If you live in Beijing, Tianjin or any other city in North China, after putting an empty water bottle in a waste bin marked "recycle", it is usually independently collected and sold to a waste collection business. The bottle's final resting place? Wen'an county, Hebei province. About 120km south of Beijing, Wen'an is the largest cluster of family-run plastics recycling businesses in North China.
Traveling through the county, it is impossible to miss the large advertising boards that line roads. Nearly all say in big, bold letters things like PE, PS, PVC and PP, which describe to those "in the know" the kinds of plastics different companies handle. In Wen'an county, the industry has evolved into a mature chain: from sorting and cleansing, to melting, shredding, granulating and molding.
Residents in Wen'an told China Daily that the pollution created by this "sustainable" industry is seriously affecting their health and has even made them afraid to drink the water, which many believe is severely contaminated. To control the pollution, Wen'an government stopped all the plastic recycling business this summer. But now, without a long-term plan, new problems are arising.