Home » business, dawn jones-garcia's travel blog, headline, mike melanson's travel blog, on the street

The Ragman cometh

By 5 June 2009 No Comment
What a waste: Recycling is big business in Beijing

What a waste: Recycling is big business in Beijing | Photo by Kelly West

Pick virtually any neighborhood in sprawling Beijing and you will find tricycles resembling miniature pickup trucks trundling down the narrow streets, stacked high with cardboard, plastic bottles, newspapers and other refuse. Each member of this ragtag fleet is on its way to a local recycling center somewhere – often little more than a cramped room where recyclables are processed. A truck usually waits outside to bring the day’s shipment to the outskirts of the city, where the materials will be sold.

For the past 10 years, Shan Hong Jun has operated one such center located on an alleyway off Houhai, a Beijing tourist district lined with bars and cafes. But business has been difficult of late.

“The financial crisis has definitely had a huge effect” on the state of Beijing’s recycling industry, said Shan.

Recycling is big business in China, but at Shan’s level it’s a way to make a living that far outpaces what is possible in his native Henan province, where he started working in recycling before deciding to tap into bigger opportunities in Beijing, one of the country’s fast-growing epicenters of the trade. Although Beijing invested $37.5 billion in 2007 to develop the world’s largest recycling processing plant, the profit is naturally on a much smaller scale for people like Shan.

And although business is still better in Beijing than in the countryside, Shan blamed the financial crisis and what he called “foreign rubbish” for the recent drop in recyclable materials prices. Newspaper, for example, sold for 1.8 RMB (USD 0.26) per kilogram as recently as last year,  but now sells for only 0.8 RMB (USD 0.12) per kilogram.

Recyclable material prices plummeted worldwide, according to the UK newspaper, The Guardian. For instance, recycled paper dropped from $200 per ton to $20 per ton over a three-week period last October.

The financial crisis has slowed manufacturing at small factories across China, Shan said, decreasing the demand for materials. Recyclable materials exported from other countries, meanwhile, cost so little that his own must be sold at lower prices in order to remain competitive.

Mrs. Fan, another recycling-center operator in the Huanghuamen hutong in central Beijing, who declined to give her first name, said she also left Henan province in search of a better life. One of an estimated 150 million migrant workers across China, Fan has been running her center for the past four years. Reselling recyclables offers a better lifestyle than working as a farmer, she said, and she hopes to save enough money within the next five years to move back to her hometown.

Although Shan said money was tight at the moment, he expects to keep reselling recyclables well into the future. There will be no shortage of supply and demand in a country that currently produces nearly 160 million metric tons of recyclable materials a year. That figure is expected to increase to nearly 250 million metric tons by 2013, according to a 2008 report by BCC Research.

One of an estimated 150 million migrant workers across China, Mrs. Fan has been running a recycling center for the past four years.

Trash cache: Migrant worker Mrs. Fan runs a Beijing hutong recycling center | Photo by Dawn Jones-Garcia

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.