Most VR games aim to immerse you in an environment you can’t (or don’t want to) experience in real life, like a scary, deserted hospital or a roller coaster. But this VR game is different: It wants you to experience classifying your trash. 

Video of a VR game booth in Shanghai went viral on Weibo, featuring a game that puts you in front of four sortable garbage bins and asks you to throw the correct type of garbage into them. 

It’s a game that probably wouldn’t have sparked any interest normally, but it comes at a time when Shanghai residents find themselves struggling to figure out the right bins for their trash, amid the city’s strict enforcement of new garbage sorting regulations. 

Play to get an immersive experience of garbage sorting. (Picture: 四包包包包 on Weibo)

Shanghai’s new regulations requires people to separate their trash into four categories: Dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables and hazardous waste. Starting from July 1, individual offenders will be fined up to 200 yuan (US$29), and companies risk a fine of up to 500,000 yuan (US$72,378). 

What many people find confusing is how to differentiate between dry and wet garbage. As demonstrated by one popular video shared by the state-run People’s Daily, the (dry) shells of sunflower seeds count as wet garbage, while wet napkins belong to dry garbage. A hashtag named “Shanghai residents almost driven crazy by garbage classification” was at one point the second hottest search on Weibo yesterday. 

The maker of the game is a Shanghai-based VR education company named VitrellaCore. It says in a WeChat article that the game is free for the public to experience at one booth in Shanghai, and that they will also release the game on Steam in the near future.

While the new regulation is making many people scratch their heads, it has also created new business opportunities online.

Prices of small sortable garbage bins for home use have been surging on ecommerce platforms, and users are providing garbage sorting services, naming themselves “garbage classification specialists”, on used-good trading platform Xianyu. 

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, who operates Xianyu.)

Shanghai is also deploying “smart garbage bins” in neighborhoods that can supposedly open by voice command, as shown in a Xinhua video. Some of the bins also need people to sign in with their house number, and are equipped with a “big data analysis system”. The system has records of which households have “actively participated” and which have not, so that neighborhood management can “publicize with house visits accordingly”, according to Chinese media reports

But it appears that some people think it’s not working very well.

“I just couldn’t open this smart garbage bin,” says one Weibo user. “Technology makes people grumpy.”