TAIZHOU, China- A test to see how well a city is run is to count how many blocks you must walk with garbage in your hands before coming to a municipal trash can. One or two blocks is good; up to five is average; 10+ means you may as well just toss your trash on [...]
TAIZHOU, China- A test to see how well a city is run is to count how many blocks you must walk with garbage in your hands before coming to a municipal trash can. One or two blocks is good; up to five is average; 10+ means you may as well just toss your trash on the ground or stuff it in your pockets to take home. There is a direct connection between frequency trash cans and litter: places that have places to dispose of rubbish easily accessible generally don’t have much litter and vice versa.
I don’t know how often I’ve searched for trash cans in vain during my travels in Latin America, SE Asia, and India. In some places I think the rubbish bin concept has yet to be imported. In so many places in this world the standard operating procedure for depositing trash when you’re in public is to throw it on the ground.
China is not one of these countries.
In China there are trash cans everywhere. There is truly no reason to thrown your trash in the streets here. There are usually garbage cans every block or two in downtown areas, at comfortable intervals in the outskirts, and you hardly ever need to walk for more than a minute or two with your hands laden with trash.
Video of the trash can test in Taizhou, China
Trash collectors to the rescue
Not only do many Chinese cities have trash cans placed at frequent intervals but they are also emptied regularly. There is a virtual army of trash collectors that work in units and scour the cities of China in search of ill-deposited rubbish and emptying trash cans. They also clean the unbagged piles of garbage that businesses place out at the edge of the sidewalk or in the gutter in front of their shops.
Though, I have to admit, even with trash cans everywhere many people in China are still in the habit throw their trash on the ground. It is also common for the unbagged business trash piles in the sidewalks gets scattered around a little. These instances make some places appear a little dirtier than they really are: the life expectancy of litter in China is incredibly short, the streets are cleaned almost obsessively.
The effect of this is that the streets in the cities of China are pretty clean on a global scale.
A global overview of trash collection
The trash can is a rare device for a large part of the world. The concept that somebody must empty out these rubbish receptacles when they get full is even rarer. I don’t even want to mention the odysseys that I’ve had to go on to find a trash can in many of the world’s cities.
If I’m walking down the street holding some trash and I can’t find a trash can for five or six blocks I throw it on the ground. Chances are that this is the standard operating procedure in these places and the streets are strewn with trash anyway. People who don’t seem to care about living in rubbish heap don’t clean litter — so why should I care when just passing through? Even the cities of Haiti — the poorest country in the Western hemisphere — clean their streets each morning.
(Go to Haiti Streets are Cleaned.)
For the amount of people living in the urban districts of China — a 500,000 person city here is considered small — the streets are amazingly clean. A clean city is often a well run city where things function smoothly and efficiently. If a city can mobilize, organize, and fund enough people to keep in clean, it can do just about anything.