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China Desperately Grapples With Its Plastic Waste Crisis

Tipping Point: Beijing produces 25,000 tonnes of waste every day, putting a strain on the city’s infrastructure, but efforts to streamline the recycling process may threaten the livelihoods of the city’s poorest.

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“People are suffering from the pollution”, says campaigner Chen Liwen. “Without sustainable waste management, we don’t have a future.” However, dramatic policy changes, namely serious restrictions on the import of foreign waste, endanger the livelihoods of 170,000 rubbish pickers. “They rely on recycling to raise their family”, says Liwen. Even entrepreneurs like Liu Xuesong may pose a threat. “I wish to give the industry more dignity”, she says; but by encouraging the consumer to recycle directly, the rubbish picker ‘middle man’ loses out. Wang Jindong is being pressured by the government to abandon rubbish picking, and fears for his young nephew’s future. “My hope is that for his whole life he has food to eat and he can have a family and a career”, says Jindong. “Then my job will be done.”

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Post Series: China
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