Over the past decade, China’s cities have grown at an unprecedented rate. More than half of Chinese people now live in cities, and urban GDP per capita has risen almost 10% every year on average (World Bank, 2016).
Over the last two decades, Shanghai alone has experienced high economic and population growth with average yearly growth of 7.2% over the last five years, and as part of this expansion of economy and people, a boom in Shanghai’s consumption and building activity has taken place.
As in other Chinese cities, with rapid increases in economic development and consumer spending, the resulting higher levels of consumption have led to per capita, and gross, increases in the amount and varieties of waste entering the system.
With production of large amounts of cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam, wood, and metals, the city is struggling to process its waste efficiently, economically, and safely. In particular, consumption, population growth, and construction have produced tons of waste and strained government resources.
This is where “informal” collectors help. They specialize in recycling and reuse – selling waste to recycling plants, factories, and reprocessing centers, and diverting from landfill in the process. Despite their potential, however, they rarely work with the formal sector. In fact, informal actors face increasing pressure to close private facilities as the system formalizes and environmental regulations tighten.
This report looks at Shanghai as a model for future challenges that will be faced in China’s in second- and third-tier cities, and we outline current trends, key stakeholders, challenges, and opportunities in waste management, focusing mostly on the informal sector and its within the wider waste management ecosystem.
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