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Beijing China

List of Waste Picker Groups in Beijing

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City Report: Interview with a local Waste Picker

A Conversation With: Fusheng Xu, waste dealer; Madianjin, itinerant buyer; Liwen Chen, environmental activist, Green Beagle.

Personal Story

Fusheng Xu and Madianjin are both migrants from rural areas, like most other waste pickers in China. They moved to the city in search of better opportunities after the economic reforms started in the 1990s and got involved in the recycling sector. Fusheng Xu expressed, “we are in our forties, so that we hope the government will take responsibility and provide us with a pension or insurance for our old age. They should recognize how much we have done for the society.”Madianjin added, “I would like a proper house that would protect me from the rain and the snow.”Beijing-waste-picker-diagram

Official Waste Management System

The residents bring their mixed waste to building or community bins. The waste is then transported by the municipality first to transfer stations and then to the landfills (80%), an incinerator (10%), or a composting plant (10%). There are two incinerators, and three more waste-to-energy plants are under construction (including the biggest one in Asia). The compost is obtained after mechanical segregation, and its quality tends to be very low. In 2010 the municipality started a pilot project of segregation at source, which has achieved poor results. Private companies manage commercial waste, which represent around 25 per cent of the total waste generated and recycle a portion of it.

Informal Recycling System

Most recycling in Beijing is carried out by about 200,000 waste pickers who recycle an anticipated 20 per cent of the total generated waste. Some waste pickers collect and purchase recyclables from households with tricycles (so called itinerant waste buyers, like Madianjin). Others collect and segregate the waste from buildings and community bins. Since 1994, when the dumpsite was closed, waste pickers were no longer allowed to access waste from the transfer stations and the landfills. The recyclable materials are then sold to junk dealers (like Fusheng Xu) in the recycling markets, which have been displaced to the outskirts of the city.

Waste Picker Organization

Waste pickers are generally not recognized by the public authorities. Some of them have obtained a license, which is difficult to get and often requires payment of a bribe. For the moment they have not yet been able to effectively organize even though they would like it to happen in the near future. For this purpose, they feel they need some funding.

Current Central Issues

The following are the main challenges that the interviewees could articulate:
  1. high price volatility in the recycling markets (i.e. recently the prices have reduced so much that some of them are considering moving out of the sector);
  2. space for segregation and storage: land use, because of the rapid real estate expansion – in particular after the year 2000 -- things are not stable so that they have been constantly displaced and forced to move to the outskirts of the city;
  3. high pollution levels that affect health;
  4. lack of technology and investments for processing the waste (i.e. compacting);
  5. harassment and difficulties obtaining licenses.