Beijing: 80% office trash recyclable after 10-class separation

In a Beijing’s East Third Ring Road, all trash is collected for sorting and recycling. Specialist divide waste into 10 categories and once all of the recyclables are removed only 20% of the pile will be left for the sanitation department, reducing waste management fees by around 50,000 yuan and allowing trash sorting companies to record more than this in annual earnings.

At the northeast corner of Jinsong Bridge, on the first underground level of Fudun Tower, there is a waste collection room of about 20 square meters. Inside is Liu Chunyang, a man of around 40. In front of Liu are 10 or so large black trash bags, full of domestic waste, that have just been brought down this morning from the building above. Behind him is a pile of plastic bags, plastic boxes, and paper boxes… all sorted and stacked together. Wearing gloves, Liu rummages through the waste. In less than 10 minutes one large bag is nearly empty, its remaining contents barely sufficient to fill a milk carton and weighing only about one-tenth of the bag’s original weight. This is from an office building”, says Liu, “there’s a high proportion of recyclables.”

Liu picked out half-empty takeaway boxes, plastic cake boxes, bottles and cans one at a time and put them into different plastic bags. He separated waste paper into various categories including cardboard boxes, soft paper and toilet paper. Each of these bags and categories is further divided into wet and dry trash, and discarded cloth is also recycled separately. In the end only kitchen waste and a small portion of other garbage is actually left in the bins for sanitation workers to dispose of. 

“Once [the trash has been] sorted, the latter stages of recycling are more manageable and profits are higher”, says Li Zhen, a young man born in 1982 who takes part in the sorting and recycling business. “It’s the same for plastic; after separation and collection, hard plastic can be broken down and made into plastic products, and plastic bags can be used to make trays for flowerpots. Copperplate paper, newspapers and printing paper can also be used to make different products…” Li reveals that meticulously sorted plastics are easier to wash during re-manufacturing, and that “the difference in price for clean versus dirty plastic is 3,000 yuan per ton”.

As Li Zhen explains it, this gated commercial and residential complex has 632 residents, 200 office building clients and 15 shops producing about 60 barrels of trash each day. After sorting only 10 barrels are left, a reduction of about 80 percent.

Sorting trash makes economic sense. Before sorting was implemented, FudunTower paid around 100,000 yuan per year in waste management fees based on the quantity produced. Now that they have entrusted Li Zhen with the responsibility of handling all their waste, annual fees are only 46,000 yuan. Since Li separates trash into 10 categories, nine of which are recyclable, his final waste management fees, based on quantity in accordance with official regulations, are only slightly over 30,000 yuan. Moreover, selling salvaged waste to remanufacturing companies can bring in 50,000 yuan per year, and generate stable monthly salaries of 2,500 yuan to 3,000 yuan for Liu Chenyang and another worker.

“There is a lot of potential in waste management”, says Li. “Now I understand why Japan divides its trash into more than 30 categories; more specific sorting means less trash, and more recyclables mean higher profits.” Going forward, Li hopes to increase the scope of his contracts and by analyzing, sorting and classifying domestic waste, to increase from today’s nearly 100 tons into the hundreds. He also intends to increase the number of trash classifications.

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