The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Law Report: China

Waste Pickers in China


Keeping time with the exponential economic growth, China has also witnessed a rapid rise in waste production and in 2004 the country surpassed the United States as the largest producer of waste in the world. It is also estimated that China has the largest number of waste pickers in the world. However, China is also a big importer of recyclable waste, adversely impacting domestic waste collection and disposal.

Size and Significance

An estimated 2.5 million work as waste pickers in the cities and small towns of China. China is a big dumping ground for the waste from high income countries and hence domestic recycling efforts are not very profitable.

Working Conditions

Recycling is done by the waste pickers who collect paper, plastics, cardboard, glass and metals etc. from streets, bins, dumpsites and landfills. The waste pickers live and work in insanitary conditions. A large number of workers live on the landfills as China has clear policy of requiring migrants from rural areas into urban areas to carry with a letter of employment from the employer. Many of the workers are thus illegal migrants to the city with no employment status. Consequently, they are vulnerable to harassment and evictions by the authorities.


The waste pickers earn approximately 1,800 to 2,000 Yuan a month, a little higher than their counterparts in the formal sanitation workforce who earn about 1,200 Yuan a month.

Law and Policy

The regulatory framework for solid waste management ensures the management of municipal solid waste and hazardous waste are dealt with in a comprehensive manner.

At the national level the Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste (2004) regulates the prevention and treatment of solid waste. The law of the P.R.C. on Prevention and Control of Solid Waste Pollution issued in 1995 is the basic and most important law with regards to Solid Waste Management, which formulates basic requirements for dumping, cleaning up, collection, transportation, recycling, treatment and disposal. The law was revised in Dec., 2004 and the new version became effective on April 1st, 2005.

State council regulations (2003) govern medical waste management and define procedures for hazardous waste operation permits at the state or local level. Regulations enforced by the SEPA govern the identification, incineration, storage, land filling, and transportation of hazardous waste.

State level laws for solid waste management include Environmental Protection Law, Management Regulations on Municipal Appearance and Environmental Sanitation and The law of the P.R.C. on Prevention and Control of Solid Waste Pollution. Related ministries and commissions have formulated local regulations and rules to carry out state level laws and regulations on local level.

Although comprehensive solid waste management legislation is in place, the government has only recently begun genuine enforcement. Enforcement of the legislation and standards is the responsibility of the Provincial and Municipal Environmental Protection Administrations.