It’s hard to calculate the overall effects. I guess on the positive side we can say that we’re consuming less and therefore diminishing less of the planet’s finite resources. On the negative side of the ledger though people lose their jobs and livelihoods, and in addition, as far as recycling goes, more scrap and other junk will go into landfills, putting more pressure on the environment and creating headaches for the next generation. And then of course there are growing question marks hovering over the future of our recycling schemes. China’s recycling industry industry is the one of the linchpins to all the equations as the following NYT articles highlights. But the real question is: what will we learn from it all? Consuming less in future? Creating waste-free cities?
by Dan Levin
The New York Times
Each morning Tian Wengui emerges from the home he makes under a bridge here, two large sacks slung over his shoulder. Through the day, and well into the night, he scours garbage cans for soda bottles, soy sauce containers and cooking oil jugs. Selling the refuse to one of Beijing’s ubiquitous recycling depots, Mr. Tian can earn $3 on a good day. But good days are getting harder to come by.
Since Mr. Tian migrated from Sichuan province, the multibillion-dollar recycling industry has gone into a nosedive because of the global economic crisis and a concomitant fall in commodity prices. Bottles now sell for half of what they did in the summer. “Even trash has become worthless,” Mr. Tian said recently as he made his way to a collection center, his sacks nearly bursting.
The collapse of the recycling business has affected people like Mr. Tian, the middlemen who buy the waste products and the factories that refashion the recyclable waste into products bound for stores and construction sites around the world. American and European waste dealers who sell to China are finding that their shipments are being refused by clients when they arrive in Asia.
The ultimate victim may be the environment, already overrun with enough trash in places to threaten people’s health, now further burdened with refuse that until recently would have been recycled.