A 420-kilometer section of highway that passes through the ecological lifeline of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will get eight recycling centers this year in an effort to cut down on the trash and other waste that tourists leave behind on their journeys.
The service stations along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway will offer waste recycling, toilets, hot water, Wi-Fi access and power outlets. An investment of 3.6 million yuan ($556,000) has been made for infrastructure construction and basic operations.
"Waste along the highway has become a hidden danger for pollution of some water resources, and it damages the pasture landscape," said Yang Xin, head of the Sichuan Greenriver Environmental Protection Promotion Association, the NGO that is setting up the stations. "Moreover, animals such as sheep and yaks could die if they eat the plastic bags."
Starting in Xining in Northwest China's Qinghai province, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway is about 2,000 km long and for decades has been an important transportation channel for Tibet.
A 2013 trash survey by Greenriver and the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve found about 160,000 items along the highway between Kunlun and Thanglha mountains, and most of the refuse was non-biodegradable plastic packages tossed out by drivers and tourists. The stations will be built along a 420-kilometer section of the highway from the city of Ge'ermu to Mount Thanglha.
"We chose this section because the highway here cuts through the ecological lifeline of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and it is where the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve and the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve are located," Yang said.
The toilets will be especially appreciated, Yang said, since tourists have often complained about a lack of them.
The stations will be operated by volunteers who will provide visitors with "various cute souvenirs as rewards" for recycling and proper waste disposal, Yang said.
"It's such a smart way to raise awareness of ecological conservation," Yang said.
Volunteers at the stations will gather, classify, compact and package trash for transportation to Ge'ermu for recycling and disposal.
The Ge'ermu government and Qinghai Development and Reform Commission have offered significant support to the project, including the startup costs, Yang said.
An official with Ge'ermu's Environmental Administrative and Health Office, surnamed Hou, said, "This project is an important one, because it will not only collect the waste of the roadside residents, but also provide long-distance drivers a place for temporary rest, and a place to leave their trash."
The annual operating budget of the stations is 910,000 yuan, of which 400,000 yuan will come from the government and 510,000 yuan from Greenriver.
Yang said he is confident the stations are a sustainable project.
"I have rich experience in finding volunteers, and in the next five years, we will make sure every station has at least three to five volunteers," he said.