Thomas Peter / Reuters Various scrap collectors deliver recyclables on tricycles to a recycling yard at the edge of Beijing, China, August 30, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters Liu (foreground) works at her family's wood collection point at a recycling yard at the edge of Beijing, China, August 29, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters Children use a tablet computer as a man breaks styrofoam at a recycling yard at the edge of Beijing, China, September 21, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters Liu stands in the section of a recycling yard where her family ran a wood collection point, which they cleared out after authorities closed access for deliveries to the facility, in Beijing, China, November 22, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters A man repairs a three-wheeled vehicle (foreground) typically used by garbage collectors at a pop-up repair shop on a pavement in Beijing, China, November 3, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters Huan (R) and her son Peijun sit outside their hut as they talk with a neighbor at a recycling yard at the edge of Beijing, China, September 21, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters A driver steers a lorry laden with bags of plastic bottles across a recycling yard at the outskirts of Beijing, China, August 19, 2016.
Thomas Peter / Reuters A worker cuts metal at a scrap metal stall at a recycling yard at the edge of Beijing, China, October 20, 2016.

China's Trash Junkies

It was through junk that Raymond Li, a low-level Chinese paint factory worker, made his fortune. In the 1990s, he turned his incremental profits from recycling rubbish into a thriving scrap import business and now receives around $1.2 million shipping containers-worth of discarded goods a month that he disassembles into precious raw materials such as copper, glass, and wood. But today, this scrappy way of life is under threat, at least in Beijing. The city has undertaken a heavy-handed effort to curb rural to urban migration. And in the process, it has blocked these green-collar laborers, most of them migrants, from accessing dump sites even though Beijing produces the most waste of any Chinese city and has no official recycling program. Its trash has overwhelmed its official landfills, leading some to refer to the city as a land not where one thousand flowers bloom, but where (over) one thousand unregulated landfills do.

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