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  • Is Recycling far away from us in Shanghai?

    Post by : expatree

Have you ever seen a Chinese guy collecting used bottle in the street? Ever wonder why they are doing it?
Walk down any street in shanghai and you will soon notice the scrap recyclers. They’re the guys collecting used bottles, dismantling old mattresses to remove the metal springs, and flattening and stacking used cardboard boxes.

Recycling is not an activity you might automatically associate with the world’s largest producer of disposable stuff. Know what though? Chinese people are avid recyclers, driven in part by thrift, and in part by business – after all, several of China’s biggest multi-billionaires made their fortunes in the waste recycling business.

It is important to know that recycling is a moral act especially in the developed world (Europe and North America in particular).

Meanwhile, in the developing world, recycling is an economic act, done primarily for income. Little to no consideration is given to the environmental benefits of recycling; on those rare occasions when the environment enters the discussion, it’s a side-benefit, often utilized as a marketing ploy by companies seeking more valuable recyclables for less money. The average citizen (say, in Shanghai), rarely considers the environmental benefit of selling his or her paper, cans, and bottles to the local scrap peddlers.

Recycling is a money market (though not much of a money maker!). The system works by offering people a cash rebate for their recycling much like the rebate schemes implemented for the recycling of aluminium cans and glass bottles in many western countries.

This rebate scheme has many of China’s elderly scavenging through dirty bins in search of recyclables to exchange for cash. Older men load up trailers pulled by bicycles often with the piles of recycling looming dangerously high above their heads.

No one is going to get rich from selling their recycling, but for China’s low-class, every little bit they can get counts sparking a competitive if not sometimes catty war over recycling. You’ll never, ever find a group of Chinese university students digging through a 6 ton pile of garbage (at their college, or elsewhere). I could give a long list of reasons, but the one that I’d like to focus on is this: trash sorting is a job in China, and it’s one that Chinese students don’t want. It’s not about virtue; it’s about work, status, and money. In Shanghai, for example, the city is dotted with trash dumps that employ hundreds of migrants, and poor locals, who sift through the municipal waste stream in search of value, and thus recycle it to a degree unimaginable and unattainable in developed countries.

Recycling rebates are paid in weight; the more weight the more money. The question is how much recycling do you need to earn a decent amount of money? Rumour has it that some people can earn up to 1000RMB a month from recycling but in reality this would be a very rare few, the rare few who owned carts to scavenge large quantities from all over the city. With the competitiveness of recycling in overcrowded neighbourhoods, for the average person they would be lucky to earn even 100RMB a month.

To conclude, we can say that the Chinese mentality is changing, but it will take time. China’s government is working on a future environmental plan. China just need to start thinking more “Green”.

Garbage bins are appearing in pairs bearing the label "Recyclables" and "Non-Recyclables". But Chinese citizens are unaware of the difference between "Recyclables" and "Non-Recyclables" as there has been inadequate information made available to the public on the distinction between the two.

For now the priority is cleaning up the country and supporting local communities and informing the Chinese population.
* Thanks to Alina offering a good writing topic, we hope our tips are helpful and it makes easier to live in Shanghai. If anyone has a request on the blog topic, you are welcome to send your suggestion to
Date:2014-03-27 21:35:22
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