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  • Writer's pictureAlizée CCM

EVERYTHING You Need To Know About Shanghai’s New Trash Sorting Law 关于上海市新垃圾分类条例,你所需要知道的一切

Shanghai’s domestic waste management law (DWML) will take effect on July 1.

Let’s take a deep dive with us to understand where DWML comes from, its specific stipulations, and its future implications.


What is the new law?


The new law is titled “Domestic Waste Management Law (生活垃圾管理条例) (Read more about the provisions of this law in 3).” Primarily, it focuses on several key areas concerning domestic waste: reducing generation, enforcing sorting, and turning waste into resources.


With respect to reducing generation, it stipulates encouraging businesses to adopt green product designs, and government agencies and public institutions to prioritize green products in their procurement. In particular, a number of industries are subject to DWML. Courier services are asked to give preference to green packaging through tweaking their pricing strategy, and offering options for reusable packaging; food delivery businesses and restaurants cannot provide disposable utensils without customers requesting them; hotels cannot provide disposable toiletries without guests requesting them; wet markets are given preference over supermarkets where produce is wrapped in plastic packaging.

在减少垃圾产生方面,它鼓励企业采用绿色产品设计,政府机构和公共机构在采购时优先考虑绿色产品。特别是,许多行业都受新条例的约束。要求快递公司通过调整价格策略,优先选择绿色包装,提供可重复使用的包装选项; 送餐企业和餐厅不能在没有顾客要求的情况下提供一次性餐具; 酒店不能主动提供一次性洗漱用品;相比注重包装的超市,菜市场会更受推崇。

(Waimai and Kuaidi packaging skyrocketing in recent years)


With respect to sorting, there are going to be 4 main types of waste (for a practical guide on sorting, read 4 in English, read 8 in Chinese): household food waste, recyclable waste, hazardous waste, and residual waste. This process is managed by the local residence management company (物业), overseen by the neighborhood office (街道). There are also stipulations regarding construction waste and large recyclable waste.

关于垃圾分类,主要分为四大类(要了解分类的实用指南,英文版请参考文末网站4,中文版请参考文末网站8): 干垃圾,湿垃圾,可回收物,有害垃圾。垃圾分类由小区物业管理,街道监督。对于建筑垃圾和大型可回收垃圾也有专门的规定。

With respect to turning waste into resources, DWML sets ambitious goals: by the end of 2019, Shanghai should be processing 5520 tons of food waste into compost, and putting 3300 tons of recyclable waste into the economy every day.

在将废物转化为资源方面,《生活垃圾管理条例》设定了雄心勃勃的目标: 到2019年底,上海将把5520吨食物垃圾处理成堆肥,每天将3300吨可回收物投入经济利用。

(Composting turns food waste into rich soil)


Why is DWML a big deal?


First, it is part of a nationwide move to tackle environmental problems. The government has made the environment one of its priorities in recent years, as seen in the 13th Five-Year Plan issued in 2015. Waste management is indisputably vital to this effort as our cities are increasingly being plagued by ever-expanding landfills. In 2018, China banned the importation of a broad range of foreign waste, not only to avoid the pollution caused by the processing of the waste, but also to free up the capacity to process more domestic recyclable waste. Earlier in 2019, the government launched a “Zero-Waste Cities” pilot program in 10 cities (of which SH is one), in order to research for a nationwide roadmap to better waste management and urban planning practices (Read more about this program in 1). Furthermore, the central government conducts a quarterly evaluation in the 46 cities with a formal waste sorting program, whose scores get released to the public to promote inter-city competition. Shanghai’s DWML was born under such a backdrop.


Second, trash is becoming an imminent threat to the city. Shanghai generated 7.9 million tons of waste in 2016 (Read more about China’s changing waste management strategy in 2). Of these 7.9 million tons, 3 million tons went directly to landfill. It was getting harder to handle the increasing amounts of trash with landfills. As a result, the government closed four landfills, and replaced them with incinerators. DWML, if successful, will allow 30% (in the inaugural year) of the waste to be converted into useful resources in the form of compost and recyclables, while lessening the workload of the incinerators.


Third, this legislation looks to tackle issues seriously, with mechanisms that are proven to be effective. DWML establishes a system of sorting, collecting, transporting, and processing, where each party’s responsibility is clearly defined and cost of violation spelled out. It also stipulates the creation of monitoring and supervision mechanisms, the inspection results from which will be a key performance indicator for local officials. Furthermore, individuals can be fined up to 200RMB for not sorting or disposing of waste according to DWML, and this fine will be up to 50,000RMB for companies and institutions.


(Hotels can be fined for providing disposable toiletries without guests requesting them)


Fourth, the city government allocated a lot of resources to public awareness campaigns around DWML (it handed out more than 8 million brochures). We think this could catalyze people to be more informed about not only their waste generation, but also consumption habits. This type of education is particularly valuable for children, as they will go on to inherit our world and be faced with even tougher environmental challenges.


What challenges does DWML face?


As encouraging as it is, DWML leaves some things to be desired when it comes to its “teeth.” It has items as the following:


Chapter 3, Item 17, “businesses should prioritize materials and designs that are easy to recycle, easy to disassemble, easy to decompose, and free from toxins.”

第三章,第17条, “ 企业应该优先考虑易于回收的材料和设计,易拆解、易分解、无毒。”

Chapter 3, Item 18, “businesses should adopt packaging whose material, structure, and cost are appropriate for the content of the packaging, in order to reduce packaging waste.”


Chapter 3, Item 19, “courier companies operating in the city should use electronic documentation, environmentally-friendly boxes and tape, and encourage senders to use decomposable and reusable packaging.”


Chapter 3, Item 21, “government agencies and public institutions should set the example by using products good for the environment, increasing the use of recycled paper, reducing disposable stationary, and banning the use of disposable cups internally. Government should prioritize reusable products in its procurement. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to reduce their consumption of and reuse stationary, and to reduce the use of disposable cups.”


We find the above items quite ambiguous in their goals as well as intended application. In fact, they simply set forth a direction in which public policy is headed. You manage what you measure. How will the government define success in the above areas? Are they going to keep the public updated on the progress? What administrative and legislative measures is the government going to take to accomplish such goals? We surely hope that the government will dissect them into more concrete and manageable goals soon and start making progress.

我们发现上面这些条例在它们的目标和预期的应用中相当模糊。事实上,它们只是为公共政策指明了方向。没有具体的标准。政府将如何定义上述领域的成功? 他们会让公众了解最新进展吗? 政府将采取哪些行政和立法措施来实现这些目标? 我们当然希望政府能尽快将这些目标分解成更具体、更易于管理的目标,并开始取得进展。

Another challenge is with the future of the recycling system. The existing informal recycling system relies heavily on private collectors, private sorting facilities and private processing facilities to put thousands of tons of waste back into the economy every day. This system was born out of economic reasons as there was no formal recycling system by the government. And it is surprisingly efficient. In one study by Core Responsibility, paper and cardboard took only 3-5 days to go from waste bin to inventory (read more in 6). Additionally, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people work in this sector in Shanghai, as collectors, sorters and workers at processing facilities. They have invaluable experience and expertise in recycling and they collaborate in a complex network. The government’s formal system faces the challenge to match the efficiency of the informal system, or the streets may become dumping grounds. Last but not least, the government is faced with the issue of whether or not to incorporate these individuals into the formal system, and in what capacity (read about the informal recycling system in 7 and 5).


(Informal recyclers on their tricycle, photo credit: Core Responsibility)

骑着三轮车的非正式回收者,图片版权:Core Responsibility(主要职责)

Another challenge is whether the government will be able to keep the momentum over the long term. DWML, in a way, aims to engineer a massive societal behavior change. This is no small undertaking, as deep-rooted habits take a lot to be modified. Our first concern is over the enforcement of the fines. It remains unclear how the responsible departments will be able to have the man power to administer such a fine. We may learn a lot about this in the first weeks of DWML taking effect. Even if the departments work out a practical program, we are not sure fines alone are enough to change people’s behavior in such a drastic manner. Will the government come up with more positive incentives in the future? It will be interesting to see.


What are your views on the new law? How is it being implemented at your compound? Share in the comments below.






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