Chinese Recycling

When I was doing study abroad at Renmin University in Beijing, we once had a lecture on recycling in China. Because wages are ostensibly not what they are in the US or Europe, the incentive to make money on smaller margins exists. (I.e. selling paper goods, metals, plastics, etc.) As a result, in some ways the recycling in China is much better than the United States and the trash actually sorts itself out as the invisible hand guides the more impoverished to do so.

Seeing as how you cannot drink tap in China (lest you filter or boil it) many people consume bottled water. Further, bubble tea shops and 7/11’s are ridiculously popular, with the byproduct being loads of plastics thrown away. Even given the amount of recyclables thrown in the trash, the recycling rate was above 90% because of this hidden economy.

However, that lecture was in 2014 and at that point things were already starting to change. Because wages have been increasing dramatically in China over the last ten years, the marginal income gained from cashing in a Coke can, is relatively much less than a manufacturing job can earn you these days. Therefore, the recycling rate is going down and there could be a landfill problem.

However, this recycling reveals itself it a grand manner. The amount of tricycles with a bed stacked to the moon with cardboard is dumbfounding. Small trucks or bicycles or tricycles or anything of that nature with a bed, will be stacked to the high heavens with paper products or bags of glass and plastics to be taken away. They usually sort on arrival and bike away. It’s definitely a system that has largely worked in the interests of landfills, recycling plants, the less wealthy, and clean streets.

I’m sure if you’ve been in China, you’ve seen this a million times. Let me know what you think of this!


Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!

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