Everything you need to know about Shanghai’s new rubbish sorting rules

Know your recyclable waste from your residual waste

Photograph: Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

If you haven’t seen the fliers plastered up around town, Shanghai's first waste management rules go into effect today (Monday 1). You’ve likely heard about the initiative and its four categories, but many have commented on their ambiguity. If you’re still not exactly sure how to recycle products like face masks, sanitary pads, egg shells or used waimai boxes, here’s an explainer on the official guidelines from the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau.


Photograph: Janelle Chew


Photograph: Janelle Chew

Household food waste (‘wet trash’ is the direct Chinese translation) includes leftovers and rotten food, pet food, egg shells, flowers and plants and other perishable domestic waste, and should go into the brown rubbish bins. However food waste that can’t be broken down easily (like gum, big bones and durian or coconut shells) will have to be thrown into the black residual waste bins.

Residual waste (‘dry trash’ in Chinese) should go into the black rubbish bins. This includes even non-dry items like used tissues, dirtied bubble tea cups, sticky tape from your kuaidi packages and oyster shells.

The more straightforward of the new system, the blue recyclable waste bin should be used for paper, plastic, glass, metal and textiles. (These all need to be cleaned first.) And red hazardous waste bins should be used for anything that could be harmful to public health or the environment like batteries, light bulbs, medicine and pesticides. Finally, for all the pet owners out there: animal waste should be flushed down the toilet. If you’re still not sure, add the city’s official WeChat account ‘shanghaifabu’ to search through the trash-sorting database.


Images: 上海发布 via WeChat

There are some other waste-related policies taking effect outside your home, too – hotels will stop providing single-use plastics like toothbrushes and combs, and restaurants and food delivery businesses will also stop giving out disposable tableware, unless customers specifically request them. While we’re on board for creating less waste and doing a better job processing what we do create, is the new rule likely to be successful?

‘Recycling waste is actually a complex system where separation and collection are merely the first steps,’ Jane Zhao, founder at local rPET design and manufacturing company Plastic Ecological Transformation (P.E.T.),' told us, so it’s only with the right demand and tech will an initiative like this be realistic in the long run. ‘No separation equals incineration. [Sorting actually] gives your waste a chance to be recycled.’

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