Infamously Polluted Town of Guiyu, China Much Cleaner Following Modernisation and Regulatory Efforts

 A worker dismantles electronic waste at the government-sponsored recycling park in the township of Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China January 12, 2018. Picture taken January 12, 2018.  Courtesy: REUTERS/Aly Song

A worker dismantles electronic waste at the government-sponsored recycling park in the township of Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China January 12, 2018. Picture taken January 12, 2018. Courtesy: REUTERS/Aly Song

The southern Chinese town of Guiyu in Guangdong Province used to be the symbol of China's position as the world's largest recycler of consumer waste. The town's 100,000 residents overwhelmingly used to make their living in an unregulated recycling industry, resulting in streets and rivers cluttered with trash and air heavily polluted with noxious fumes. These days, however, the environment in the town, while still far from perfect, is much cleaner due to industrialisation and regulatory efforts implemented by the Chinese government.

Five years ago, Chinese authorities launched a drive to industrialize the town’s recycling operations in order to address the personal and environmental health problems caused by dismantling old computers and mobile phones by hand. The government banned backyard operations from handling electronic waste and moved those operations to a sprawling new industrial park.

More recently, the Chinese government instituted a ban on foreign imports of 24 types of trash, which took effect on 1 January 2018, in an effort to stop being "a receptacle for the world's junk." While residents are mostly pleased with the cleaner environment, many claim that the ban of foreign imports of trash has led to economic hardship. The boss of one recycling facility, who requested anonymity, said she was close to bankruptcy. “We don’t have any foreign trash any more,” she said. “The ban has made it harder to make money.” Read more here.