Thursday, March 12, 2009


In China, as in much of the world, the business of recycling is informal. The goods they recycle may come from formal firms, but they wind up being processed by people in the shadow economy. The New York Times reports on the crash in prices that is killing the recycling business in Beijing.

Towards the end of the article there's an anecdote from Bajiacun, which the reporter describes as "a village built on trash on the outskirts of Beijing, where hundreds of people earn a living from--and live among--other people's castoffs."

This puts me in mind of Lagos, Nigeria and the garbage dump in Ojota. And it also makes me think of the informal recyclers of a different era.

My question now: is there a way for the formal and informal to work together here? If, where it is technologically feasible, governments required all paper and plastic and glass to be made from used paper and plastic and glass, would the market pick back up and the informal recyclers again be able to do business?

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