Rarely do we stop and question where our waste goes and who collects and sorts it. Waste pickers work at the margins of our lives, removing things we don’t want to see.
Part of this world is as one might expect it to be. Piles of rubbish and pools of foul water gather, while pets and children play in the waste. Yet homes are often spotless, as if domestic life becomes more orderly the more chaotic the surroundings. The families from all over China form close-knit communities that extend beyond blood relationships.
China sent Australia’s recycling industry into a spin when it banned most waste imports. Now it’s tackling a home-grown rubbish crisis. Bill Birtles looks at China’s own war on waste and asks: is it winning?
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After seeing the story, many viewers have contacted Foreign Correspondent wanting to help Wang Jindong and his family, who featured in the story “Tipping Point”, about China’s waste.
Wang Jindong lives in a shack without power or water on Beijing’s outskirts with his wife and nephew Mengnan, 11. He took in the boy to stop him being sold by his ailing father.
Wang comes from central China and supports his family through rubbish collecting, each bottle earning him less than a cent apiece. He’s able to earn around $25 – 30 a week, allowing him to feed his family and pay Mengnan’s school fees.
“For his growth, his schooling, I would bear any hardship,” says Wang.
Mengnan attends a school set up for the children of the city’s migrant workers – that is, workers who’ve moved to Beijing from other parts of China.
But the lives of Wang and his family are precarious. The house they live in has been slated for demolition and Wang must soon find alternative accommodation. Despite the pressures of living in Beijing, Wang is determined to stay there and for Mengnan to finish school.
“I wish, in future, he could go into a university. If not, I hope he could master a skill and support himself for the rest of his life. My hope is that for his whole life, he has food to eat. He could set up his family and career then I would have done my job.”
Mengnan attends the Mingyuan Migrant School.
Any money raised here will be split between Mingyuan Migrant School for Mengnan and the Wang family directly.