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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Asia’s Leading Cities in Waste Management Recognised, As Well As Its Worst Performing

Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei have just been named Asia’s top three cities in terms of waste management initiatives by, while Karachi, Manila and Jakarta have been recognised among the region’s poorest performing.

The study, which sought to explore waste management initiatives among Asia’s largest population centres, assessed cities in terms of development standards, GDP per capita, waste generated per capita, and efficacy of waste management policies.

In a region where urbanisation has been stagnant until recent decades, the share of Asian population living in urban areas has grown from 32 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2010, and by 2026 the United Nations anticipates that roughly half of Asia’s population will live in its urban centers. Every year, 37 million urban residents are added to figures, making waste management in urban places a particularly daunting task for city authorities.  In China alone, there are 221 cities with more than a million inhabitants. But somehow, Shanghai stands out from the pack as an example of what can be achieved in one of the world’s most overpopulated economic hubs.

As one of the world’s largest producers of municipal solid waste, the Chinese government decided to act and adopted plans in 2017 to overhaul the way it treated and managed its urban waste. In March 2017 it laid out plans to try to recycle at least 35 percent of its waste by 2020, and introduced a mandatory law in many of its cities to ensure those plans were followed. Shanghai – a city of 24 million that produces 26,000 tonnes of garbage daily  – was the first Chinese city to adopt a mandatory waste classification.

The new law requires that urban citizens sort their waste into four categories – dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables and hazardous waste – and individuals who fail to do so will be fined up to 200 yuan. Better yet, waste collectors can refuse to collect the garbage if it isn’t properly sorted. As of yet, there are no private waste collection companies operating in Shanghai – unlike the UK for example, which has Clearabee, or Australia, which has Cleanway – meaning that if people fail to sort their garbage they have no alternative in terms of garbage collection.

The new regulations also require that hotels should not provide disposable slippers, shampoo bottles and shower caps, while restaurants and food delivery businesses should not provide disposable chopsticks and cutlery. In government offices, plastic or disposable cups are banned, and all efforts should be made for government workers to purchase recycled material wherever possible. It is a bold and exciting leap for the Chinese government to introduce such sweeping regulations – but when one factors in the ever-growing population and its increasing consumption habits, there is no choice, really.

In Taiwan, a booming industry that generates $2.2 billion every year and that depends entirely upon the recycling of technology waste was born out of necessity a decade ago. After the tech boom of the 80s and 90s that saw electronic waste being churned out of factories at a rapid rate only to occupy the vast majority of landfill, there was soon nowhere to dump household rubbish. Today, all that has changed.

In Seoul, the municipal government adopted a national policy on solid waste management in the 90s that focused on waste reduction at the source, better recycling practises and a ‘fees for waste system’ that charged people on their waste by volume. Even more drastically, in 2015 the Seoul government implemented a zero waste policy for all public office buildings to set a precedent in waste separation, and removed all trash bins from public offices, swapping them out for recycling bins.

Meanwhile, the problem of waste management is putting an incredible burden on the people and government of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. Having recently fired the Chinese firm tasked with the country’s waste collection, the Pakistan government is at a loss as to how to fix the problem of managing the some 48.5 million tons of solid waste produced annually, which is increasing by over two percent a year.

Without adequate waste management infrastructure in place, most of the municipal waste in the country’s largest cities ends up burned or dumped on vacant lots. Over 13,500 tons of municipal waste generated daily in Karachi alone, and the city is in desperate need of institutional, technical and financial restructuring to address the problem of waste management adequately. Many agree the city’s waste management failure is a result of the state and political forces’ inability to create relevant governance structures and policy priorities, instead opting to play dirty politics and blame the garbage problem on the opposing party.

The solid waste crisis in Manila – where more than 2,000 tons of garbage bags are being collected in Manila each and every day – stems from similar problems of inadequate infrastructure, political corruption and insufficient action.

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