What role do NGOs play in waste management?

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When thinking about garbage sorting, most people do not associate it with anyone else but themselves and their communities — and do not realize that garbage sorting goes beyond classification and disposal.


However, NGOs also play an indispensable role in garbage sorting, conserving and using resources efficiently, as well as promoting green and low-carbon production. They carry out food waste composting, call for plastic reduction, reduce food waste, advocate recycling, and promote domestic waste management.


Funded by the Vanke Foundation and produced by the Woqi Foundation, the “Report on NGOs Focusing on Domestic Waste Issues” comprehensively summarizes the current status, challenges and needs of NGOs in this field, hoping to build a healthy system of waste management to achieve sustainable results.


The report surveyed 106 organizations and found that environmental NGOs have become the core force in the process of domestic waste management. With the promulgation and implementation of policies and regulations related to garbage classification and the increase of available resources, more and more NGOs are becoming involved in domestic waste management.


The years between 2017 and 2019 witnessed the largest policy support and investment in garbage classification. From then on, the NGO sector began to explore garbage sorting solutions with a more collective and systematic perspective, with an increasing number of organizations getting involved. In 2018, there were 24 new NGOs involved in domestic waste issues, and 16 in 2019. Due to the impact of Covid-19, the increase of organizations has slowed in 2020 and 2021.


Besides turning into environmental issues, another characteristic of the current development of NGOs is that they focus on communities. The survey found that 80 percent of the surveyed organizations carry out their activities in communities or rural villages and work closely with the general public. 


Although the main working area is domestic waste, different NGOs have different focuses. There are five levels of domestic waste management based on the degree of favorability: preventing the generation of waste, reducing the amount of waste from the start, full recycling and reusing, recycling and reusing materials, and reusing as fuel.


According to the statistics, among the 106 surveyed organizations, 89 of them had a focus on on reducing waste and 93 of them worked on fully recycling and reusing domestic waste.


These numbers show that NGOs are aware of the importance of prevention. However, most organizations are merely involved in waste prevention in their promotional and advocacy activities. The number of organizations that have actually developed intervention programs is relatively small.


As for the passion NGOs have towards recycling, the report suggests that this can be related to the fact that the government is investing more resources in waste classification and that the private sector is also pouring resources into waste recycling.


In addition, the number of organizations concerned with utilizing waste as energy sources and waste disposal is very small, involving only 26 and 23 surveyed organizations respectively. The report concludes that because there is little public awareness of these two subjects – and considerable professional knowledge is required to tackle them, it leaves little room for NGOs to play a role.


Under the framework of China’s dual carbon goals, environmental efforts, and sustainable development goals, the topic of waste management is intersecting with other social initiatives such as sustainable communities, nature education, volunteer services, fighting climate change, and low-carbon development. This fusion of different social issues offers NGOs an opportunity for growth.


However, there are still problems, such as insufficient funds, lack of expansion of topics, lack of professionalism and stability of team members, and relevant academic support is also inadequate.


The report, therefore, puts forward four suggestions to help NGOs contribute more to the waste issue and alleviate related environmental problems. Firstly, NGOs working in this field should cooperate more and enhance the influence of waste management. Secondly, academics and practitioners should work hand in hand to generate more relevant research and knowledge. 


Thirdly, NGOs need to accurately identify their role in garbage sorting and establish close relationships with important stakeholders such as the government, businesses, communities, and academic institutions. Lastly, the report calls for more foundations to provide support to NGOs to prepare them for challenges.