Airs on Foreign Correspondent at 8 pm Tuesday August 7 and 1.30 pm Friday August 10 on ABC TV, and at 7.30 pm AEST on Saturday August 11 on the ABC News Channel. Also on iview – Mick Raven
2nd Aug 2018
very morning, an army of scavengers swarms over Beijing’s rubbish piles. Piece by piece, they separate recyclables from waste. There’s enough to scrape a living, of sorts, for 170,000 rubbish pickers like Wang Jindong.
Wang lives in a shack without power or water with his wife and nephew Mengnan, 11. He took in the boy to stop him being sold by his ailing father.
“For his growth, his schooling, I would bear any hardship,” says Wang. The bottles he collects earn him less than a cent apiece, but they will put food on the table and cover Mengnan’s school fees.
Wang is one tiny cog in an informal and multi-layered recycling industry that handles a third of Beijing’s rubbish. But pickers like Wang may soon become a casualty of China’s drive to modernise its waste industry.
With its 1.4 billion people, China is the world’s second biggest waste producer after the US. Beijing alone churns out around 25,000 tonnes a day – two and a half times the amount of 20 years ago. Much of it ends up in vast leaky landfills or in hazardous backyard recycling operations.
So China is cracking down.
As correspondent Bill Birtles reports, Chinese consumers are being told to sort their own rubbish for recycling. Proposals are afoot to restrict single use packaging, including takeaway food containers. The government is pushing industrial-scale recycling and shutting down mum and dad operators. It wants big city incinerators to burn the majority of household waste by 2020.
None of which bodes well for Wang Jindong.
“We have vast numbers of rubbish pickers – they don’t have any skills or education,” says businesswoman Liu Xuesong. Ms Liu has installed 5000 collection machines around Beijing, inviting consumers to get cash for bottles. Middlemen like Wang are cut out.
“I want to give this industry more dignity,” she says.
But for now, China’s growing consumer society can’t get enough packaging. Each morning Rao Jian, 22, lines up with his fellow food delivery riders for a pep talk and a chant: “Move like the wind!”
Reporter Birtles goes with him as he hits the road, delivering some of the food and drinks that will add another 60 million plastic containers to China’s waste mountain, each and every day.
Can China win its war on waste? Or will it be a war of attrition? Bill Birtles’ report Tipping Point airs on Foreign Correspondent at 8 pm Tuesday August 7 and 1.30 pm Friday August 10 on ABC TV, and at 7.30 pm AEST on Saturday August 11 on the ABC News Channel. Also on iview.