BEIJING — In all likelihood, the enduring physical legacy of China’s internet boom will not be the glass-and-steel office complexes or the fancy apartments for tech elites.
北京——中國互聯網繁榮所留下的經久不衰的實體遺產,很有可能不是玻璃和鋼鐵建造的綜合寫字樓,也不是科技精英們的高檔寓所。
It will be the plastic.
而是塑料。
The astronomical growth of food delivery apps in China is flooding the country with takeout containers, utensils and bags. And the country’s patchy recycling system isn’t keeping up. The vast majority of this plastic ends up discarded, buried or burned with the rest of the trash, researchers and recyclers say.
中國外賣應用的快速增長,正導致這個國家被外賣餐盒、餐具和袋子淹沒。而它不完善的垃圾回收系統也已經跟不上。研究人員和回收商說,絕大多數的塑料最終會被丟棄、掩埋,或與其他垃圾一起焚燒。
Scientists estimate that the online takeout business in China was responsible for 1.6 million tons of packaging waste in 2017, a ninefold jump from two years before. That includes 1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons.
科學家估計,2017年中國的在線外賣業務產生了160萬噸包裝垃圾,是兩年前的九倍。其中包括120萬噸塑料盒、17.5萬噸一次性筷子、16.4萬噸塑料袋和4.4萬噸塑料勺。
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Put together, it is more than the amount of residential and commercial trash of all kinds disposed of each year by the city of Philadelphia. The total for 2018 grew to an estimated two million tons.
這些加在一起,比整個費城市每年處理的各類住宅和商業垃圾還要多。2018年,這一總數更是增加到了約200萬噸。
People in China still generate less plastic waste, per capita, than Americans. But researchers estimate that nearly three-quarters of China’s plastic waste ends up in inadequately managed landfills or out in the open, where it can easily make its way into the sea. More plastic enters the world’s oceans from China than from any other country. Plastic can take centuries to break down undersea.
中國人均產生的塑料垃圾仍比美國少。但研究人員估計,中國近四分之三的塑料垃圾最終進入了管理不善的垃圾填埋場或露天場所,在那裡,塑料垃圾很容易進入大海。中國流入世界海洋的塑料比其他任何國家都要多。塑料在海中需要幾個世紀才能分解。
Recyclers manage to return some of China’s plastic trash into usable form to feed the nation’s factories. The country recycles around a quarter of its plastic, government statistics show, compared with less than 10 percent in the United States.
回收商設法將中國的一些塑料垃圾轉化成可用的形式,供該國的工廠使用。政府統計數據顯示,中國回收利用大約四分之一的塑料,而美國的這一比例不到10%
But in China, takeout boxes do not end up recycled, by and large. They must be washed first. They weigh so little that scavengers must gather a huge number to amass enough to sell to recyclers.
但在中國,外賣盒基本上不會得到回收利用。它們首先需要被清洗。而且也太輕了,收廢品的人需要大量積攢,才能湊夠足以賣給回收商的重量。
外賣盒在回收之前必須清洗。而且它們很輕,拾荒者不得不大量收集才能夠重賣給回收商。
外賣盒在回收之前必須清洗。而且它們很輕,拾荒者不得不大量收集才能夠重賣給回收商。 Na Zhou for The New York Times
“Half a day’s work for just a few pennies. It isn’t worth it,” said Ren Yong, 40, a garbage collector at a downtown Shanghai office building. He said he threw takeout containers out.
「廢半天功夫掙幾分錢,不值的,」40歲的任勇說,他在上海市中心一棟辦公大樓內收廢品。他說他會把外賣餐盒扔掉。
For many overworked or merely lazy people in urban China, the leading takeout platforms Meituan and Ele.me are replacing cooking or eating out as the preferred means of obtaining nourishment. Delivery is so cheap, and the apps offer such generous discounts, that it is now possible to believe that ordering a single cup of coffee for delivery is a sane, reasonable thing to do.
對中國城市裡很多工作過於繁重或單純只是犯懶的人而言,美團和餓了么這類主要的外賣平台正在取代自己做飯或外出就餐,成為更受青睞的食物獲取方式。運費實在太便宜,且這些應用提供的折扣力度又如此之大,以致於如今你也許會認為,單點一杯咖啡送上門是件正常、合理的事情。
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Yuan Ruqian knows that it is not. Yet she, too, has succumbed.
袁汝芊知道不是這麼回事。但她也已順應潮流。
Like the time she was craving ice cream, but a newly opened Dippin’ Dots store seemed so far away. Or when she orders delivery for lunch, which is nearly every day.
比如當她想吃雪糕,但新開的一家得意點(Dippin Dots)似乎又太遠時。或者當她叫午餐外賣時——她幾乎天天叫外賣。
Asked about the trash she generates, Ms. Yuan, 27, who works in finance in Shanghai, said: “Laziness is the root of all evil.”
在問及她所產生的垃圾時,這位27歲的上海金融從業者說:「懶是萬惡之源。」
The transformation of daily life has been swift. Meituan says it delivered 6.4 billion food orders last year, a nearly 60 percent jump from 2017. Those orders were worth $42 billion in total, meaning the average order was $6.50 — about enough for a decent meal for one in a big Chinese city.
日常生活的轉變是迅速的。美團稱去年送出了64億份點餐訂單,比2017年猛增近60%。這些訂單總值420億美元,也就是說平均每單6.5美元——差不多足夠在中國大城市點份像樣的單人餐。
在高峰期,送餐員會把外賣放在辦公樓的大堂裡,以節省時間。
在高峰期,送餐員會把外賣放在辦公樓的大堂裡,以節省時間。 Na Zhou for The New York Times
Ele.me — the name means “Are you hungry?” and is pronounced “UH-luh-muh” — has not disclosed similar figures. But across China’s major takeout apps, orders worth a combined $70 billion were delivered in 2018, according to the analysis firm iResearch.
餓了么尚未披露類似數字。但據分析公司艾瑞諮詢(iResearch)的統計,中國各主要外賣應用2018年送出的訂單金額總計為700億美元
By comparison, online food delivery sales in the United States are expected to total $19 billion this year, according to Statista. Uber says its Uber Eats service generated $7.9 billion in orders worldwide last year. GrubHub reported $5.1 billion in food sales and 159 million orders in 2018, implying an average order value of $32.
相比之下,根據Statista的數據,美國在線送餐銷售總額今年預計為190億美元。優步(Uber)稱,其Uber Eats服務去年在全球產生了79億美元訂單。GrubHub報稱,2018年共產生1.59億份訂單,食品銷售額為51億美元,即每單均價32美元。
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Around the world, the convenience of such services comes with costs that can be easy to overlook. Labor controversies, for instance. Or roads made more hazardous by takeout couriers zooming around on motorbikes. Plastic waste is just as easily ignored, even when it is being generated and mismanaged on a titanic scale.
在全球範圍內,這類服務的便捷性可能伴隨著一些容易被忽視的代價。比如勞資糾紛。或是因為送餐員騎著摩托車四處穿行而陡增安全隱患的道路。塑料垃圾同樣容易被忽視,儘管它們正在以驚人的規模產生,且沒有得到妥善處置。
China is home to a quarter of all plastic waste that is dumped out in the open. Scientists estimate that the Yangtze River emptied 367,000 tons of plastic debris into the sea in 2015, more than any other river in the world, and twice the amount carried by the Ganges in India and Bangladesh. The world’s third and fourth most polluting rivers are also in China.
全世界露天傾倒的塑料垃圾有四分之一在中國。科學家估計,2015年長江向海洋排入的塑料垃圾達36.7萬噸居於全世界河流的首位,是印度和孟加拉境內恆河的兩倍之多。世界污染程度排名第三和第四的河流也在中國。
Takeout apps may be indirectly encouraging restaurants to use more plastic. Restaurants in China that do business through Meituan and Ele.me say they are so dependent on customer ratings that they would rather use heavier containers, or sheathe an order in an extra layer of plastic wrap, than risk a bad review because of a spill.
外賣應用可能在間接鼓勵餐館增加塑料用量。在中國,在美團和餓了么上經營業務的商家對用戶點評依賴度很高,為避免因食物撒漏遭差評,他們寧肯用重一些的餐盒,或多套一層保鮮膜來包裹食物。
北京的一個垃圾站。工人們在垃圾中尋找可回收材料,而外賣盒通常會被留下來。
北京的一個垃圾站。工人們在垃圾中尋找可回收材料,而外賣盒通常會被留下來。 Na Zhou for The New York Times
“Meituan is deeply committed to reducing the environmental impact of food delivery,” the company said in a statement, pointing to initiatives such as allowing users to choose not to receive disposable tableware.
「美團全心全意致力於減少食物外送對環境的影響,」公司在聲明中稱,並且提到讓用戶選擇不用一次性餐具之類的措施。
The e-commerce titan Alibaba, which owns Ele.me, declined to comment.
餓了么所有方、電商巨頭阿里巴巴拒絕置評。
This deluge of trash might not be such a big problem were China not in the middle of a monumental, if flawed, effort to fix its recycling system. Recycling has long been a gritty, unregulated affair in the country, one driven less by green virtue than by the business opportunity in extracting value out of other people’s leavings.
中國正在展開一場雖有缺漏但規模宏大的行動,以解決其垃圾回收系統的問題,如果不是因為這一點,垃圾泛濫的問題也許不會如此嚴重。在這個國家,垃圾回收從來是件不受監管的苦差事。其驅動力更多的是從他人的丟棄物中提取價值的商機,而不是出於綠色環保的德行。
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The government now wants a recycling industry that doesn’t spoil the environment or sicken workers. The transition hasn’t been smooth.
政府如今想要一個不破壞環境或導致工人患病的回收產業。但這種轉型一直都不順利。
China recently banned many types of scrap from being imported into the country, hoping that recyclers would focus on processing domestic material instead. That killed off a lucrative business for those recyclers, and left American cities scrambling to find new dumping grounds for their cardboard and plastic. Some cities have been forced to end their recycling programs.
中國近年來禁止了多種廢品的進口,轉而希望回收者能著眼於處理國內廢料。然而這就砍掉了垃圾回收商的一項利潤豐厚的生意,也讓美國城市忙不迭地為它們的紙板和塑料尋找新的傾倒地。一些城市被迫終止了它們的回收計劃
一名工人在北京一幢辦公樓外清理垃圾。
一名工人在北京一幢辦公樓外清理垃圾。 Na Zhou for The New York Times
Other policies may inadvertently be causing fewer recyclables to be collected from China’s homes and offices. In Beijing, many scavengers who do this work have fallen victim to an aggressive government campaign to “improve the quality of the city’s population,” a euphemism for driving out migrant workers from the countryside.
其他一些政策可能在不經意間減少了中國家庭和辦公場所的可回收物回收量。在北京,政府開展一項「提高城市人口素質」——驅逐農民工的委婉說法——的大規模行動,殃及許多以收廢品為業的人。
To clean up the filthy air in Beijing, the government has also clamped down on “small, scattered polluting enterprises” in the capital region. Inspectors have since closed down hundreds of dingy backyard workshops that cleaned and processed plastic scrap.
為清潔北京污濁的空氣,政府還取締了首都地區的「『小散亂污』企業」。調查人員此後關停了數百家條件惡劣的塑料廢品清潔和處理小作坊。
Not everyone mourns the loss. For years, Mao Da, an environmental researcher, has studied the plastic industry in Wen’an County, near Beijing. Workers there used to sort through food and medical waste by hand, he said. Nonrecyclable material was buried in pits near farmland.
有些人不認為這是多大的損失。多年來,環境研究者毛達一直在研究北京附近的文安縣的塑料產業。他說那裡的從業人員以往都是用手挑揀食品和醫療廢物。不可回收材料便在農田旁邊挖坑掩埋。
“It was an environmental and public health catastrophe,” Mr. Mao said.
「對當地和區域的環境和公共的健康來說是很大的災難,」毛達說。
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So far, though, the crackdown hasn’t caused large, professionally managed recycling companies to fill the void. Instead, it has left the entire business in limbo.
但目前來看,打擊行動並未促使大型專業化回收公司來填補這一空白。相反,這讓整個行業陷入不明朗的境地。
“You’ve got fewer people collecting scrap, fewer people transporting it and fewer people processing it,” said Chen Liwen, the founder of Zero-Waste Villages, a nonprofit that promotes recycling in rural China. “The overall recycling rate has definitely fallen.”
「那你前端收的人也少了,中後段清運的人也少了,也沒人處理和生產,」致力於推動中國農村回收活動的非營利機構零廢棄村落創始人陳立雯說。「回收率各方面肯定就下降了。」
大城市裡的拾荒者通常不會費心去收集塑料外賣盒。
大城市裡的拾荒者通常不會費心去收集塑料外賣盒。 Na Zhou for The New York Times
In Chifeng, a small city northeast of Beijing, Zhang Jialin is pondering life after recycling.
在北京東北方向的小城市赤峰,張嘉林在思考不做垃圾回收後該幹些什麼。
For years, Mr. Zhang and his wife bought plastic scrap and ground it into chips. But the local authorities have stepped up environmental inspections. The city has slated Mr. Zhang’s street for demolition. He and other recyclers believe it is because officials consider their scrapyards an eyesore. The Chifeng government didn’t respond to a request for comment.
多年來,張嘉林夫婦採購塑料廢品然後碾成碎片。但當地政府開始加緊環境檢查。張嘉林所在街道已被市裡劃入拆除範圍。他和其他回收者認為,這是因為官員覺得他們的廢品堆放場太礙眼。赤峰市政府未回應置評請求。
“What I do is environmental protection,” Mr. Zhang, 45, said. “I don’t let stuff get thrown everywhere. I break it down. I wash it.”
「本身我就是搞環保的,」45歲的張嘉林說。「我沒讓它去亂排亂扔。我是把它打碎了,洗乾淨了。」
He continued: “So why do the environmental protection authorities target me as if I were harming environmental protection? That’s what I don’t get.”
他接著說:「為什麼環保治理我,說我是破壞環保的?這是一個問號。」