Summary of China’s Tug-of-War with Foreign Waste

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In this punchy article, Xiao Qinpeng – writing for tech media platform – asks uncomfortable questions about global waste management and globalization. Xiao points out obvious issues of pollution and the risk to public health that arise when one country imports another’s waste. Quoting the documentary Plastic Kingdom by director Wang Jiuliang, he also points to the waste management industry as a reflection of systematic layers of exploitation inherent in globalization. Researchers are developing trash-sorting robots, but until they are ready to take over, other countries will take China’s place and thus pollute and poison their own land and people. getAbstract recommends this story to anyone curious about how trash travels around the world. 

About the Author

Xiao Qinpeng has a regular column on lifestyle and tech at, a multimedia site for the latest international and domestic reports on tech. 



Sorting waste that industrialized countries are unable or unwilling to manage is a lucrative business. China is taking in 56% of the world’s exported waste, making it one of the leading importers. Japan and the United States top the list of exporters. The reason much of the world’s waste ends up in China is that the country buys at the highest price, often more than doubling the price others offer. Once in China, waste workers process and sort the trash. The industry then sells recycled trash back to foreign countries. In 2016, China imported 7.3 million tons of waste, in total worth $370 million. 

Much of the waste is plastics and electronics. Although the amount of electronic waste has been increasing in countries like the United States, electronic–waste processing plants in the United States aren’t doing very well. Between 2005 and 2015, the American waste management company Electronics Recyclers International (ERI) increased its collection volumes 23-fold, yet the number of its US plants is down to just ...