)
Among those factors, the last one I would like to add a little bit of my understanding.
My boyfriend complained once about the inconvenience of recycling, he said, what is the difference if they have a machine that can scan and sort it out again later?
If people can get informed about what happens to the garbage once they have been collected, or the consequences or their own behaviors, it might make them think twice before they throwing out their garbage.
Also, another factor may also contribute to this: extra long term feedback. It is hard to see the benefit of recycling to our environment in a finger-snap. Try to think about this, what if you can get a free toy or 2 dollars every time you recycle? Will you be more motivated?
It is the same reason why we can not eat healthily and keep fit. We know it is good for our bodies in the long term. But we always have excuses not to go to the gym today, don’t we?
（去超市退还瓶子的我们 Returning bottles）
Maybe you can do a little experiment next time. Keep every garbage you produced in a week, including packages, plastic, food waste, and weight it at the end. For some people, the result will be mind-blowing.
I did this experience myself last year. And including all, I produced 5kg waste in a week. That was just me, one person.
How about 20millon people live in the same city?
How about 7.8billion people live on the same planet?
Berlin, L., & Germany, H. (2020). How to sort your trash and recycle in Germany. Retrieved 1 November 2020, from https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/sorting-trash-in-germany
Fifield, A. (2020). Teaching China to recycle, village by village. Retrieved 1 November 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/teaching-china-to-recycle-village-by-village/2019/01/31/c33f44a8-1439-11e9-ab79-30cd4f7926f2_story.html
Thomas, Christine; Slater, Rachel; Yoxon, Mark; Leaman, J. and Downing, J. (2003). What makes people recycle? An evaluation of attitudes and behaviour in London Western Riverside. In: International Solid Waste Association World Congress, Nov 2003, Melbourne, Australia.
知乎盐选 | 南风窗 2019年14期. (2020). Retrieved 1 November 2020, from https://www.zhihu.com/market/paid_magazine/1134211588772003840/section/1134211746117091328