Recycling in Shanghai

Do you want to start recycling in Shanghai as part of a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? Or maybe the many tricycle carts loaded up with cardboard and other recyclables buzzing around the city has got you curious about the recycling industry in China.

You might be worried your lack of Chinese language skills will make recycling here difficult, but you don’t need to fret. There are several expat organizations and individuals who have launched recycling programs in Shanghai to help both foreigners and locals.

In An Expats Guide to Recycling in Shanghai contributed by Green Initiatives (GI) you will get some tips on how to manage your daily garbage generation in a responsible manner, as well as learn about projects to help you dispose of electronic waste and old clothes in an environmentally friendly way.

We also share some useful links with more information about the local recycling industry in Shanghai. 

Recycling in Shanghai

An Expats Guide to Recycling in Shanghai

As expats, challenges towards living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle typically arise when we become “too busy”, or the process becomes “too complicated”.

Green Initiatives hopes this Expats Guide to Recycling in Shanghai can serve as a starting point for expats to make this goal easier to achieve.

Garbage Seperation in Shanghai

In order to fully understand and appreciate the importance of recycling in Shanghai, it is equally important to have a basic grasp of standard garbage collection in the city.

Approximately 90% of Shanghai’s population has access to only two types of garbage separation; Garbage or Recyclable Materials. The other 10% has access to four types of garbage bins; Wet garbage, Dry Garbage, Recyclable Materials, and Harmful Materials.

Sadly, in reality, apart from the dual-bins on public sidewalks, most expats only have access to one type of garbage disposal - a huge garbage bin for mass collection.

For a look at the traditional recycling industry in Shanghai check out this series by another Shanghai expat launched organization; Collective Responsibility.

Shanghai Recycling Tricycle

Taking the Initiative to Reduce your Garbage Generation

Regardless of what type of garbage separation is available to you, daily garbage or “waste” can be significantly reduced by making educated decisions at point-of-purchase.  

Also known as “conscious consumerism”, we recommend you start asking yourself 3 questions:

  • Am I going to get good use out of this?
  • What does the label say?
  • Is there an option without packaging?

Acknowledging the utility of an item, the contents, and the packaging that it comes in are all equally important. At the end of the day, all material things originate from somewhere, and will naturally end-up somewhere.

For a fascinating look at the huge amount of package waste generated by the fast growing online shopping and delivery industry in China and how some delivery companies are starting to tackle the problem check out this English language article and also the English language video (wait 30 seconds for the advertisement to end).

Categories for Recycling in Shanghai

The wide variety of recyclable items including food, plastic, paper, bottles, clothing, and electronics can make recycling seem more difficult than it is in reality. To keep things simple, we decided to group recyclable items into two categories;

  1. Daily recycling -  food, paper, cardboard, plastic, bottles
  2. Non-daily recycling – clothing, electronic waste

Self Separation for Daily recycling

Living a fast-life in Shanghai can create waste and even some bad choices from time-to-time, but it’s important that you do your best to make an effort to recycle where possible.

You should have three separate garbage bins to effectively recycle daily:

  1. Garbage Bin– Meat, dairy products, oily foods
  2. Compost Bin – Remaining food scraps- Zero Waste Shanghai; a local initiative started by expats can teach you how to make a compost bin in Shanghai
  3. Recycling Bin - Cardboard, plastic, bottles- When it fills up, walk the bin to the street and dispose contents in to the recyclable side of the dual-bins.

Non-Daily Recycling

Clothing and electronics; items that are typically associated with longer-term use, are every bit as important as daily-use items to recycle in Shanghai.   

In response to feedback from the Shanghai community, GI created two impact projects that directly address clothing and electronic waste.

The concept behind each impact project is to not only provide an immediate recycling solution for clothing and e-waste, but to also promote sustainability and conscious consumerism among communities throughout Shanghai.

Recycling Programs in Shanghai

WE Project for Electronic Waste in Shanghai

Visit the WE Project page to view the 20+ locations of collection boxes that are available to visit throughout Shanghai including URBN Hotel and Element Fresh, where you can recycle the following electronic items:

  • Small household appliances: Iron, Toaster, Hair Dryer, etc.…
  • IT equipment: Computers, calculators, phones, etc.…
  • Media and storage devices: CD, DVD, blue-ray disc, USB, etc.…
  • Consumer electronics: Cameras, TV’s, audio systems, etc.…
  • Electronic tools: Drills, sewing machines, gardening tools, etc.….
  • Monitoring and control instruments: Smoke detectors, thermostats, etc....

Battery recycling is difficult due to the unique internal chemicals and materials. Shanghai’s new public garbage bins include a battery disposal section. Ikea, which has several locations in Shanghai also provides battery recycling services. 

Re:Form Project for Clothing Recycling in Shanghai

This project was initiated at the beginning of 2017 and is gaining momentum!

Visit the Re:Form project page to view the 5+ locations of collection boxes that are accessible throughout Shanghai including Community Centre Shanghai and Bonobo Jeans, where the following sanitary clothing items can be recycled:

  • All types of clothing
  • Bedding, towels, and curtains 
  • Footwear 

How to Get Involved – Businesses, Individuals, Organizations

Both local and expat launched businesses, with the support of the government, are leading the charge towards sustainable growth, providing unique and innovative products and solutions for consumers.

In early 2017 the State Council issued the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) plan which calls for the waste recycling rate in China to reach 50 percent on average by 2025.

Alipay together with the local Shanghai authorities recently launched an incentives program for recycling in Shanghai where individuals can collect points and gifts for properly sorting their garbage. This program can be accessed through your Alipay (支付宝)mobile phone app under City Service, 政务--绿色账户 .

Eco & More is a leader in earth-friendly cleaning supplies. They use non-toxic, biodegradable, plant-derived ingredients, and offer bottle re-fills for a reduced price at several locations in Shanghai.

Waste2Wear creates clothing, fabrics and textiles from 100% recycled plastic bottles and eco-friendly, sustainable materials.

Innovative individuals in Shanghai are abundant, especially when it comes to recycling and living a sustainable lifestyle.

Alizee Buysschaert is a great example. After moving to Shanghai from Belgium she has dedicated herself to living a zero-waste lifestyle. In addition to volunteering for Green Initiatives, she started a website where she offers 10 steps to zero waste and in-person workshops which have been a big hit! 

Several organizations are leading grassroots movements to promote sustainable living in Shanghai.

Green Initiatives (GI) is a non-profit organization that promotes awareness, facilitates actions, implements projects, and stimulates change toward sustainable models of growth and consumption. GI organizes short-term action campaigns, long-term impact projects, and weekly events in Shanghai including forums and film-screenings that are open to the public. 

About the Author

Andrew Friedenthal is a Sustainability Advocate and Green Initiatives Volunteer. Please visit GI's website for more information on their recycling programs in Shanghai and other sustainability initiatives.

Return to Shanghai expat health and safety homepage to find more interesting health and safety topics.