China: the secret lives of urban waste pickers

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Chinadialogue interviews two sociologists who have documented the hidden lives of waste pickers in recycling communities on the outskirts of Beijing

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. In a new book, The Life of Waste, sociologists Wu Ka Ming and Zhang Jieying describe these unknown lives that play out on the outskirts of Beijing. They visit the village of Lengshui, 50km north of Beijing, home to a community of waste pickers.

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. Chinadialogue (CD) spoke to the authors about life in these recycling communities.

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