Most people looking at empty bottles or used paper in a trash can only see garbage, Gao Zhijun sees a chance to help needy students.
Motivated by his dream of helping those in need, the second-year postgraduate student at Tongji University has decided to suspend his studies for one year to start his own business - a waste collection and recycling station.
Gao, a 31-year-old student in Tongji's civil engineering department, will set up a company to collect and recycle waste materials - such as paper, plastic and metal products, and electronic appliances - at the university's four major campuses.
The company will run for one year on a pilot basis, after which Gao will donate 150,000 yuan (US$18,072) of his profits to subsidize 50 needy Tongji students, according to a contract he signed with the university.
"I'm absolutely not profit driven," said Gao, who hails from Jiangsu Province. "I really wish to further exert Tongji's academic achievement advantages and lend a hand to my needy peers."
After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering in Jiangsu, Gao worked at a construction company in the province for seven years before being admitted to Tongji's postgraduate program in 2003.
Last summer, Gao happened to read a story about a university plan to offer free lunches to needy students in the campus newspaper. Gao said he was touched by the tough living condition and heavy financial burden poor students face.
Gao's family owns two waste material recycling stations in his hometown of Yancheng City in Jiangsu. "My family's experience told me that waste material recycling is a profitable business, that could allow me to help others," Gao said.
This march, the postgraduate student submitted his business plan to Tongji's president, asking for a monopoly on waste collection on campus in return for donating some of his profits.
University officials jumped at the idea and signed a one-year contract with Gao.
"We are really touched by the student's charitable motives and strong awareness of environmental protection," said Huang Aijiao, a spokesperson for Tongji.
With a 100,000-yuan investment, Gao opened his business in a building behind the school canteen last month. He, together with five relatives, collect waste materials from dorms on regular basis or whenever students call to say they have things to pick up. The recycling station's daily business volume has reached nearly 1,000 yuan on average.
Some students have questioned why Gao would give up his studies to root around in the trash. "People always expect a good educational background can bring them a well-paid job with high social status," said Wang Junfeng, a Tongji graduate student. "It's unimaginable for me to take up that business."
(Shanghai Daily June 10, 2005)