Last weekend I spent a very interesting afternoon at the TEDxSuzhou event City2.0 (how people are transforming cities). Some talks were in Chinese and I entertained myself during these by counting the number of words I could understand whilst chatting to my newly found friend. Luckily there was also content in English. One talk was particularly interesting to me as it was about recycling. Not that I am overly interested in this topic in general but I had been wondering for a while whether I should really be dumping all my recyclables in the trash or start looking for an alternative. Well there it was.
The speaker in question Adam Williams, a cultural geographer and Ph.D student at the University of Colorado who is currently doing field research, spoke about informal recycling in Shanghai. He introduced me to the phenomenon of the informal waste recyclers. I have seen many of them wheeling around on their tricycles carrying an amount of paper (or metal or wood or any other recyclable item) ten time the size of the bike, but I just never connected the dots (it happens).
I learned that these informal recyclers make a living (albeit a tough one) out of collecting recyclables (both household and industrial scrap), sorting them and then selling them on to recycling companies. Here’s comes the good part. They collect your recyclable waste and, wait for it,… they pay you by weight! I can’t imagine it being very much but I can tell you it’s significantly better than the €270 Cork City Council used to charge us. Obviously there is much more to this story and to Adam’s research, waste in general becoming an increasingly large problem for China’s cities now that the middle class in China is able to afford the luxuries that accumulate all this waste. Then again one of China’s richest women made her fortune by importing large amounts of US paper waste and turning it into cardboard used for exporting products made in China, so I guess they’ll come up with something right?
In the meantime I have to find out how to rendez vous with the local recyclers in Suzhou so I can start doing my bit – een beter milieu begint bij jezelf* – but I have a suspicion that the regularly heard ice-cream-truck-version of ‘it’s a small world‘ has something to do with them appearing. Next time I hear it I will be running down with my paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass, styrofoam, old tv’s…… I hope I’ll be able to buy an ice cream with the earnings.
Some interesting photos of the recyclers can be found in this flickrstream by frogMob.
* a better environment starts with you – the slogan of an environmental campaign by the Dutch government in the nineties.