The residents of the Youhe Jiayuan housing complex in Shanghai's Jing'an District are among the city's pacesetters in turning wet garbage into neighborhood greenery.
The complex is a model of the kind of garbage sorting that Shanghai authorities are trying to promote. It has a beautiful roof garden, a greenhouse and a tidy garbage room painted in bright colors. All wet garbage is turned into fertilizer for plants.
The residential area of more than 700 households started promoting the sorting of garbage into wet and dry in 2015.
"First, we had to overcome the entrenched habit of dumping garbage into a single bin on the first floor of each building and encourage residents to separate wet from dry and take it to a designated sorting room," said Huang Bei, Party secretary of the Luoshan neighborhood committee. "Many refused to cooperate."
So the committee came up with its own approach.
A wet garbage bin was installed in each building and a "green account" system was instituted to reward people who sorted properly. A team of 15 resident volunteers, mostly retirees, was formed to assist the effort.
The volunteers start work as early as 7:30am every morning, helping people sort garbage and issuing reward points to "green account" cardholders who dump trash into the correct bins.
"Many residents were moved by the hard work of our volunteers and started to cooperate," said Huang.
But it was still far from enough.
"Garbage sorting challenges long-term habits that are hard to change," said Huang. "Simple incentives are not enough, and there is no compulsory requirement to sort garbage."
Residents were solicited for suggestions on how to make recycling more popular.
"They told us that they will be very happy if they could have a small garden in the roof," said Huang.
At that time, the roof was an eyesore dumping site for construction waste. The 40-square-meter space was subsequently redesigned as a garden featuring such plants as rosemary, chamomile and rose. It uses composted wet garbage from the complex as fertilizer.
The garden is eco-friendly in other ways. It has a solar power system, rain collection storage and automated irrigation system.
"The message it conveys is that participating in garbage sorting brings benefits to the community," Huang said.
Wu Xiaoling, 67, is an enthusiastic participant in the initiative. She's a garbage-sorting volunteer and a member of the community association that tends the roof garden.
"Garbage sorting changes our life," she said. "I am very happy when I see garbage is properly sorted and residents are enjoying the garden. Compost from wet garbage is much better for the growth of plants than chemical fertilizers."
The community greenhouse is used for propagating seeds of plants for the roof garden. Excess supplies are sold at a charity bazaar every month to benefit public improvement projects in the community.
Residential complexes in Shanghai have distinctive characteristics and thus need individualized plans for promoting garbage sorting.
The Yanchang complex in the Jing'an District is a community of about 1,800 households, built in the 1970s.
In tackling the garbage issue, neighborhood committee officials turned for help to nongovernmental organizations that specialize in garbage sorting and "green account" awards programs.
The Luluo Center of Environmental Protection was established under the initiative of the Shanghai Feilin Public Welfare Development Center. The center classifies garbage into more than just categories of wet and dry. It has set up seven separate bins for items such as paper, plastic, electronics, glass and aluminum cans.
Residents are offered incentives if they throw garbage into the appropriate bins.
"Green account" users can redeem points at the center.