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Recycling (回收利用) Posted by on Aug 24, 2011 in environment

Growing up, I was always told: “waste not, want not”. I would recycle, turn off lights and save water whenever possible. Yet after living in China, I realized that there was more to it than that.  In my first weeks living in China, I soon found myself wasting more than your average 老百姓 (lǎo bǎi xìng) or citizen, causing me to revisit this idiom.

The Chinese have a similar paraphrasing of this idiomatic expression, 任意浪费必然招致可悲的匮乏, which translates as “Willful waste makes woeful want”. Looking closer at the difference in language I came to realization about the two cultures: in the US we allow for many goods to be wasted, rather willfully, because we see them as plain garbage; yet in China, it appears that everything can and usually is recycled or 回收 (huí shōu).

Considering the decades of frugality under the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap forward, and overall lack of everyday, common resources, the Chinese now seldom throw out anything that could, at some point, be harnessed to improve their wealth and day-to-day.

The Chinese recycle better than any country I’ve been to (yes this includes Northern Europe) and do so without strong government assistance or recycling programs. People understand the value of used material, and further, they understand the gravity of limited resources. While styrofoam piles up in US land fills, the Chinese collect it up and reuse it for packaging, limiting costs and closing the “resource loop” of many large companies that see buying back recycled material as more cost effective than making it.

The logic makes sense in a country of 1.4 billion strong–natural resources or 自然资源 ( rán yuán) are growing limited each day so why not buy pre-made products at a fraction of the cost? Just think about every bottle of beer you’ve drank in China. How many times do you think they’ve been recycled and reused?

That's pay dirt right there.

Check out Recycling in Beijing:

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.


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