Leveraging Innovation to Help Take Out the Trash

In the past months, one of the most talked about topics in China has been garbage sorting, especially in the wake of the release of strict regulations for domestic waste management in Shanghai in early July.

Data from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment show 202 large and medium-sized cities across China collectively produced about 202 million metric tons of household waste in 2017, including 56.58 million tons from the top 10 cities alone. Roughly 215 million tons of household waste was cleaned up nationwide in the year, China Intellectual Property News reported. Experts said patented technologies are helping to address the Gordian knot of handling China's mounting garbage.

Li Ke, a director at Iptalent Consulting, told the Beijing-based newspaper that the number of patent applications in the field of waste sorting in China has steadily increased since 2011, before which, related patent applications numbered less than 1,000 a year. The annual filing number reached nearly 4,000 in 2018, 3.8 times that of 2011.

Of the filings, solid waste treatment is the most popular area for innovators. From 2000 to 2018, the accumulative number of patent applications in the sector surpassed 11,900. The other sectors of household waste collection and cleanup, as well as processing, are also active in innovation, with each area seeing thousands of accumulative applications filed during the 2000-18 period, according to Li's research.

The bottleneck in garbage collection and treatment lies in effective classification, Li told China Intellectual Property News. If researchers can make breakthroughs in technology, achieving in-depth classification and high automation, efficiency and accuracy, it will reshape the entire industry, Li said.

The realization of the goal needs artificial intelligence and other technologies in support, yet judging from the current technological progress, there is still a long way to go before achieving substantial breakthroughs, Li noted. The innovative development of waste sorting processing technology is the main focus for the future.

To date, the central government has designated 46 pilot cities for household garbage sorting, including Beijing and Shanghai.

With the support of government policies, emerging technologies involving waste-sorting equipment, systems and processes have provided strong support for waste sorting and promoted progress in recent years.

Chinese companies in the industry have been committed to research and development for years. In innovation rankings for 2018 for businesses in the sector, released by a research center affiliate with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, waste processing and recycling company Gem ranked top.

Xu Kaihua, the board chairman of the Shenzhen-headquartered company, told China Intellectual Property News that his company recycles abandoned electronics using innovative approaches. By the end of January, GEM had a total of 906 invention patents granted at home and abroad. The company's international patent filings have been applied with authorities in destinations including Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea. The applications have involved more than 50 core technologies of the company.

Shao Linlin, an analyst at Hibor, an investment data and market research portal, said that waste sorting has spurred growth in related service market segments.

With an increasing number of waste-sorting services, policy incentives will bring about greater market demand, Shao said, adding that the market value relating to waste-sorting services nationwide is forecast to exceed 61 billion yuan ($8.86 billion) in 2020.

(Source: China Daily)