Team:BJEA China/Human Practices


Problem we had noticed—brain storming

We noticed that policies about plastic garbage recycling had been established and promoted extensively in most communities over the past two years in China [figure1.1]. But the propaganda and promotions with garbage sorting policies are not the solutions to the unbearable “leftover” plastic products that are still disastrous to the environment [1]. As a developing country, China had developed mainly on manufacturing throughout the past 40 years. The dense concentration on manufacturing and second industry brought up the economy rapidly; on the other hand, the consequences that had been neglected until recently are the byproducts industries had produced which causes pollution [figure 1.2]. Out of all the types of pollution, plastic, being the most challenging material to degrade, only started to be taken seriously a few years ago.

Solutions we came up—designing plans

Plastic is the most challenging material to degrade because the material is a combination of several different plastics. The only solution to this is to lessen the various components of the plastic separately. PET, a part of plastic used in most plastic products, became our prior choice to degrade. There are still tons of PET plastics in China waiting to vanish. Therefore, as Chinese students, we decided to design an eco-friendly way to degrade Plastics. In this case, we had decided to use bio-degradation methods. This helps the plastics degrade in the most cost-efficient manner and minimize the environmental damage while degrading.

Indeed, we did thoughtful and well-developed experiments in laboratory. However, human practice is also extremely essential and necessary for our project to be successful and complete. “Human Practices is the study of how your work affects the world, and how the world affects your work.” Peter Carr, the director of Judging for iGEM once said. We realized and understood the purpose and importance of Human Practice and devoted our enthusiasm into our work.

To elaborate, we held meetups both online and offline with teams from various provinces in China; we joined the “plasticase” and to communicate with the teams and make progress together; we had deeply cooperated partnership with TJUSLS_China, which brought us immense support and memorable and profound growth; we made propaganda through a variety of aspects from educational purpose of our project, such as public speaking about the project, posting articles on Wechat official account and posting promotion video on popular social media platform; the most significant accomplishment we made would be the integrated human practice cooperated with The Urban Operation Bureau in our Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area.

All of the above brought us a clear and deep experience about Human Practice, which connects our ideas with the world, by a “communication”, which not only lets us express our thinking and show our accomplishment, but also allows the world to influence us. This is how we comprehend the essence of true connection with society, and feel the immeasurable power and potential within ourselves.

We are eager and sincere to demonstrate the valuable and unforgettable stories that we had experienced:
Communication & Education


*All images from internet
[1]Danso, D., Chow, J., & Streit, W. R. (2019). Plastics: Environmental and Biotechnological Perspectives on Microbial Degradation. Applied and environmental microbiology, 85(19), e01095-19.


Based on our project, for the purpose of expanding the impact and improve the practicality on society, we decided to interview a governmental department, who is responsible for the city’s plastic disposal, in order to get genuine information of the current situation on plastic disposal, and obtain some professional advice.



Integrated Human Practice Processing

Get in contact

After research on the internet, we found that the Beijing Etown Urban Operational Bureau is the governmental department who is responsible for the waste treatment in the local area that we are located. Thus, this department could be the bridge that connect us with the society around us, and to help us reach toward a higher practicality, benefiting our environment. Undoubtedly, the work of fighting for a chance to communicate with them was challenging. However, we tried our best to prepare before calling to them.

On August 25th, our team started to contact the Beijing Etown Urban Operational Bureau, starting with a fixed telephone number, which was posted on their official website. Through totally 15 times of call, transferring between 5 different phone numbers, and explanation on our calling purpose again and again, we finally got in touch with the ecological environment department of the Urban Operational Bureau. Further, we began to explain our project in more details, and sent them with a document to show what we wanted to interview for through wechat. Although our plan was to visit their place and give an interview, after having a clear and comprehensive information of our team and project, they showed a great interest on our project, and informed us that they were willing to visit our campus, and support us! Knowing this result, we felt excited, encouraged, and thankful, due to their affirmation and willingness to offer us such an opportunity after our diligent efforts and strong persistence.

Visit our campus

On September 8th, 5 professionals from the Urban Operational Bureau arrived BJEA campus. Our team and teacher welcomed them, and took them on a tour on our campus.
We introduced the high-end biology laboratory, where we finished most of our experiment, and many unique landmarks in our school. During the process of the tour, we introduced the educational principle, course arrangement, and teaching style of BJEA.

(Figure 1. We were leading the professionals from the Urban Operational Bureau on a tour on our campus)





Later on, we settled down in our biology classroom in the international department of our school, and started demonstration of our project. First, our teacher gave an introduction to the iGEM competition towards the professionals from Urban Operational Bureau, providing a background information of our team and project. Fortunately, the professionals are proficient in Chemistry study, even some of them had studied on topics similar to ours in their university. This means that we did not only meet professionals on the waste treatment of our city, but also professionals who had the ability to understand our project and give us valuable feedbacks on chemistry or biology level. Second, we explained the project background and both two experiment methods thoroughly by using vivid PPT.

(Figure 2. Our teacher was introducing iGEM to professionals)

(Figure 3. & 4. Two experiment group leaders were explaining the two methods that we used)




After our presentation, we dived into the interview section, and we had an in-depth interview with the professional from the Urban Operational Bureau, which was very helpful for our team.

Q1: What is the current treatment method and procedure toward plastics in China?

Answer: Nowadays, categorization of plastics is the most specified type of waste categorization in China, whether through human labors or machines. Firstly, we used physical cutting to split plastic wastes into granular material. Secondly, these granular materials are categorized into different machines according to its plastic type. Later, we arrange them into gunny-bags for collection. Thirdly, these bags of granular plastics are transported to chemical plant and going through a process called fusion. Fourthly, with plastic wire drawing, we can finally move one to the last step, allowing the plastic to be recycled. The last step is sticked to a principle, degraded use, which means that recycled plastics can only be used again as a lower level of plastic comparing the level before being recycled. What’s more, we often export such plastic products, which was made with recycled plastics, such as plastic slippers, clothes hanger, and etc.

Q2: What is the greatest obstacle that our country is currently facing on plastic disposal?
How does the government deal with this issue for now?

Answer: However, after the plastics recycling process, there’s a proportion of plastics will stay in the lowest level, which will be very difficult to be recycled again. Therefore, this is a tough question waiting to be solved.

Currently speaking, for one, most of this type of plastic waste will be used as an energy source. Specifically, due to the great proportion of Carbon composition in plastics, 60%-70% of calorific value (heat) will be released during burning process. Thus, this type of plastics will provide energy for people to generate electricity or other operation through burning in incineration plant. There is no doubt that this kind of treatment will bring inestimable harm to the environment. For instance, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is a very common component of plastics. The chlorine element is extremely unstable, so it may exert a harmful effect both to water and air. For another, a small proportion of the lowest level plastics will be fill into land. Nevertheless, the frequency of this treatment is gradually decreasing in recent years.

Q3: Out of the plastics area, what is the most severe issue we are facing on waste treatment?

Answer:Kitchen waste is actually the most severe problem we are facing currently. In fact, theoretically, kitchen waste can be decomposed completely by using biological methods since kitchen waste itself is biological material. The reason that kitchen waste is so hard to be treated is that long distance of transporting kitchen waste and concentrated location of treatment permits kitchen wastes to ferment, releasing pungent smell, which is harmful to human body and environment.

Currently, there are two ideal processing lines for kitchen waste treatment: first, for anaerobic waste, Carbon can be stabilized, or turned to methane for future burning. For aerobic waste, Carbon can combine with water in the air and release heat for energy usage during the process.

However, biological treatment is the most desirable treatment for kitchen waste. There are also two ideal processing line for biological methods: first, waste may be decomposed and release useful material during the process, such as Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen. Second, waste may be decomposed into Nitrogenous or other kinds of fertilizer, which depends on the properties of enzyme used. The above biological methods are only ideal, but not practical. Thus, biological treatment for kitchen waste is the most tough problem China facing on waste treatment, also an undertaking for biology area.

Q4: Is there any other suggestions on our project?

Answer:During the presentation, demonstrating the basic properties of each enzyme involved may make your project more comprehensive.

In conclusion, the encouragement and feedbacks from professionals from the ecological environment department of the Beijing Etown Urban Operational Bureau brought us a great support, and allowed us to connect with the society, indirectly but in the most efficient way. We are eager to express our gratitude towards them. Hope we can have deeper cooperation with them.

Further propagandize

At last, they handed us souvenir on the topic of protecting environment designed by themselves. We passed these souvenirs to our students and teachers in school, propagandizing environmental protection.
Last but not least, we published an article on our school’s official wechat account, mentioning and sharing our experience with Urban Operational Bureau, to show our gratitude and the importance of this memorable experience.

(Figure 5. We were passing out souvenirs brought by the Urban Operational Bureau)


(Figure 6. A group photo with staffs from Urban Operational Bureau)