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updated 7:33 AM UTC, Oct 20, 2017
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Plastic Free Oceans; 46 Chinese Cities to Recycle by 2020

Plastic Free Oceans; 46 Chinese Cities to Recycle by 2020 Illustration by Alicia Liu

As the mighty Yangtze River flows through Nanjing, those looking on in awe are also struck by its colour; a unique shade that might be best termed “silty pollution”.

That could all change in a few years. In moves that illustrate the pace of environmental protection efforts in the Orient and the scale of the problem faced, Asian nations have committed themselves to a “Plastic Oceans Promise”.

Other than China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, countries that are among the worst offenders, are also part of the deal, in which they promise to “clean up their act”. In essence, the declaration translates to working on keeping plastic out of the seas.

The four major Asia nations have their work cut out for them. Leipzig, Germany based Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research takes Sustainable Water Resources Management as a core area of study, and suggests that as much as three quarters of land-borne marine pollution originates from just 10 rivers, with the bulk found in Asia.

China is taking environmental efforts a step further on other fronts, too. The country’s State Council has invested to the tune of ¥200 billion and targeted 46 Chinese cities, with the instruction to recycle 35 percent of discarded items by the year 2020. Since the turn of the century, China has been slowly teaching its people the benefits of sorting rubbish, but it has been challenging. According to CGNT, Jin Fangming, a professor from the School of Environmental Science and Engineering under Shanghai Jiao Tong University said that everything is about its education. She said that if such topics are taught during primary school, progress can be seen in about 5 years.

In what is a relatively new dialogue for China, the responsibility of rubbish sorting has not been without controversy. Sun Jinghua, a project director of waste reduction in an environmental NGO questioned, "Whoever produces the garbage should take the responsibility of garbage sorting. How come it becomes the responsibility of cleaners?”

As with all the most effective solutions to addressing environmental pollution, there is also a financial incentive. If waste was properly classified before incineration, social management costs would be reduced by 64 percent, from ¥4.22 billion to ¥1.53 billion.

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