Who is in charge of waste?

Trash can in Kunming, Goulard SébastienAs a result of economic growth and new consumer habits, Shanghai inhabitants are producing larger amounts of waste. The city is trying to reduce its municipal solid waste (hereafter referred to as MSW) and encourages MSW source separation. A recent article published in “Waste Management & Research” highlighted the importance of public awareness in reducing MSW1. In order to study recycling habits, the authors conducted surveys in several areas of Shanghai. Their study shows that inhabitants are willing to further separate their waste (including glass, batteries) in order to increase recycling efficiency in Shanghai,  but are not well informed regarding kitchen waste. The authors call for several types of educational campaigns, designed to target every segment of the population in Shanghai.  They also support the introduction of market-based incentives to reduce households waste: the more waste you produce, the more you pay.

At first sight, this principle seems quite fair. However, we also need to consider the problem of  “future waste” producers. Consumers are not the only ones responsible for waste; companies need to be strongly encouraged to make their packaging more environmental-friendly.  The waste “issue” should be addressed during the early stages of product development.

Another point is that waste is only one aspect of pollution and environmental protection.  This study shows that respondents were influenced by the “neighbour effect”, meaning that households tend not to recycle if their neighbours do not do so. The same principle needs to be applied to the whole city. Inhabitants will be more likely to separate their waste if they see that the local government and companies are making an effort to reduce air pollution, and to make the city greener; otherwise they tend to feel that separating their plastic bottles from their yoghurt pots is a drop in the bucket.

  1. Zhang W, Che Y, Yang K, Ren X, Tai J. (2012, December) Public opinion about the source separation of municipal solid waste in Shanghai, China. Waste Management & Research 30(12), pp.1261-71 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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