Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: Bottled Up

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, I’m posting photos taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s Scene shows a Chinese worker wandering among giant sacks containing thousands of plastic bottles. Click to enlarge:


This image, taken at a plastic bottle recycling facility in China’s Sichuan Province, offers a hint of just how much bottled water, Coke, and green tea is being consumed in China on a daily basis (there isn’t an imported foreign bottle in this photo – or factory). Trust me: it’s a lot. The problem is, despite the fact that everybody knows the volume of recyclable bottles tossed out by Chinese is growing, nobody can say for sure just how much it has grown by. The stats, quite simply, are mostly non-existent; those that exist might as well revert to non-existence. Still, at a time when environmental opposition to plastic bottled water is hurting the product in Europe and the US, China – where few trust the water supplies – is consuming more and more. Needless to say, if you’re drinking bottled Evian, you’re probably drinking bottled Coke, too. In China and other developing countries, low wages make for a strong incentive to recover plastic bottles from the trash, and sell them to people who find value in them – like recyclers. Thus, businesses like this one are thriving across China, supported by the growth in consumer demand for bottled beverages. No consumer demand, no need to recycle.