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Chinese App-Makers Smell Opportunities in Strict Trash-Sorting Rules

By Zhao Runhua / Aug 15, 2019 03:46 PM / Business & Tech

Photo: IC Photo

Photo: IC Photo

Some of China’s urban residents have turned up their noses at what they perceive as overly strict and head-scratchingly complex new garbage-sorting guidelines.

But the rules seem to be a boon for app developers, who are rolling out a number of apps to help citizens sort their waste — and honing their machine-learning algorithms in the process.

On Thursday, Alibaba’s cashless payment platform Alipay announced strong monthly performances from some of its in-platform third-party programs that help users adapt to trash-sorting guidelines. Six such programs had over 1 million monthly active users in July, and another dozen similar programs reported more than 500,000 monthly active users.

Online trash-sorting programs have proliferated since several Chinese cities rolled out the new guidelines, providing everything from garbage-sorting suggestions, trash-collection services, and clothes-recycling services, among others.

Additionally, the apps help developers train machine tech, for instance by asking users to name irregularly shaped pieces of garbage that confuse the programs’ data labeling software.

More and more cities in China are clamping down on mounting domestic waste and low recycling rates. In July, Shanghai — a pilot city for the new garbage-sorting rules — demanded that residents start sorting household waste into four categories or face fines. And on Thursday, the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou tightened a similar policy by imposing harsher punishments on people who don’t comply.

Contact reporter Zhao Runhua (

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