In “A Beijing Recycler’s Life”, a short documentary by Chen Liwen, Ma Dianjin and his wife which have been recyclers for 14 years explain how they live on Beijing’s trash. They work every single day from 7 AM to 11 PM. The only break they have is during Chinese New Year when they take 10 days off.

“If the junk dealing is suspended for just 10 or 20 days, let me tell you, Beijing would explode,” says Ms. Ma.

In China, there are thousands of people like Mr. and Ms. Ma working in the informal recycling sector. Some of them collect and buy recyclables at a fixed place, while others pick out waste from dust bins and sell it to recycling markets outside of the city. The trash is then sent to other recycling companies. Along with government-funded waste incinerators, this is how China has been trying to solve the mounting piles of garbage following the country’s rapid GDP growth. But street recyclers might have an unlikely competitor—China’s most popular social platform WeChat.

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Masha Borak

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] technode.com. Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.