Points of Progress: Less goes to landfill in Shanghai, and more

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

A Shanghai resident places her waste into categorized bins last month. China’s biggest city is rethinking its waste management.


Shanghai is not giving up on solving the city’s waste problem. In July, it introduced its first trash sorting program. The goal is to increase recycling and reduce waste that goes into landfills as it’s running out of room to dispose of trash. The city was part of a pilot municipal recycling program in 2000, but residents were unable to adapt. The stakes are higher this time around; the program has a grading system that gives redeemable points for successful sorting and fines for mistakes. Months prior to the program’s launch, millions of educational flyers were distributed, and choreographed dances with sorting bins promoted the shift. Experts say initiatives such as this can take a generation to accomplish. (The Associated Press)

U.S. Virgin Islands

Lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands banned coral-damaging sunscreens, one of the first bans of its kind in the Caribbean. Effective in March, importing and using sunscreen with certain chemicals is prohibited. Hawaii enacted a similar ban that will take effect January 2021. The Caribbean has already lost 80% of its coral reefs, and studies show that common chemicals in sunscreen that wash off in the water make coral susceptible to bleaching. Lawmakers hope the ban will lead to cleaner waters, promote coral growth, and support other ecological conservation efforts. (National Parks Traveler)


A study shows that human rights have economic value. Countries that support women’s economic and social rights are healthier and develop more sustainably. Data examined from 162 countries show a correlation between a woman’s economic and social rights and the country’s ranking on the United Nations Human Development Index and its people’s health. The study revealed that women with limited access to financial capital, skill training, and social communities are not as able to contribute to a country’s development. Meanwhile promotion of women’s rights improves a country’s life expectancy and disease prevention. (The BMJ)


Ethiopia is working to reverse deforestation. State officials say more than 350 million trees were planted on July 29, a record. A century of logging and land development has reduced the country’s forest cover from 33% to less than 4%, so Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spearheaded the campaign to promote reforestation nationwide. Mr. Abiy is taking a different approach from previous forest restoration efforts: The government is engaging communities to ensure that young trees survive. Meanwhile, organizations are working with locals to ensure less dependence on timber and to develop alternative trades such as beekeeping and the manufacturing of bamboo furniture. (The New York Times)

A woman walks past an Odaa tree in central Ethiopia last November. Ethiopia recently planted a record 350 million trees in 12 hours.


The oldest town in the Baltic nations is upgrading its Soviet-era housing. Located in southern Estonia, Tartu has 17 apartment blocks that are being transformed into more sustainable residences. The project is part of a larger European Union-led initiative for sustainable cities. Apartments were quickly built to cope with a postwar housing shortage in the 1950s, and have poor energy efficiency. With updates to insulation, ventilation, and heating, each unit is expected to save two-thirds of the energy it currently consumes. (Deutsche Welle)

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