China introduced new trash-sorting regulations in 2019 and wants to make recycling mandatory for nearly 300 cities by 2025. "You can see trash-sorting bins everywhere in major cities," says Yang. "With rising urban populations consuming an increasing amount of consumer goods and major cities still using landfill to dispose of waste, trash has a big carbon footprint."
She takes us through the different types of bins – green for food, red for hazardous waste "like used batteries, light bulbs, expired medicines or paint," blue for recyclables such as paper, plastics and glass, and black for the rest.
It's a model that Yang, who travels around China for her job, has seen working well in various places – and among various generations. "My community in Beijing is quite young, but recently I saw some communities where the older generation live and they're also sorting their trash."
Supervisors have been hired to help people avoid confusion. "When the policy was first implemented, there were people standing beside every day to tell you how to sort your trash – if you did something wrong, she would come to correct you," she says.
For all the increasing ease of waste sorting, though, Yang shares a concern with our London correspondent Francesca Della Penna: "In my community, we all pay the same bill regardless of the amount of waste we produce and the charge is included in our rent – so I myself have little incentive to minimize my waste."