Reply letter from Xi encourages grassroots volunteers to make further efforts in promoting garbage sorting, low-carbon lifestyle
Path to a better tomorrow
Published: Jul 20, 2023 03:43 PM Updated: Jul 20, 2023 03:36 PM
Jiaxing Road subdistrict residents in Shanghai sort trash and dispose it in corresponding bins. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Jiaxing Road subdistrict residents in Shanghai sort trash and dispose it in corresponding bins. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Editor's Note:

Chinese people believe that letters are as valuable as gold. For thousands of years, letters, across mountains and oceans, have been delivering the writers' sentiments and conveying friendship and expectations.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chinese president, has managed to find time to reply to some of the letters sent to him from different sectors of the society and different parts of the world despite of his busy work schedule.

Through his letters, Xi has corresponded with people from all walks of life on numerous occasions, part of a series of excellent China stories in the new era. 

The Global Times traced and contacted some of the recipients of Xi's letters, to hear the inspiring stories behind the letters and their communications with the Chinese president.

In July 2019, Shanghai became one of the first Chinese cities to integrate waste classification into the rule of law framework. In this installment, we heard from several garbage sorting volunteers in Shanghai who received a reply letter from President Xi. They shared the encouragement they received from the reply, and the efforts they have made and will continue to make in promoting garbage sorting and dissemination of information about a low-carbon lifestyle.

Weeks have passed but Hua Lei is still greatly excited as she recalls the moment when she heard that Chinese President Xi Jinping had replied to her letter.

Hua is a volunteer in garbage sorting at the Jiaxing Road subdistrict in downtown Shanghai. The subdistrict is a township-level administrative division in China's urban areas.

On a seemingly ordinary day in May, Hua received the reply letter from President Xi, and she brought it to the volunteer meeting room at the subdistrict's citizen service station, where she and some of the other garbage sorting volunteers read it and drafted a reply, reveling in the encouragement they had received from Xi's words in the letter.

This scenario reminded Hua of another memorable day nearly five years ago.

On November 6, 2018, when Hua and other volunteers were discussing about garbage classification in the same meeting room, Xi made a sudden appearance and spoke to them, offering encouragement in their efforts to publicize and promote the then relatively unfamiliar garbage sorting system among local residents.

"Garbage sorting is a new concept," Xi said that day.

Five years on, with Xi's encouragement and the joint efforts of the subdistrict's 2,150 garbage sorting volunteers, 98 percent of the garbage at the facility is correctly identified and sorted into categories such as dry, wet, hazardous, and recyclable waste. From residential communities to shops and retail stores, the subdistrict has shown a remarkable improvement in cleanliness. 

The big transformation inspired four local volunteers, including Hua, to write a letter to Xi this March, sharing with the president the details of their work and their achievements in promoting garbage sorting over the last five years. 

On May 21, they received Xi's reply.

"I didn't expect to hear from him so soon," Hua told the Global Times. "I felt so happy and comforted, and I'm so proud and inspired that Xi affirmed our efforts."

Develop a good habit

"When I read your letter, I thought of my conversation with you about garbage sorting five years ago. I was deeply impressed by your enthusiasm for public welfare and your public service spirit," Xi stated in the reply.

Five years ago, in March 2018, Shanghai issued a household waste classification implementation plan, proposing, for the first time, to establish a clear and complete domestic garbage classification system. It soon started pilot programs at several subdistricts across the metropolis.

As one of the first pilot project sites, the Jiaxing Road subdistrict started making headway in the uncharted garbage-sorting territory, an exciting prospect for all concerned. It recruited several local residents as garbage sorting volunteers, who often gathered to acquire basic information on garbage sorting and discuss possible implementation strategies. 

"Before we taught other residents, we also had to have a clear understanding of the garbage classification system," Hua said. She recalled the days when she and other volunteers debated difficult questions like whether reed leaf should be classified as wet or dry trash, and whether batteries recyclable are hazardous waste? The answers to such questions are currently known by heart by almost every Shanghai resident.

The next step was to guide residents to correctly put trash into different bins based on the correct classification. To better sort out and manage the garbage, as well as clean the environment, residential communities at the subdistrict removed trash cans found on every residential building floor, and built new centralized garbage collection sites at communities instead.

For three to four hours a day, the volunteers took turns standing in front of the garbage chambers during breakfast and dinner times, patiently teaching residents to place their trash into different bags and dump it in the corresponding bins.

It was not easy at the beginning. Wu Qingbao, a 67-year-old volunteer living in a big community with more than 1,700 households, recalled the many efforts he had made at the time to persuade his neighbors to adhere to the new garbage-sorting system.

"Some neighbors thought garbage sorting was bothersome and time-consuming, so they were reluctant to do it," Wu said. "A few even tossed the trashes onto the ground."

Wu and other volunteers spent much time teaching community residents the importance and necessity of garbage classification, and helped the elderly and people living with disabilities to classify and appropriately dispose of trash at the designated garbage collection sites. Apart from garbage sorting guidance, they have, time and again, inspected communities, picking up litter.

Thanks to Wu and other volunteers' consistent efforts, at the community, once permeated with the unpleasant smell from numerous trash cans on every residential building floor, now there is hardly a whiff of garbage in the air, let alone the resulting flies and mosquitoes. "The whole neighborhood has turned clean and tidy," Wu told the Global Times.

In his reply letter to the volunteers, Xi said he was gratified to know that after recent years of publicity, the community has made new progress in garbage sorting, its residents' civility has been enhanced, and its environment has become more beautiful.

"I hope that you will continue to play this unique role in grass-roots governance, do a good job in publicity, and encourage more residents to develop the habit of sorting garbage," Xi wrote.

A systematic project

Jiaxing Road subdistrict volunteers in Shanghai discuss experiences in promoting a low-carbon lifestyle and garbage sorting among residents.Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Jiaxing Road subdistrict volunteers in Shanghai discuss experiences in promoting a low-carbon lifestyle and garbage sorting among residents. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Xi noted in the reply letter that garbage sorting and recycling is a systematic project. It requires concerted and long-term efforts from all parties, precision, and the active participation of both urban and rural residents, he said. 

A vivid example showing the result of the five-year joint efforts of grass-roots officials, volunteers, and residents at the Jiaxing Road subdistrict is a garbage chamber in the Aijiahaoting residential community in the subdistrict. 

One day in May, a Global Times reporter saw several big garbage bins neatly lined up at the chamber. The chamber was so tidy and clean that there was no hint of a bad smell. 

A resident, with a plastic bag of kitchen waste in hand, slowly opened the bag, poured the wastes into a garbage bin marked "wet trash," and then put the empty bag into another garbage bin marked "dry refuse." She washed her hands and left, just as she had done every day over the last five years.

To make the chamber more user-friendly, local officials and volunteers installed a hand-washing basin at the site, as well as deodorization and disinfection facilities, said Zhu Yulian, a volunteer.

"With the improvement of the garbage chambers, and the concept of garbage sorting gradually taking root in residents' minds, now almost all the residents in our community participate in garbage sorting, and 98 percent of them can correctly classify and sort their trash," Zhu told the Global Times.

The efforts already made at residential communities are just a part of the subdistict's systematic garbage sorting work. At the subdistrict, there are also some 850 roadside shops, and the promotion of garbage sorting and classification at the shops is more difficult and complicated, said Ding Jie, who is in charge of city appearance at the subdistrict.

"Unlike community residents, shop owners have relatively high mobility, and we've seen many shops open, close, and reopen during the three-year COVID-19 epidemic," Ding explained. "We have to repeatedly tell the newcomers about garbage sorting and classification."

Each day, Ding and her coworkers in charge of the local city appearance administration patrol the streets, distribute self-produced flyers with garbage sorting and classification information to the shop owners, and correct those who don't follow the laid-out system. 

Ding told the Global Times that most shop owners have actively participated in garbage classification. "They even built a 'self-help alliance' on garbage sorting," Ding said. Members of the "alliance" voluntarily teach new shop owners and staffers to classify trash correctly, she noted.

After a few subdistricts, including Jiaxing Road, piloted garbage sorting in March 2018, Shanghai entered a new stage of compulsory garbage classification in July 2019. It implemented a set of regulations on garbage management on July 1 that year, becoming one of the first Chinese cities to integrate waste classification into the rule of law framework.

Four years on, garbage sorting in Shanghai has achieved marked results. The latest official data showed that with the joint efforts of the city's registered 713,800 garbage sorting volunteers, as well as those of city residents, each day Shanghai collects 7,391 tons of recyclable materials from the city's garbage collection sites, and separates 1.76 tons of hazardous waste and 8,843 tons of wet trash. By the end of 2022, 95 percent of all household waste at residential communities across Shanghai had been correctly classified and sorted into different garbage bins before being shipped away.

Nationwide, more cities have followed Shanghai's practice in garbage sorting. To date, all of China's 297 cities at or above the prefecture level have fully implemented household waste classification, and 82.5 percent of residential communities across the country have implemented garbage sorting, the People's Daily reported in May.

A better tomorrow

Implementing garbage sorting is an early step to the development of a low-carbon society. In his reply letter to the volunteers, Xi stated that he hopes the volunteers will "promote garbage classification," until it becomes the "new fashion of low-carbon life."

Qian Jing, a garbage sorting volunteer at the Jiaxing Road subdistrict, who also participated in writing the letter to Xi, said that she was quite impressed by the "low-carbon life" the president mentioned in the reply letter to them.

"Garbage classification is just the beginning, and what we should do now is to work hard in better protecting the environment and living a low-carbon life," Qian told the Global Times.

She shared how she and other volunteers at the subdistrict, apart from promoting garbage sorting, have been publicizing the low-carbon concept and related information to local residents, particularly the young ones. They've held many parent-child activities including planting trees and recycling used clothes, to "spread the low-carbon lifestyle to the next generation," said Qian.

Similarly, at the Aijiahaoting residential community, there is a small "low-carbon house" built at the community's public area, where children can acquire low-carbon related knowledge through interesting interactive activities.

The low-carbon house has a compost bin that can transform wet trash into organic fertilizer, and a rain collecting facility on its roof filters rainwater, turning it into clean water, introduced volunteer Zhu. 

"Through observing the composting and rain collecting processes, children can learn about the circular usage of resources in a vivid way," she said.

From communities to business enterprises, in recent years the low-carbon concept has been deeply rooted in the hearts of many people across the country. Compared with 2012, China's energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped by 26.4 percent in 2021, making it one of the fastest countries in cutting energy intensity, according to a white paper on green development released by the State Council Information Office in January.

"From garbage sorting to a low-carbon lifestyle, we're on a promising path to a better tomorrow," Qian, the garbage sorting volunteer, told the Global Times.