Hutong is diamond in the rough
Updated: 2011-05-11 08:22
By Meng Jing (China Daily)
A volunteer checks how garbage is sorted in Dacheng Hutong. Cui Meng / China Daily
What impressed Wang Tingyun most on her first trip to Australia in 1995 was not the beautiful countryside but the categorized garbage bins at the doors of every house.
"Most of us in Beijing had never heard about garbage sorting in the early 1990s, which is not something we're proud of," said the retired government employee.
In 1996, when Wang heard that an NGO was helping Beijing communities sort and recycle garbage, the 68-year-old signed hers up. Because of her efforts, Dacheng Hutong became the county's first garbage-recycling pilot community.
Wang's decision has changed the way 400 families in the neighborhood have lived ever since. Around 90 percent of household garbage in Dacheng is now recycled, an increase from 20 percent five years ago.
Forming the habit among its 1,200 residents was no easy task, however. "Half are well-educated retired teachers and they are supposed to know better about environmental protection, but still it wasn't easy," said Wang Shufen, who was on the residential committee when the project started.
Wang Shufen said most people did not understand that recycling in just one community can ease the garbage burden facing the entire country. "It took us a year to get people to realize the importance of sorting garbage and convince them to participate," she said, adding that repeated meetings on recycling proved vital.
The five people on Dacheng Hutong's residential committee have made recycling a full-time job. They teach people about which garbage can be reused through posters and personal visits.
"We visit 20 to 30 families every year to help them sort garbage and offer brochures on the project," said Zhang Jingyuan, who has been on the committee since 1998. "Most people sort carefully after our visit."
With 45 categorized refuse bins and 14 posters, Dacheng may not be the most well equipped residential community for recycling, but it is certainly one of the most enthusiastic.
Recycling has in recent years taken on an important role in China, which overtook the United States as the largest producer of household garbage in 2004. However, although roughly 60 percent of China's household garbage is kitchen waste, which can be turned into compost, just 2 percent was being reused this way as of 2009, said Xie Xinyuan, a solid waste project coordinator for Friends of Nature.
The majority of residential communities do not have the resources to copy Dacheng's management system, he said, pointing out that not all communities have a high number of retired teachers with time on their hands.
"They even have a team of four people who check garbage bins every two to three hours and correct mistakes if they see any," said Xie, who added that hiring more hands to help residents recycle garbage is not feasible.
"The country desperately needs a system that includes regulation, education and special funds," he said. "The government needs to do more than just offer free garbage bins and posters."
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