This City Needs Sweeping!

Every day the city fills with trash, and every night the streets are picked up and swept.

How do nations meet their communities’ needs? 

The system in China for dealing with solid waste is very different from our systems in the U.S.  For instance, there are no garbage trucks in Beijing.  There are garbage tricycles.  Men with electric-powered tricycles that have a bed like a truck on them ride around the different neighborhoods emptying the trash areas.  Beijing also doesn’t have dumpsters, only small trash areas, so the men have to come through the same neighborhoods several times every day.  Often the trash is overflowing from the pickup area, and the men take some time and sweep around the trash area every time they collect the trash.

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Another interesting difference is how they deal with things that can be recycled.  There are places all over the place where residents can take recyclable goods to be weighed, and then they get paid for them.  The very poor people (usually the very old, there is no Social Security in China, so if peoples’ families don’t take care of them, they can’t “retire” and have to keep working) might spend all day going from garbage can to garbage can collecting recyclable materials.  Then they take the materials to get weighed and receive payment for them.  It’s interesting that people don’t really bother to differentiate between what can be recycled and what cannot, because there are so many people who go through the trash every day looking for recyclables. People just throw plastic bottles in the garbage or even on the street assuming someone will pick it up.

What community need did I learn about?

Regarding people just dropping trash on the street, it is a big problem: Even though there are garbage cans on the streets, frequently people just throw their trash on the street or sidewalk as they’re walking.  I saw two police officers drop the wrapper and bag from their lunch on the sidewalk when they were done eating.  The trash on the street gets really bad after a whole day of 33 million people living their lives.

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Why does the community have this need? 

Every night or very early morning there is a whole crew of people whose job is to sweep the streets and sidewalks and collect the trash.  The street sweepers sweep with handheld brooms, and it takes a lot of time and manpower. They’re all people, who work directly for the government.  China has a Socialist government, and believes in 100% employment. That’s why the government has to employ a lot of people. Many of those government workers are street sweepers, or they clean the subway stations all day long.

Is this need being met? How?

Currently the need is being met in Beijing.  The cost of labor is so low that it is fine to pay so many people to manually sweep streets and sidewalks by using brooms, instead of having a machine do it.  The cost of labor is rising in China though, which means that the cost of paying so many people just to clean the city is getting more and more expensive.  Eventually it will be too expensive to do by hand.  There does seem to be a change of behavior though.

As you get closer to the center of Beijing, the city gets cleaner, and people throw their trash on the ground less.  It’s a combination of enforcement and caring.  As you get further out from the center of the city though, the trash problem gets worse and worse, and the city is dirtier and dirtier.

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