Grabbing his portable scale, 72-year-old Zhang Fu rides his tricycle to an apartment where residents just call his mobile phone and ask him to pick up waste newspapers and cartons. His number is posted in the Wen'er Community of Liangcheng area in Hongkou District.
With the scale, the junkman/collector/recycle (shou feipin in Chinese) will weigh the papers and cardboard and then pay residents a few cents. He ties the newspaper and collapses the cardboard boxes so he can stack them and take them to a recycling station.
Shou feipin is also the word to "recycle," to collect stuff.
A woman asks him to take her old TV set. When he returns to his one-room house, he finds two cake boxes have been left at his door. Some people just leave things for him to get rid of.
"I cannot use them and feel guilty about throwing beautiful packing boxes away," says 46-year-old Wang Li. "They'll be more useful to Zhang."
The number of junkmen, recycling stations, recycling companies and manufacturers has increased dramatically in the past 30 years, says Chen Xuexin, secretary-general of Shanghai Waste Material Recycling Association.
Because of the global economic crisis, however, prices for scrap and recyclables have fallen 50 percent, according to Chen. And with them the number of people like Zhang who collect discards everything from newspapers to TV sets and refrigerators.
Chen estimates there are around 60,000 individuals like Zhang, and that's down because of the economic downturn.
Thirty years ago, state-owned companies handled what little recycling there was. After the reform and opening-up policy in the 1980s, many private waste-recycling companies, stations and individuals went into business.
In 1988, the Shanghai Waste Material Recycling Association was founded to help regulate the rapidly expanding industry.
Today, around 3,000 registered companies have operating licenses from the city's industrial and commercial bureau, says Chen. That includes the 1,028 association member companies with 13,500 employees.
The recycling industry has not been strictly regulated, however, especially the collection and recycling of metal. Problems have arisen because people take valuable metal from appliances, sell it and junk the housing and other components.
Refrigerators are a big problem. Many recycling companies won't accept discarded appliances. So collectors break them up, extract the metal and sell it, then dump the rest.
In 2003, there were only 700 companies licensed to collect waste metal. The number rose to 3,000 in 2005, making strict regulation difficult.
Now, to more strictly regulate metal-recycling companies, the Municipal Commission of Commerce will issue new licenses in a few months to only 900 companies. Existing companies must apply and meet new standards.
But collector Zhang is at the low end. He started in 2001 when he came to Shanghai from Anhui Province in 2001. He was hired to clean the garden of a rest home ?? he got room and board but no salary. He began collecting/recycling to make money for his family and worked after his garden work was completed.
After his garden work, Zhang sorts the materials he collects and at least once a week he sells them to the recycling association two blocks away. Sometimes he earns several hundred yuan, sometimes more than 1,000 yuan (US$146).
His income goes up a lot during festivals as people buy new things and get rid of the old.
"Selling the stuff to collectors rather than dumping it not only reduces pollution and saves resources, but also pays a little money. So people say 'why not'?" says Chen.
Recycling of paper and plastic is going well, says Chen.
About 1.8 million tons of waste paper were collected and reused in 2007.
Also recycled last year: 3 million tons of ferrous metal and 200,000 tons of nonferrous metal, 200,000 tons of plastic and 200,000 tons of glass. There are four steps to waste recycling: waste-collecting people, like Zhang, waste collection stations, recycling companies and manufacturers who can use the waste.
Though registered companies are administered by the industrial and commercial bureau, individual collectors are largely unregulated.
Most of the people are self-employed or work for a recycling station and are paid according to how much they bring in. Many are migrants who simply classify the garbage into what's saleable and what's not.
It's easy to sell paper and plastic waste as they can just sell them to the recycling company or station.
Zhang breaks up TV sets, air-conditioners, refrigerators and other goods and takes out the metals that can be sold.
Waste steel can be sold for 2,500 yuan a ton; red copper is 67,000 yuan a ton; brass 25,000 yuan, aluminum alloy 15-20,000 yuan, nickel 33,000 yuan.
Zhang throws the rest out, it ends up in a landfill.
"Selective scavenging is very common, but it can be dangerous and polluting," says Chen.
Liquid and other chemicals, especially Freon coolant, can pollute the air and soil; it damages the ozone. TV sets contain mercury, potassium and lead; various batteries contain mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel.
Not everyone takes metal from appliances; some steal manhole covers, machinery parts, metal and wire from construction sites.
The move to tighten controls on metal-recycling companies should improve the situation, so that collectors sell metal only to certified companies.
Sorting out garbage
Domestic garbage can become useful resources if it is properly sorted, classified and reused. There's very little that cannot be recycled.
Empty beverage bottles, glass or plastic, old newspapers, broken umbrellas, clothing, metal - can all be recycled.
A new refuse-sorting standard has been promoted since early last year. Hundreds of recycling bins in four colors - blue, green, black and red - have been set up in hundreds of communities and public places.
Recoverable garbage - blue
Paper products include newspapers, magazines, books, paper bags, paper packing and paper boxes. But, toilet paper and tissue are not recoverable because they are unusable to paper mills.
Plastics include plastic bags, plastic packing, plastic bottles of all kinds, and all the plastic one-off products like toothbrushes, cups, cutlery and kitchen items.
Fabric includes old clothing, curtains, tablecloths and towels.
A ton of waste paper can be recycled to produce 850 kilograms of recycled paper, saving 300 kilograms of timber (trees that don't have to be cut down) and reducing pollution in paper making by 74 percent.
Recycling 1 ton of plastic bottles yields 0.7 ton of secondary raw materials for plastic manufacturing.
Recycling 1 ton of waste steel yields 0.9 ton of usable steel, saving 47 percent in manufacturing costs, reducing air pollution by 75 percent and reducing water pollution and solid waste dumping by 97 percent.
Glass - green
All glass products, including empty bottles, glasses, mirrors, light bulbs, broken windows, decorations
Since sharp broken glass can cause injuries, sharp edges should be covered and wrapped.
Harmful garbage - red
Batteries, mercury thermometer, fluorescent lights, paint, paint cans, varnish, and other painting and flammable materials. Computer parts and past-due medicines.
Harmful garbage will pollute the environment and special processes are needed to handle it safely.
Other garbage - black
All other garbage like food and organic waste, wood
This is usually buried, since comporting doesn't yet have a big following.
(Shanghai Daily March 10, 2009)