Photo: China News Service

Shanghai steps up its recycling game

Shanghai recently came under the spotlight as the city’s first domestic waste management regulation came into effect on July 1st 2019. The rules mandate a new garbage classification system, while failure to observe the proper separation could result in a fine that goes up to 200 yuan ($29) for individuals, and up to 50,000 yuan ($7,253) for businesses. Furthermore, trash operators are allowed to refuse the improperly sorted bins.

Since the Circular Economy Promotion Law back in 2008, China has continued to develop financial measures to improve its waste management and recycling rates. For instance, the country had already implemented a round of VAT reductions in 2011 benefitting recycling businesses.

As legislation at the national level trickles down to the local level, 46 cities have been identified to lead efforts to reach a 35% recycling rate by 2020; however, Shanghai’s policies constitute the most ambitious implementation of the goal so far and can serve as a model for other cities looking to leverage fiscal incentives. While the effectiveness of the measure is yet to be seen, it remains an important step in setting the wheels of recycling in motion, since getting citizens to properly sort waste in the first place was the bottleneck for past programs in waste management and recycling.

Capitalizing on the new regulations, the private sector has rolled out toys, mobile games, and even VR games teaching residents to properly sort waste. As residents - especially young people - are responding positively to these games, local authorities can take up on these initiatives to make garbage sorting more fun. By balancing out the punitive economic incentives with encouraging ones, they can ensure a sustainable behavioral change.


Games to help citizens sort waste. Photo:





People's Republic of China, Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. (2008, August 29). Shanghai Domestic Waste Management Regulations. Order No.4 of the President of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved July 03, 2019, from
China Expands Tax Incentives to Promote Circular Economy. (2011, November 28). China Briefing Magazine. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from
Wong, D. (2019, June 25). Shanghai Businesses to Comply with New Waste Management Norms from July 1. China Briefing Magazine. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from
Xie, E. (2019, June 22). Can China sort its household waste recycling problem by 2020? South China Morning Post. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from
Y. (Ed.). (2019, July 02). China Focus: Garbage sorting games in Shanghai win hearts of young people. Xinhua. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from




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