With China becoming the largest municipal solid waste generator in the world [1
], solid waste management (SWM) in the country has attracted special attention in recent years. Statistics show that solid waste generation in China has increased by about 10 billion tonnes per year, and the total historical stocks have reached 60–70 billion tonnes, and the figure is still increasing [2
]. How to deal with the increasing volume of solid waste is an important issue within sustainable development and has become a tremendous challenge for the Chinese government.
The increasing level of solid waste has been a serious problem in China for decades. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Solid Waste Law’) was first introduced in 1996, and it was amended five times between then and June 2019, when the latest draft revision was passed. The first major revision was made in 2004, and highlighted the importance of considering the entire life cycle of a product by extending the producer’s responsibility to include the consumption and disposal of goods, while the original version specified only the producer’s responsibility in the production process [1
]. The 2019 revision is the second major revision of the Solid Waste Law and includes six chapters and 102 articles, of which 50 have been amended, 14 new articles were added, and four articles were deleted. A waste classification system has been added and the main responsibilities of solid waste producers have been reinforced. In addition, penalties for illegal acts have been increased, and the maximum fine for a number of illegal acts has been raised to one million Yuan. In December 2018, the ‘No-Waste City’ Pilot Program was passed by the central government of China. It is a city development model embracing concepts of innovation, coordination, greenness, openness, and sharing, and the intention is that it will promote resource utilization and reduction of solid waste at source by forming a green development mode and lifestyle, thereby minimizing the volume of landfill and the environmental impact of solid waste [3
]. Local government has responded positively to this program. For example, Shanghai has implemented the Shanghai Household Waste Management Regulation (hereon referred to as the ‘Regulation’) since July 1, 2019. According to the Regulation, domestic waste in Shanghai is classified into four types—recyclables, hazardous waste, wet waste, and dry waste—and a specific definition of each type is provided. Refusing to sort waste in accordance with the Regulation will result in a fine of 5000–50,000 Yuan (about US$
730–7300) for entities and a fine of 50–200 Yuan (about US$
7.30–30) for individuals [4
]. Subsequently, Beijing, Chongqing, Zhengzhou and other regional governments have also drafted waste classification management regulations. Furthermore, the Chinese government plans to build a waste classification system in 46 key cities by the end of 2020 [5
Clearly, SWM has been high on the agenda of the Chinese government, and there is an urgent need for and practical significance of SWM at all scales in the country, including universities. The importance of universities in terms of SWM is twofold. Firstly, the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions has been increasing, especially in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an, where college students have accounted for more than 10% of the local population in recent years [6
]. As ‘small cities’ with wide geographical coverage and diverse human activities, universities in China have various degrees of impacts on the environment and the wider society [7
], and one of them is solid waste. SWM in higher education institutions is thus crucial for advancing the sustainability of a university campus [8
] and the community it is located in. Secondly, universities can provide examples of ‘best practice’ and thereby provide beacons which others can learn from and follow. While this may be the case in many countries, universities that expose to the unique cultural and political environment in China provide a special context for such development and illustration of ‘best practice.’
Waste characterization has been identified as the first step to any successful SWM [9
]. Since the composition of waste generated varies depending on the seasonality, differences in lifestyle, demographic information of the students, location of the university, and related local regulations, a one-size-fits-all solution would be ineffective [1
]. SWM based on the knowledge of the waste characterization and on the condition of the market for recyclables in China would work better than ambitious programs copied from somewhere else in the world [9
Given the potential of universities to act as role models and also the fact that many of them occupy a defined unit of space comprising teaching, research, offices, and student/staff accommodation blocks, it is unsurprising that much empirical work has been done to try to explore waste characterization and recycling potential on university campuses. De Vega et al. [9
] looked at the Campus Mexicali I of the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexico during the period of 14 consecutive days. He employed ASTM d5231-92 methods to sample the waste generated on campus, and concluded that one tonne of solid waste was produced on this campus per day, of which 53.1% was from buildings, 28.3% from gardens, 4.9% from the community centre, and more than 65% of which were recyclable or potentially recyclable. Smyth et al. [8
] reported the results of a waste characterization study conducted at the Prince George Campus of the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada, and determined that 1.2 to 2.2 tonnes of waste were generated per week on that campus during the 2007–2008 academic year, of which 29.1% was cardboard and paper, 21.6% was organic waste, 8.1% was plastic waste, and 1.0% was glass. Of all the waste generated, more than 70% could have been diverted through waste reduction, recycling, and composting activities. Painter et al. [12
] estimated food waste quantities generated in the dining hall of Rhodes University in South Africa by weighing food waste at roughly the same time after each meal for three nonconsecutive weeks. He found that daily food waste generation was about 555 g per student in that university. Adeniran et al. [13
] determined daily waste generation on the Akoka Campus of the University of Lagos in Nigeria by measuring the dimension of each waste truck. He found that the waste generation on this campus was 32.7 tonnes per day, of which 39% was plastic waste, 15% was organic waste, 15% was paper, 8% was soil and stone, 7% was sanitary waste, and 75% of the waste was recyclable. Gebreeyessus et al. [14
] looked at the Kotebe Metropolitan University in Ethiopia. They applied a range of equipment, such as labelled baskets, weighing scales, and transfer carts, to determine the composition and generation rate of solid waste. They concluded that the major components of the waste at the university were food (84.4%), other organics (9.0%), paper (3.7%), plastic (1.8%), and the rest accounted for 1.1%, and 93% of the waste was compostable.
Clearly, waste characterization varies between universities/countries, and, in turn, this may influence the potential for recycling. The University of Northern British Columbia in Canada has more paper waste than other Universities, and the Kotebe Metropolitan University in Ethiopia is lower in plastic waste. Nonetheless, despite the differences in waste characterization, the recycling potentials of university campus waste are high (> 60%) in all universities studied, whether they are in Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Ethiopia, or Nigeria, comparing to the global solid waste recycling rate of 19% in 2016 [15
] and China’s policy target of 35% recycling rate for household waste by 2020 [16
]. However, and perhaps surprisingly given the points made earlier, no study in this field has been done for any university in China. Considering China’s increasing economic and political influences in the world in recent years, its growing investment in higher education, and its expanding population of college students [17
], it would be helpful for China’s, and global long-term, sustainability, to understand the waste characterizations for Chinese university campuses and their recycling potential.
To fill the gap, this paper looks at the Longzi Lake Campus of Henan Agricultural University located in central China, and the aim is to investigate the waste characterization and the recycling potential of the solid waste generated on this campus and what factors may be at play in influencing them. Following the introduction, the paper will introduce the methodology employed in this research in Section 2
. Section 3
will present results including total waste generation, waste characterization, and recycling potential, and will include a discussion. The conclusion will be included in Section 4
2.1. Site Description
Henan Agricultural University (HAU) is a prestigious university in central China. As of 2019, the school area was approximately 281 hectares, and 32,500 students and more than 2000 staff were studying and working there. It has three campuses—Longzi Lake Campus, Wenhua Road Campus, and Xuchang Campus—with Longzi Lake Campus and Wenhua Road Campus being located in Zhengzhou City, Henan Province and Xuchang Campus in a neighboring city. This research was carried out on the Longzi Lake (LL) Campus. The LL Campus has a total land area of nearly 130 hectares, accommodating 12 colleges, and 15,000 students (6500 male and 8500 female). The LL Campus is relatively new, being established in 2012. At the time of the fieldwork, the LL Campus was hosting 16 dormitory buildings (seven male and nine female, there is no mixed accommodation on the campus), two cafeterias, one laboratory building, one administrative building, one computer building, and three teaching buildings. The laboratory building is the home of two biggest colleges on campus, i.e., the College of Agriculture and the College of Animal Husbandry and Engineering, and around 150 laboratories where students and academic staff from these two colleges can do their laboratory work. Faculty and staff offices for the other 10 colleges, conference rooms, and a reading room, are located in the administrative building. A Network Engineering Laboratory, An Enterprise Resource Planning Laboratory and an Agricultural Big Data Entrepreneurial Centre are located in the computer building, which also has a Simultaneous Interpretation Laboratory. Three teaching buildings contain 179 classrooms where daily undergraduate and postgraduate teaching activities take place. The classrooms are open for all students when there is no teaching going on.
For the convenience of data collection, the LL Campus was divided into five areas: (a) dormitory buildings, (b) cafeteria, (c) gardens, playgrounds and roads, (d) academic area including the teaching building, the administrative building and the computer building, and (e) the laboratory building, as seen in Figure 1
2.2. Waste Collection System on the LL Campus
In Zhengzhou, the local government does not provide solid waste collection services for university campuses, and most universities contract out this service to private companies. Solid waste collection services for the LL Campus are provided by three private companies: a Realty Management Company, a Waste Transport Company, and a Recyclable Waste Collect Company. Cleaners are hired by the Realty Management Company to clean the five areas, and the number of cleaners in each area varies depending on the size of the area (as shown in Table 1
). Every one or two days, the food waste generated in two cafeterias is transported by the Waste Transport Company to farms nearby and is used to feed the livestock of local residents. The Waste Transport Company also transports other waste to the local landfills. A recyclable waste collector is sent by the Recyclable Waste Collect Company to the campus every day to collect recyclable waste, but he does not pick up the recyclable waste piece by piece with his own hand. Instead, he buys the recyclable waste from other people who have collected the waste already. Most of these people are cleaners who pick up recyclable waste in their spare time and exchange them for some extra cash. Some students do that too, but very rarely.
Rubbish bins are placed every 20–30 m around the academic and dormitory buildings on the LL Campus, and every 50 m for the rest of the campus. Each set has two attached bins labelled ‘recyclable’ and ‘nonrecyclable.’ These bins are emptied each day and cleaners pick out the recyclable waste and store it as their personal possession in a place they are entitled to use, i.e., a small room where their cleaning gear is kept. After a few day’s accumulation of waste, the cleaners would call the recyclable waste collector to come and get the recyclable waste. However, since anyone has access to rubbish bins within the public area, sometimes the recyclable waste in these bins is picked out before the end of the day by people who are in desperate need of extra cash.
After getting the recyclable waste from the cleaners, the recyclable waste collector sells the waste to the local recycling centre at a higher price. Because of this special recyclable waste collecting system on the LL Campus (in the whole of Zhengzhou City, actually), some recyclable waste with low economic value is often neglected and processed as nonrecyclable waste.
The jobs of the cleaners are to clean the areas (a–d) they are responsible for, i.e., the corridors, the steps, the classrooms, public toilets, etc., and collect waste from the dust bins in the responsible area and deliver them to the dumpster. However, the cleaners in area (e), the laboratory building, are only responsible for the corridors and the public toilets in the building, they are not allowed to get in the laboratories because they contain expensive experimental equipment and dangerous toxic reagents. Only members of the research groups are allowed to enter the labs. The (non-toxic) waste generated in the labs is placed into the dust bins in public toilets in the laboratory building by a laboratory technician, the cleaners then empty the bins and take the waste in batches to the dumpsters. There are no lab-specific dumpsters on campus. Toxic waste generated in the laboratories is mostly liquid and small in volume. The university has a special requirement for the disposal of such waste, but it is not included in this study.
2.3. Waste Categorization and Recycling Potential Rating
Based on the current trend of the local waste recycling market, solid waste generated on the LL Campus is categorized into five types: organic waste, plastics, cardboard and paper, sanitary waste, and others (including glass, metal, textile, etc.) (Table 2
After interviewing four local recyclable waste collectors and taking references from de Vega et al. [9
] and Adeniran et al. [13
], the levels of recyclability of solid waste on the LL Campus was determined by whether or not there is a recycling market for the waste in question. If there is a local recycling market for one particular waste, it was considered to be locally recyclable, and the recyclability level of that waste would be 1. If there was no local recycling market for a particular waste but there was a recycling market somewhere else in China for it, it was considered to be potentially recyclable, and the recyclability level of that waste was given a value of 2. Hence anything that is marked with 1 and 2 in Table 2
is considered to be recyclable. Anything that does not fit into the first two categories would be marked 3, and these are nonrecyclable waste.
2.4. Sampling Frame
The convenience sampling method was employed, and the targeted respondents were the cleaners in the abovementioned five areas, laboratory technicians, waste transporters, local recycling centre employees, and recyclable waste collectors (Table 3
). It was assumed that the cleaners have firsthand information regarding the amount and the type of the waste on campus, the laboratory technicians have a clearer understanding of the types and whereabouts of the laboratory waste, and recyclable waste collectors have the best knowledge of the amount of recyclable waste.
By adding up the information obtained from each cleaner, laboratory technician, and recyclable waste collector, and triangulating it with waste transporters, the total amount of solid waste on the LL Campus, the waste characteristics, and the recyclable potential could be estimated.
2.5. Scope of the Study and Data Collection
After a pilot study in October 2018, the questionnaire was finalized and comprised a mix of closed and open-ended questions aiming to find out the solid waste generation in the five areas of the LL Campus. The questionnaire consists of two parts. The first part explores the types of solid waste generated in the five area on the LL Campus. The second part aims to determine the volumes of the waste generated in each subcategory in the five areas. All interviews were carried out face-to-face. Each interview lasted between 10 and 20 min, and interviews were conducted at end of each month. Sometimes multiple mini-interviews were given in the same month when new information became available. The fieldwork was carried out from November 2018 to October 2019.
The information of the solid waste generated in areas (a), (b), (c), (d) was obtained by interviewing cleaners working in the respective areas. The questions included: What types of garbage do you collect? What is the weight of the garbage you cleaned each day? How do you separate waste? How often do you sell recyclable waste to the recyclable waste collector? How much money do you make from it? The information on waste generated in area (e), the laboratory building, was obtained by interviewing cleaners and laboratory technicians. The following questions were asked: How many types of garbage are generated during the experiment? What is the average amount of each type of garbage produced each day? How do you handle the garbage? Further questions were asked to gain as much detail as possible regarding the volume and type of solid waste generated in the lab building. Questions regarding recyclable waste were also asked.
It is assumed that if the frequency that the cleaners sell the recyclable waste to the collector, the amount of money they make from it, and the local price of recyclable waste were all known, then the daily generation of recyclable waste can be calculated.
There are a number of reasons why face-to-face interviews, rather than on-site sampling, were employed to collect data in this study. Firstly, while the on-site sampling might provide more accurate information of waste composition, it would be challenging to assess where the waste had come from, and the team regarded this as important as it provides an insight regarding how to reduce waste from the source. Second, on-site sampling would not provide accurate information of the total weight of the waste on campus as there is no infrastructure in place to weigh the waste before it is transported or after it reaches its destination (local farms for food waste and landfills for other waste). The authors found in the pilot study that the waste transporter’s guess is just as good as that of the cleaners about the total weight of waste. Third, as the cleaners handled the waste on a daily basis, they were not only very familiar with the type and volume of the waste but could also provide useful insight as to what is behind students’ wasting behavior. Furthermore, as interviews were carried out regularly each month, the cleaners could readily recall the weight and the type of the waste they handled within that month, especially as they keep some of the recyclable waste for sale. Actually, after a couple of months’ interviews, the team had built a good rapport with the cleaners, and some of them would record information in writing rather than rely on memory recall. Last but not the least, waste transporters were also interviewed, and the information gained was used to triangulate with the information gained from the cleaners and laboratory technicians.
2.6. Data Recording and Analysis
SPSS 21.0 was employed to store and analyze data. The recycling potential of the solid waste generated on the LL Campus is determined using the equation:
where RP is the recycling potential of the solid waste generated on the LL Campus, LRW is the local recyclable waste weight in kg, PRW is the potential recyclable waste weight in kg, and TW is the total weight of all solid waste in kg.
An average of 7.32 tonnes of solid waste are generated on the LL Campus each day, and this equates to 487 g per student per day. Waste characterization analysis indicates that food waste is the highest proportion of solid waste on the LL Campus of HAU, followed by paper and cardboard waste, and plastic waste.
By comparing the result from this study with those published for universities in other countries, it was found that the annual growth of GDP per capita in the past five years before the research is an important influencing factor of food waste on university campus, whether it is a low-income country or a higher-income country. While the data set is limited in size, the results suggest that the higher the annual growth of GDP per capita in the past five years before the research, the higher the proportion of food that was wasted on campus.
The overall recycling potential is very high for the LL Campus of HAU (79.31%). The local recycling market can absorb around 92% of all the recyclables, the rest could be reused by recycling markets somewhere else in China. Waste characterization is found to be an influencing factor of recycling potential, and the higher the proportion of food waste, the higher the recycling potential.
To reduce food waste so as to improve the campus SWM on the LL Campus and other university campuses in China, it is suggested that the universities improve the education in environmental protection for college students and the need to reduce waste, especially food waste.