China Focus: From trash to treasure: China's recycling industry booms

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"The garbage makes the community look bad," Niu said. "Besides, the station is quite near, so I might as well just transport them there."

Recycling garbage is a reflection of green development in China. According to a report by the Ministry of Commerce, by the end of 2017, the combined amount of recycled steel, nonferrous metal and plastics reached 282 million tonnes, up 11 percent year on year. A government plan on renewable resource recycling mandated that a batch of pilot cities for recycling should be in place by 2020 and that large- and medium-sized cities should have an average recycling rate of 75 percent for major renewable resources.

In the past, there were no such companies and factories in Lanzhou, and renewable garbage was transported to cities in other provinces to be processed. Transportation costs were high, and profit was low.

The recycling industry is an epitome of a broader picture in China. The country had been importing overseas solid waste to make raw materials since the 1980s. Beginning in 2017, the government banned foreign garbage from entering and instead encouraged the domestic recycling industry to make the best use of domestic resources.

Meanwhile, "smart" dustbins have been placed in colleges and communities in Lanzhou. People can put garbage into the dustbins for "credit points." If they accumulate enough points, they can exchange the points for daily necessities.

These days, however, with the stations and the production lines, garbage is effectively recycled.

In other production lines, abandoned cars, electronic products, and steel waste are all turned into raw materials for iron-making, while plastics and agricultural films are made into plastic bags, dustbins and plastic stools. Rubber waste can be used to produce rubber ducts and rubber slabs.

LANZHOU, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- Every day, Niu Zhanlin sifts through trash cans in a residential community and takes the recyclable items to a collection station nearby.

"Recycling is a profitable business, and we expect the industrial center to have an output value of 3 billion yuan by the end of this year," Zhang Tiejun said. "The industry has huge potential."

"In the past, garbage such as agricultural film was hard to dispose of and was mainly buried underground, which harmed the growth of crops," Zhang said. "Now, the products are made into plastic bags, which solves an environmental issue."

In Lanzhou, local authorities have set up many permanent and mobile recycling stations. Local residents can call staff of the stations to collect the garbage door to door. An online platform has been established where locals can post recycling messages. The popular messaging tool is also used to post recycling information.

"We recycle about 80 percent of Lanzhou's renewable items, and we employ more than 1,000 workers on the production lines," said Zhang Tiejun, vice general manager of Lanzhou Renewable Resources Recycling Company. "We used to be called rubbish pickers, but now we are professional workers."

Liu Aijun, president of Lanzhou Hong'an Paper-making Co., Ltd in the center, said the company buys more than 800 tonnes of waste paper every day.

"About 1.08 tonnes of paper waste can churn out one tonne of new paper worth 3,800 yuan (518 U.S. dollars)," Liu said.

There are currently 280 such stations in Lanzhou, managed by the Lanzhou Renewable Resources Recycling Company. The stations mainly collect renewable items discharged by residents in local communities, including paper, glass bottles, plastic bottles, iron, and pop cans.

The items are classified at the stations, before being transported to a sorting center where they are packaged. The items are then sent to an industrial center, where they are disposed of and manufactured into new products to be sold in the market.

The industrial center has many different production lines. In the paper-making factories, for example, paper waste transported from the stations is made into pulp and transformed into different types of packaging paper.

Niu is a logistics staff at the community in the city of Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province. He collects thrown-away items such as plastic bottles and pop cans, and sells them to a nearby recycling station.

"Sorting out renewable items from the trash is my way of having fun after work, and it's also good for the environment," said Niu, 57.

Cities like Beijing, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou have all reported the emergence of Internet-based recycling, and many big companies have jumped on the bandwagon. Listed companies like Tianneng Group and Chilwee have been making inroads in regenerated lead, and metal companies like Jiangxi Copper Corporation Limited and Yunnan Copper (Group) Co. Ltd have been actively engaging in renewable resource sectors too.