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In China recycling is done by the trash collectors who specialize in different kinds of refuse — rubber, aluminum, tin, plastic, paper — and either collect these materials by going house to house or sort through the garbage, selling what they find to traders. Garbage collectors called rag and bone men ply the alleys of the cities, pedaling heavy bicycles, banging on pots and shouting, “Sell your rubbish, sell your rubbish.”On recycling in his Beijing hutong,

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “On average a recycler passes through every half hour, riding a flat-bed tricycle. They purchase cardboard, paper, Styrofoam, and broken appliances. They buy old books by the kilogram and dead televisions by the square inch. Appliances can be repaired or stripped for parts, and the paper and plastic are sold to the recycling centers for the barest of profits: the margins of trash.” “I pulled some useless possessions in the entranceway of my apartment and invited each passing recycler inside to see what everything was worth. A stack of old magazines sold for 62 cents; a burn-out computer chord went for a nickel. Two broken maps were seventeen cents. A worn out pair of shoes, 12 cents. Two broken Palm Pilots, 37 cents. I gave one man a marked-up manuscript of the book I’d been writing, and he pulled out a scale, weighed the pages, and paid me 15 cents.”

An estimated 160,000 collectors in Beijing who make a living from recycling plastic sheeting, office printouts, bottles, radiators, scraps of cardboard and other recyclable stuff. Some of it ends up in Dongxiaokou, a village on the outskirts of Beijing composed of scrap with blocks of crushed metal stacked in a tower, and heaps of plastic bottles, and piles of newspapers and rags filling yards. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 9, 2009]

Recycling has become a global industry and China is the largest importer of the world's waste materials, taking in as much as a third of Britain's recyclables and the entire U.S. west coast waste paper market, much of it sent to factories run by China’s richest woman in southern China.

Human Fertilizer in China

Traditionally, nothing was wasted in China: human waste was (and still is in some places) collected from family outhouses and used as fertilizer. Outhouses in rural China were often placed near pig sties so waste could be collected from both sources and used for fertilizer. China has a long history of using human excrement — “night soil” — as fertilizer. The morning distribution of night soil used to be a common sight throughout China.

Urine used to be collected in 65-gallon drums and used for medicine and fertilizer. Travel writer Paul Theroux in the 1980s saw a sign over a urinal at a public restroom that read "We would like good quality urine, so please do not put anything in — no spitting, no paper, no cigarette butts."

It is estimated that the citizens of Shanghai produced over 10,000 tons of human feces everyday and much of it was gathered up at night, put in barrels, transported to fields around the city, and scooped out as fertilizer. Until the early 2000s, human waste was moved in Shanghai by boats poled along the city's shallow canals and streams by women. In 2001, 4,700 tons of feces and 19,000 tons of trash traveled to processing stations and landfills by poled boats. These boats have mostly been replaced by mechanized vessels which cover their cargo with blue tarps.

Recycling Clothes in China

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Farmer using nightsoil
In China there is a stigma to wearing old or second-hand clothes and millions of tons of garments are discarded every day. There are clothing collection bins — with signs that read “Low-carbon, warmth, love” — scattered all around China’s major cities. Few of the garments go to charity. Some are sold to developing countries, others are either burned or buried in landfills. Less than 1 percent is reused or recycled, according to Xinhua. According to Bloomberg: “Part of the problem in China is that recycling clothing is unprofitable by law. Non-charitable sales of used apparel are banned for health and safety reasons. In China, used clothes are considered unhygienic, even unlucky. And Covid-19 has reinforced that bias. [Source: Bloomberg News, October 19, 2020]

“Outside the fifth ring road on a recent Sunday morning in northeast Beijing, dozens of people are browsing the Roundabout Charity shop, which is holding a second-hand fair. They’re buying toys, books, home décor. Almost nobody is in the clothes section. In a city with 20 million people, Roundabout is one of the few charity shops that even sells used garments. “It’s for a great cause, but even my family and friends don’t understand why I buy second-hand when I can afford international brands,” said 38-year-old Chen Wen, a local resident. “When people see second-hand clothes, they don’t think eco-friendly, they think poverty.”

“China authorizes government-approved organizations to collect and sort donated clothes that are in “excellent condition,” Few do. The time and effort aren’t worth it in a nation where used clothes are unpopular even in relatively poor regions. “Sometimes too many just pile up” at collecting sites, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs says. “It’s difficult to deal with.”

“So high-quality garments that are collected are usually sold overseas. China’s exports of used clothing rose to 6.4 percent of the world total in 2015, from less than 1 percent in 2010, according to the latest data from the U.K.-based Textile Recycling Association. Many go to Africa. Ten years ago the U.K. supplied a quarter of the used clothing shipped to Kenya. Now China is the biggest supplier, accounting for about 30 percent, while the U.K.’s share has dropped to 17 percent.

“Some Chinese exporters rely on the collection bins in residential neighborhoods, but many now use e-commerce sites like Alipay to solicit donations. About 70 percent of the clothes collected by Hangzhou-based Baijingyu, or White Whales, are sold in overseas second-hand clothing markets, while 15 percent are down-cycled for use in construction, agriculture, or gardening, or sent to waste-to-energy incinerators, said Chief Executive Officer Jason Fang. With its main markets in Southeast Asia and Africa, most of its exports are summer apparel. Only about 15 percent of donations are given to poor regions in China. “People want all their clothes donated to poor Chinese families, but it’s not very realistic anymore,” Fang said. A few years ago, if a jacket was 70 percent new, people would take it, but today I am too embarrassed to even show a jacket to a family unless it’s 90 percent new.” Some of the clothes are shipped to Europe and the U.S first before being re-shipped to Africa for a better price, said Fang. “Every African client wants American clothes.”

“The vast majority of China’s discarded apparel goes straight into to the trash, exacerbating one of the country’s biggest environmental headaches. Most of the nation’s 654 giant landfills filled up ahead of schedule. The nation’s biggest dump in Jiangcungou, Shaanxi province, is the size of 100 football fields, but filled up 25 years earlier than designed after receiving almost four times the amount of daily waste predicted. As a result, China dumped more than 200 million cubic meters of waste into its coastal waters in 2018, according to the environmental ministry.

“That’s promoted perhaps the fastest-growing solution for China’s unwanted garment problem: burn them. Cut and shredded pieces of cloth are added to wet waste in trash-to-energy incinerators to make them more efficient. China considers such plants a form of renewable power, despite the emissions they produce, and has tried to double their capacity in the past five years. That’s not an environmentally sustainable solution, said Wheeler at the Recycling Bureau. “Clothing needs to be designed for durability and recycling and when people have finished with it, they need to send it for re-use.” Wheeler said the real solution, though, is much simpler. “We need to buy less clothing.”

Scavengers in China

Daniel Bardsley wrote in The National, “When Zhu Xuemei moved to the Chinese capital, she was looking for "a better life and a better job", but things have not turned out as she hoped. Now working as a scavenger on a landfill site in the far south of Beijing, she spends her days knee-deep in a stinking mixture of greasy plastic bags, packaging, rotting fruit peel and used toilet paper. Her job is to separate out anything worth keeping - including drinks cans, glass jars, plastic bags and old food trays. For this, the 41-year-old from a village in southern Sichuan province earns about 700 yuan (Dh 403) a month. "This wasn't what I expected. I came to Beijing to earn some money but it's very hard to find suitable work," she said. [Source: Daniel Bardsley, The National, October 17, 2011]

The scavengers, about a dozen of them at this landfill in Daxing district, constantly turn over the rubbish using pitchforks, throwing useful items into vast sacks arranged around them. There are flies everywhere and even a chicken pecking at the rubbish. Lorries full of yet more rubbish arrive regularly. The newly wealthy residents of urban China are producing more rubbish than ever before. And most of it ends up in landfills like this.

Many Chinese have found that they can make more money working as scavengers, collecting plastic trash bags, tin cans and rubber soles of shoes, than they can working as farmers or day laborers. Some of them work at landfills dodging bulldozers and extracting materials from the fetid heaps. One scavenger who earned enough to pay the tuition fees at an expensive, exclusive high school for his daughter told the New York Times, “We worked really hard as laborers before, doing 12-to 15-hour days for a mere few hundred yuan, You have to work even if you are sick or tired, here we are working for ourselves, and there is a lot more freedom — four to five hours a day, plus we can earn a lot more.” Another scavenger said he made enough to take care of his 60-year-old father.

At one Australian-run Shanghai dump, scavengers are despised by the dump owners because they haul away all the recyclable materials, leaving nothing for the dump, plus they slow the work down by getting in the way. The manager of the dump, told the New York Times , “As soon as you tip the truck there will be 50 people running all about the machines — quite big machines...I don’t have the statistics, but quite a few people have been crushed.” In Beijing, about 170,000 migrant workers scour streets and rummage through trash bins for recyclable items they can sell. Some of them live among piles of trash at large recycling centers. A study of these workers found they process about one third of Beijing’s trash but most have criminal records and 70 percent have contacted infectious diseases such as dysentery, hepatitis and typhoid which they can pass on to others.

Large Scale Recycling in China

Industrial scale recycling is being introduced to China especially since the price of raw materials and demand for them has risen, creating more an economic incentive to harvest these material from trash. China also receives large amounts of recycled materials from abroad. More than half of all the PET bottles turned in in Britain are recycled in China.

China is a world leader in recycling waste paper on a global scale. About 60 percent of the fiber used to manufacture paper and paperboad profucts in China is derived from waste paper. Imports of waste paper in China increased 500 percent from 3.1 million tons in 1996 to 19.6 million tons in 2006.

Zhang Yin, one of China’s and the world’s richest women, made a large part of her fortune buying up waste paper in the United States and shipping it to China to be made into packaging. Some environmentalists credit Chinese paper recyclers with doing more than other industrial or government sector to slow the cutting of the world’s forests. According to the Washington-D.C.-based Forest Trend Chinese use of waste paper in 2006 prevented 54 million tons of wood from being harvested for pulp.

China is (or was) the world’s largest importer of plastic waste. There are about 5,000 factories that process this plastic in China, many of them in small towns. On trying to enter one of these waste treatment-processing factories to shoot the film. “Plastic China,” Wang Jiuliang said: “not one would like you to film them. I don’t want to go into details, but we were beaten three times because our presence threatened their interests. So it took us a long time to try to get in. For at least the first three months we had to shoot from outside and afar. Not only the factories but also the local government didn’t welcome you, as someone with a camera. This is the most difficult part. It was not Yijie who was our protagonist in the beginning, but rather an old man who is the owner of a factory. I filmed him and his family for one year beginning in spring 2012, but in spring 2013 the local government found out and warned him to stop cooperating with me. We were no longer allowed to enter his factory, and the filming had to come to a halt. It became an unfinished story, and I had to discard all the materials I had filmed, not to mention the time and effort we had devoted to it. It was very painful! We had to start from scratch and to look for a new story.

From then on, Yijie” and her family the Pengs “became our protagonist, and it took us one and a half years to film her and her family, from spring 2013 to fall 2014. For most families living in that town, their stories are pretty much the same as the Pengs’ and Kun’s, so it doesn’t matter which family we chose...Yijie was nine years old but had never been able to go to school... The factory owner Kun is local to Shandong. But since most local people are not willing to do this kind of job, most workers the factories hire are from Sichuan Province, like the Peng family.

Scrap Metal, Paper, See Resources China is seeking help from Japan on recycling and handling different types of pollution and environmental problems.

See Deforestation

Recycling Industry in China Collapses

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Migrant workers sorting recycled waste
In late 2008 and early 2009, in the midst of the global economic crisis, the recycling industry in China collapsed as demand for packaging plummeted. Official media reported that four-fifths of China's recycling units had closed and millions lost their jobs. Across the scrap trade, prices have halved or worse in a matter of months. Each link in the chain is disintegrating, from factories to scrapyards to collectors.[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 9, 2009]

A buyer of plastic waste told The Guardian: “I've been in this business for 15 years and it's been bad before, but never this severe. Everyone's lost a huge amount of money and some can't sell their stock. Usually we sell to factories and they recycle them into plastic chips. But the price of chips has dropped so it's had a knock-on effect on us.” [Ibid]

“Beijing dealers were particularly hard hit,” Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian. “They stockpiled large quantities of recyclables because prices were soaring, but as the market began to soften, the Olympic security clampdown prevented trucks from entering the capital. The merchants could only watch as the value of their holdings plummeted.”

“In a good year we can earn about 50,000 yuan but this year we lost 200,000,” another plastics recycler told The Guardian. “We came here more than 10 years ago and at the beginning we collected ourselves. Then we managed to start the business. We were too poor to get loans but we managed to borrow 100,000-200,000 from friends and relatives and we work from morning to night every day. But we haven't paid them all back because of our losses.”

Adam Minter, who runs the Shanghai Scrap blog and specializes in the metal trade, told The Guardian the predicament was typical of the trade. “People would borrow money from relatives and buy a container of scrap and then throw all that money back in and reinvest it. Great if it goes up - but the moment it starts slipping, especially if it's slipping 20-30 percent, you're finished,” he said. Gong said: “Once we have sold all this stock we'll leave. My son's sorting it because we can't afford workers any more. We haven't figured out what to do next. We have seven people in the family and only 2.5-3 mu [less than half an acre] of farmland. It's too many people and too little land, so even if we go home there's not much we can do. We have both old and young to support.” [Ibid]

The effects were felt across China. Branigan wrote: “Most of Gong's customers were plastics recyclers in Wen'an, Hebei, where by one estimate 93 percent of income depends on the trade. Some are already bankrupt. Wen'an Dongdu Jiacheng Recycling Resources is clinging on. But Miss Han, a materials buyer, said all but three of the 26 production line workers had been sent home for the new year holiday more than a month early.” [Ibid]

“There is no longer demand for plastic granules from nearby companies such as Hongkai Plastic Products, which made items such as bicycle handlebars. Its owner, Mr Zheng, has sent 20 workers home. “My factory was hit by the economic crisis - it's been closed for two months already,” he said. “We usually sell our products to a dealer and most of his business is exports. He didn't give us any more orders.” At a factory down the road, the response to queries was more brusque. “We've already gone bust,” said a man.” [Ibid]

The collapse of the Chinese recycling industry left Britain, the United States amd others grappling with growing volumes of recycled waste and nowhere to send it. Adam Minter, who runs the Shanghai Scrap blog and specializes in the metal trade, told The Guardian that until November 2008 “the entire [US] west coast paper market was sent to China and most of it was sent south. It was processed and made into packaging for products that then shipped back to the US ... But when US consumer demand dropped off, that broke the cycle.” [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 9, 2009]

Vending Machines in China That Recycle Plastic

In July 2012, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: Beijing's vast army of plastic-bottle scavengers will get an automated rival later this month, when the city introduces its first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers. More than 100 recycle-to-ride devices will be installed in an attempt to reduce the environmental impact of the informal bottle collection business and improve the profits of the operator, which works in an industry thought to be worth billions of dollars. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, July 4, 2012]

“Donors will receive between 5 fen and 1 mao (about 1 cent) on their commuter passes for each polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle they insert into the machine, which then crushes them to a third of their original size and sorts them according to colour and type. "It will be as easy to use as an ATM," said an employee of the operating company, Incom, who declined to give her name. "We hope to put one at every station on the route [subway line 10] and later expand to other lines, bus stops and residential areas." The firm currently processes 50,000 tons of bottles a year, most of which it buys from informal collectors who roam the city's streets looking for discards, which they pack on to carts and bicycles. [Ibid]

“With the machines, the firm hopes to collect directly from the public and generate extra revenue from government subsidies and sales of advertising shown on the machine's screens. Incom says it plans to approach Coca-Cola and other beverage retailers. Similar devices have been used in several countries, including the US, Japan and Brazil, but they have benefited from civic mindedness, convenience and widespread ignorance about the true value of PET. [Ibid]

“Waste-trade experts are sceptical that the same business model will work in China, which already has a vast and highly competitive PETrecycling industry. Nobody knows the numbers of collectors, but estimates range from 500,000 to 20 million. Many go from door to door, or come when called. Adam Minter, a Shangai-based blogger and author of an upcoming book on China's scrap business, reckons that recycling may be the second most popular profession in the country after farming and that the PET market alone is worth billions of dollars. More significantly, he says the motives are also different, which will mean the reverse vending machine operators will have to offer competitive rates or they will struggle to attract takers. [Ibid]

“In the west, recycling is seen as a green activity. In developing Asia, it is an economic activity," Minter says. "One thing is guaranteed. If donors are not paid market price, it is not going to work." A similar device was launched in Shanghai several years ago, but has not made any noticeable dent in the informal industry. Incom says, however, that environmental benefits should be considered alongside economic factors.While most informal PET recycling workshops re-use the plastic for clothes and create pollution during their largely unregulated activities, the company says it makes the cleanest and most efficient use possible of the plastic for new bottles. [Ibid]

“Environmental activists said they would wait to see whether the devices were energy intensive and waste-producing before passing judgment. "Using better technology for recycling is a good thing, generally speaking," said Feng Yongfeng of the Green Beagle NGO. "But bottle recycling is not an urgent problem in China. We already have a mature system for that. Our real need is to complete a comprehensive recycling system.” [Ibid]

The women who poled the boats began their tasks at 4:00am as human waste picked up from neighborhoods was delivered by truck and distributed on the boats in construction hats tied to bamboo poles. Loading was usually finished around 7:00am. The process of poling the boats was slow and difficult. Sometimes the women had to jump ashore to pull the boats with ropes tied around their bodies. Some women traveled 18 miles a day over a period of 15 hours. These days many farmers have switched to nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer, whose run off can cause water pollution.

E-Waste and Toxic Waste in China

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Recycling Japanese pachinko machines
As of the early 2010s, DDT was still made in China and India. China still manufactures large numbers of cheap toxic mercury-based batteries. Most countries produce less harmful alkaline batteries. There are few recycling facilities for batteries. China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam have toxic waste import bans..

In July 2006, toxic chlorine gas leaking from a rusting pipe in a chemical factory in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, northwest China put 164 people in the hospital. In March 2005, toxic chlorine gas leaking from a crashed tanker killed 27 people in eastern China and put 300 people in the hospital. The truck was carrying 30 tons of liquified chlorine when one its tires exploded and it rammed a truck. Leaking chlorine gas engulfed several nearby villages.

China is the world’s largest producer of electric waste (E-waste).Top producing countries of electronic waste (E-waste) in 2019 (in metric tons): 1) China: 10,12910,129; 2) United States: 6,9186,918; 3) India: 2303,230; 4) Japan: 2,5692,569; 5) Brazil:2,1432,143; 6) Russia: 1,6311,631; 7) Indonesia: 1,6181,618; 8) Germany: 1,6071,607; 9) United Kingdom: 1,5981,598; 10) France: 1,3621,362

in 2013, China generated about 6.1 million metric tonnes of e-waste a year compared with 7.2 million for the US and 48.8 million globally, according to the United Nations University's Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative. But while US e-waste production increased by 13 percent between 2008 and 2013, China's nearly doubled in the same period. It surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest source in 2017. [Source: Felicia Sonmez, AFP October 28, 2014]

According to AFP: China's surging economy has transformed the country into a consuming power in its own right — it is now the world's largest smartphone market — and use of electronic devices has soared. "Before, the waste was shipped from other parts of the world coming into China — that used to be the biggest source and the biggest problem," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, one of China's foremost environmental NGOs. "But now, China has become a consuming power of its own," Ma said. "We have I think 1.1 billion cell phones used, and the life of our gadgets has become shorter and shorter."

Recycling E-Waste in China

China is the world’s primary destination for high-tech trash. Millions of computers, cell phones and other electronic products are shipped off to China, where they are taken apart and their recyclable materials are extracted. Workers employed by local entrepreneurs work around the clock smashing the devices and components, taking out bits of copper and bronze and other metals. The process is harmful to the environment and to workers, who usually work without protective gear and are exposed to harmful chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, barium, and beryllium. At places where the high tech trash is processed the same chemicals and heavy metals are found in the environment.

For a time about 90 percent of the high tech waste from the United States is shipped to China. Much of it ends up in villages in Guangdong Province in southern China, near Hong Kong, where an estimated 100,000 scavengers make their living harvesting materials from electronic products. China has forbidden the import of electronic and computer scrap since 2000 but that hasn’t stopped the trade.

Taizhou is another major e-waste center. It reached its peak in the e-waste trade in the early 2000s and has been it a state of decline since then as the customs officials in the nearby ports of Ningpo and Haimen have clamped down in e-waste imports. Chris Carroll wrote in National Geographic in 2008: “Today the salvagers operate in the shadows. Inside the open door of a house in a hillside village, a homeowner uses pliers to rip microchips and metal parts off a computer motherboard. A buyer will burn the pieces to recover copper...In the same villager, several men huddle inside a shed, heating circuit boards over a flame to extract metal. In another village a few miles away, a woman stacks bags of circuit boards in her house...Continuing through the hills, I see people tearing apart batteries alternators and high-voltage cable for recycling firms and others hauling aluminum scrap to an aging smelter. But I find no one else working with electronics. In Taizhou, at least the e-waste business seems to be waning.”

Guiyu: China's E-Waste Recycling Capital

There is huge recycling area and dump around a cluster of villages called Guiyu, where entire families were involved in dangerous practices like melting circuit boards to extract lead and other metals.. Items dumped in Guiyu include lead-laden glass from cathode-ray tubes, acid-reduced circuit broads and printer toner cartridges. Local entrepreneurs buy the trash and in bulk and employ workers to break it down and extract the valuable materials. The work is dirty and dangerous. Computer components, for example, are roasted over coal fires or treated with acid to extract copper gold and other metals.

The documentary “Exporting Harm” highlights the problem of disposing of computer junk with a particular focus on Guiyu. Even though the extraction trade is a shadow of what it once was the practice continues and the damage from it is long lasting. After the film “Exporting Harm”, the Chinese government expanded the list of forbidden e-waste and began putting more pressure on local governments to enforce China’s e-waste ban but still it continues..

Reporting from Guiyu, Felicia Sonmez of AFP wrote: Mountains of discarded remote controls litter the warehouse floor. In a dimly-lit room, women on plastic stools pry open the devices, as if shucking oysters, to retrieve the circuitry inside. “In a narrow alley a few blocks over, a father and son from a distant province wash microchips in plastic buckets. Men haul old telephones and computer keyboards by the shovelful off a truck. “Some items will be refurbished and resold, others will be stripped for components or materials such as copper or gold. [Source: Felicia Sonmez, AFP October 28, 2014]

“Business is booming in the Chinese town of Guiyu, where the world's electronic waste ends up for recycling — and is set to get even better. Much of the e-waste that passed through Guiyu over the past few decades came from outside China. Western countries are now making a greater effort to process their own e-waste, but Chinese domestic supply will soon be more than enough to step into any breach, campaigners say.

“Nowhere are the profit and environmental toll of e-waste recycling more on display than in Guiyu, where some 80,000 of 130,000 residents work in the loosely-regulated industry, according to a 2012 local government estimate. More than 1.6 million tonnes of e-waste pass through Guiyu each year, with recycling worth 3.7 billion yuan ($600 million) annually and attracting migrants from near and far. "This work is tiring, but the salary is okay compared with the work in town," said a 30-year-old surnamed Ma, who left a salesman's job to dismantle electronics. "You can make 4,000 or 5,000 yuan ($650 to $815) a month."

Health Costs of E-Waste Recycling in Guiyu and Efforts to Crack Down On It

The environmental and health costs of e-waste recycling in Guiyu are huge. Dioxin levels there are among the highest measured anywhere in the world. The soil is saturated with it. High levels of PBDEs — toxic fire retardants used in electronics — have turned up in the blood of electronic workers there. [Source: Felicia Sonmez, AFP October 28, 2014]

Felicia Sonmez of AFP wrote: “The town has made worldwide headlines for the devastating health impact of its tainted environment. "People think this cannot be allowed to go on," said Leo Chen, 28, a financial worker who grew up in Guiyu. The situation was better than a decade ago, he said, following authorities' interventions, but the effects of years of pollution remain.

Electronic remnants are strewn in a nearby stream, and the air is acrid from the burning of plastic, chemicals and circuit boards. Heavy metal contamination has turned the air and water toxic, and children have high lead levels in their blood, according to an August 2014 study by researchers at Shantou University Medical College. "In my memory, in front of my house, there was a river. It was green, and the water was very nice and clear," he said. "Now, it's black."

Lai Yun, a Greenpeace researcher who has often visited Guiyu, told AFP that while Beijing has tightened regulations enforcement is often lax, and the bottom line is that development cannot be obstructed. "From the government's perspective, e-waste gathering and processing is important for the local economy," Lai said. "Research has shown that 80 percent of households are involved in this work. So, if they don't expand this industry, these residents will need some other kind of employment." [Source: Felicia Sonmez, AFP October 28, 2014]

According to AFP: Central authorities including China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) have invested heavily in Guiyu's recycling industry, pointed out Adam Minter, author of "Junkyard Planet", on the economics of the global scrap industry. The overall picture was mixed, he said. "There is an environmental good happening there — they're extending the life span of usable components, they're pulling things out and recycling them, or sending them to Korea and Japan, something that's very expensive to do in the US and the EU," he said. "Yet they do it in a way that's not always good for human health and the environment," he added. "Recycling is a morally complicated act."

China Ends All Waste Imports in 2021

For years, China was the world's largest importer of garbage. China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Commerce, reported that China's solid waste imports were 13.48 million tonnes in 2019, down from 22.63 million tonnes in 2018 and that figure for the first 10 months of 2020 was down 42.7 percent year on year. In 2017 China banned the import of 24 kinds of solid wastes, including textile products,[Source: AFP, November 28, 2020]

In 2020, it said it would end all waste imports in 2021, marking the end of a three-year phase-out of accepting overseas trash. AFP reported: Since the 1980s the country has imported solid waste, which local companies would clean, crush and transform into raw materials for industrialists...often leading to pollution when the materials cannot be recycled or disposed of properly.

“Hoping to no longer be the world's rubbish bin, the government started to close China's doors to foreign waste in January 2018, causing backlogs of garbage in the exporting countries.“Since then, it has gradually banned imports of different types of plastics, car parts, paper, textiles, and scrap steel or wood. The ban covers all kinds of waste, according to the Xinhua news agency. Xinhua, citing a notice from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the Ministry of Commerce, and the General Administration of Customs, said that the dumping, stacking and disposal of waste products from overseas.

Image Sources: 1) Ohio State University; 2) Gary Baasch; 3) Environmental News; 4) Johomaps; 5) Nolls China website ; 6) Guardian, Environmental News; 7) Bucklin archives; 8) Agroecology; 9) Kyodo, Environmental News ; 10) trash containers Asia Obscura

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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