Cleaning Up China’s Dirty Streets

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“The Chinese need to learn that public spaces aren’t garbage dumps”, said Raymond Zhou. During a recent national holiday, visitors dropped a staggering 32 tons of litter in Tiananmen Square in just four days. Beijing’s army of street cleaners rushed in and quickly cleaned up the mess. But large areas of the country don’t have those resources, and by the end of the holiday, many highways and national parks were left lined with “cans, cigarette butts, and food leftovers.”


Financial penalties might discourage some litterbugs, but they won’t address the root cause of our national trash problem: the factthat many Chinese grew up in poor towns and villages that only recently got public trash cans and garbage collection services. Some areas still lack these basic services, and “you cannot expect someone used to big piles of trash outside his door to change his behavior as soon as he sets foot in a squeaky clean metropolis.”


If we want to tackle our littering epidemic, garbage collection must be extended to the entire nation and citizens taught to respect the environment. China is becoming a “respectably middle-class nation,” but the ever-present trash in the streets is a powerful reminder “of the distance they have to go.”