Where did your garbage go?

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1. The garbage sorting and recycling in China
If you walk in the public places like the bus station, parks ect in China, you will most probably see the garbage bins marked as “recyclable” and “the rest”.

Public rubbish bin in Guangzhou China.
It looks as if in China garbage sorting is respected by individuals, but in reality it is not the case, people rarely look at the “recyclable” signs. The reasons are simple:
They never receive clear instructions on what are the “recyclable” items, there is no legislation in China for household waste sort.

My sister lives in China, she told me that the content in both garbage bins go to the same place when being collected, there is no sense to separate them, in public nor in household trash. But she does make an effort to throw the recyclable items separately so that the “trash pickers” don’t have to look too hard for the recyclable items. “Trash pickers” are the people who do not have a fixed job but make their livings by picking up the recyclable items (plastic bottles, paper..) from the bins and then sell them to recycle center. However they do not have responsibility to make sure that all of the items are separated and recycled, but so far it is working because they need to “work hard” to earn money.

I can image one day in China, when most people have a decent job, it will be a challenge to face the issue with the waste sorting and recycling.

A really funny clip from Silicon Valley:

2. The garbage sorting in Belgium
In Belgium, as the labor cost is very high, it will be too expensive to pay people to sort garbage from a large amount. Individuals are obliged to separate household garbage to different categories:

Glass
Paper and cardboard
PMD waste
GFT and organic waste
Small hazardous waste
Old and expired medications
Building waste and rubble
Reusable textiles
Discarded electrical and electronic appliances

Typically in a Belgium family, you would have such a set up to make sure your waste are properly sorted:

For waste that cannot be recycled, Ikea provides bins that you can installed below the sink so that your kitch looks tidy and is smell free.

In most of the cases, there will be a schedule that people from the state driving on the street to pick up the garbage bags in front of your building. Different garbage your sorted needs to be disposed in bags with different color, which are with different price when you buy them, the most expensive one is the brown one(unsorted), which is 2 euro each, blue one is for PMD, which is cheaper, 0.5 euro each. You need to sort your garbage properly, luckily the instructions on sorting the garbage are quite clearly indicated on the bag, if you put things do not belong there, your bag will be rejected, you also get a fine.

Where else can you dispose garbage in Belgium?

Last year after we moved to Zaventem, we ended up with a huge amount of boxes in the house, the next street collecting schedule would be in 2 weeks which was too long. My partner and I drove a full car of empty boxes and some other garbage to the nearby container park. To my surprise the container park had a very different image as I imagined a rubbish dumping center would be.There were lots of containers where different kinds of objects can be disposed, and the drive way was quite clean, we needed to pay a small amount, but there were people helping us off loading things too.

3. Where did the garbage go?
Have you ever wondered about where did the garbage you sorted and disposed go?

1. Landfill
Definition:the disposal of waste material by burying it, especially as a method of filling in and reclaiming excavated pits.

Landfi ll is the oldest form of waste treatment and the least desirable option because of the many potential adverse impacts it can have. The most serious of these is the production and release into the air of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

On average, 40% of bio-waste in the EU goes into landfills.

2. Energy recovery
Energy recovery is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel.

Modern waste incineration plants can be used to produce electricity, steam and heating for buildings. Waste can also be used as fuel in certain industrial processes. However, energy recovery through incineration is often not the most efficient way of managing used materials, particularly those that are diffi cult to burn or which release chemicals at high temperatures.

3. Recycling
Most of the waste we throw away can be recycled, this is also the reason why we sort the garbage at home. However, have we ever considered the energy cost and efficiency of recycling?

4. Plastic China
Do you know that British companies have shipped more than 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports? According to analysis of customs data by Greenpeace.

This video clip is from a shocking documentary in 2017 called “plastic China” where basically described where all the plastics go from western country.

This is shocking truth of our daily life impact on environment, and people’s lives from other countries. Ironically, this documentary was banned in China.


Although China bans the import of foreign waste starting from 2018, I am still deeply awaken by the “out of sight, out of mind” mindset we have on our day to day life, somewhere else, the nature is punishing us. The China ban will not solve the plastic waste issue, they will end up somewhere else in the same planet, we need to reduce producing them.

5. What are our roles in this?
In our daily life, consider the environment impact on your actions:
Think before you buy;
Think before you throw;
Think before you print;

Also try to impact others and raise awareness when possible.

Reference
What is the current situation of separating and recycling garbage in China?
Sorting and recycling waste in Belgium
European commission waste management

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