ICS Occasional Papers

Technology and Work Opportunities for the Poor: An Analysis of Challenges in Developing a Sustainable Urban Solid Waste Management System in China

This study is an attempt to understand the impact of China’s efforts at modernizing its urban waste management practices on its large network of informal waste pickers and waste collectors. Placed in the background of China’s growing environmental challenges associated with the issues of waste management, this study explores various aspects of formal as well as informal channels of waste management in China’s urban areas. It analyses how China’s massive urbanization and economic growth have created a large community of waste pickers and waste collectors at the bottom layer of its labour force, and how they became a major challenge to its efforts at modernizing urban waste management in recent years. It identifies the emergence of a large network of informal waste pickers and waste collectors in China’s urban areas as a failure of its model of economic development. However, this study is not an attempt to quantify the significance of informal channels in China’s urban waste management system and it does not try to suggest any method for integrating the informal army of waste pickers and waste collectors into the formal channel of waste management. This study upholds the view that China cannot develop a sustainable system of waste management without reducing the uncontrolled operations of the informal sector in the channel of waste collection.

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