Two Faces of China Scrap

In the six years that I’ve been visiting Chinese scrap yards, I’ve done my best to focus on the lives of the millions of laborers who work in them. It’s not just a matter of sentimentality, either: so much of the writing and reporting on China’s scrap trade seems determined to depict China’s scrap laborers as unwitting victims of globalization. The reality is far more complicated and interesting.

An example. This afternoon I spent a couple of hours in four scrap yards located in the Tianjin Ziya Environmental Park. The sprawling facility is located in the midst of a cotton-farming region in Hebei Province, and many – if not most – of the emloyees are local farmers who work in the scrap plants to supplement their agricultural incomes. It’s lucrative work, if not always so pleasant. Still, it’s extra money in pockets that have historically been empty. So … a middle-aged motor processor, breaking and pulling copper windings from steel cases. Note the Nike cap (his wife is working nearby, wearing a matching one) and the cell phone on his belt:

A teenage “zorba” sorter, separating the various metals that constitute the remains of shredded American and European automobiles:

No commentary for the moment, as I’m in the midst of several non-blog-related deadlines. But much more in the coming days, including – I promise – some non-scrap related material.