Workers en route to the Chuan Chang road recycling depot in Shanghai are among thousands of waste pickers working in China’s cities sorting through rubbish for materials that can be recycled for a profit.
Zhang Jinling is picking cardboard boxes from a trash can on the side of the road in a downtown area of Shanghai. She empties the boxes, folds them and puts them on a trailer hitched to a bicycle. She also buys cardboard from residents in the houses on the same street, purchasing it for 2.5 mao (less than 3p) for a pile. When her trailer is full, she takes the load to a recycling market on the outskirts of the city where she sells each pile for a 1p profit. Markets like these sort waste into different materials and sell it to bigger markets where it ends up at big industrial recycling plants for individual materials.