You only have to walk through the streets of Hong Kong to see them pushing their carts overflowing with cardboard boxes left abandoned in the streets by restaurants, shops or private individuals.
Their job is to collect the boxes and then sell them for a handful of Hong Kong dollars to recycling depots, where they are more valuable than plastic.
Hong Kong doesn't really have a recycling centre and the city relies mainly on its landfills, but they are all already saturated. Its cardboard boxes are therefore shipped to mainland China, and every day nearly 200 tons are collected by these worker ants. Their work is essential for the environment and for this international financial hub, but it also reflects a precarious social protection system.
They are over 60 years old and work up to 14 hours a day for HK$50 (+/- 5€).
I say "they" because 80% of these unrecognised jobs with no social protection are held by women. But these jobs are essential for them to supplement their small pensions or savings that do not allow them to live decently, in almost the most expensive city in the world (Hong Kong is the fourth most expensive city in the world in terms of cost of living, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit).
Their backs are arched, their fingers deformed from tearing and flattening cardboard boxes and their bowed legs from pushing carts weighing dozens of kilos all day long.
2020 is the year that China has chosen to put an end to the import of foreign waste on its territory, thus forcing Hong Kong to find a solution for the treatment of its waste (see its recent artificial waste treatment island), we could be happy for the environment of course, but what about the social system that has led them to walk the streets until they wear them out?
Source: NGO publication Waste Pickers Platform (WPP) and the site