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Can Beijing’s informal waste recycling sector survive amidst worsening circumstances?

Steuer, Benjamin, Ramusch, Roland, Salhofer, Stefan Petrus
Resources, Conservation & Recycling 2018 v.128 pp. 59-68
income, labor, prices, recycling, research projects, socioeconomics, stakeholders, wastes, China
This paper presents an assessment of the informal waste recycling sector in selected sub-districts of urban Beijing excluding inner suburbs and discusses the question of the segment’s survival amidst an increasingly challenging socio-economic environment. Based on several field trips and two research projects in 2013 and 2016 on informal recycling in Beijing, the paper analyses the sector specific changes over recent years. The results display the various changes in size and organisation, waste recyclable collection rates and income levels as well as the institutional structures of informal stakeholders in Beijing. The herein documented deteriorating performance of the informal recycling sector, i.e. a decline in collected recyclable quantities and thereof generated incomes, is the central topic of the subsequent discussion section. Here, we highlight the role of informal stakeholders regarding costs and revenues as well as their embeddedness in Beijing’s waste management system. Based on the key points in the results and discussion sections, we conclude that the informal sector at present constitutes an indispensable pillar for Beijing’s waste management. A significant challenge for the future existence of the IRS will most likely occur in form of labour supply shortages and, if continued, a further decline of secondary material prices.