Do you know where that box comes from?

Wet Market Boxes

Have you ever wondered about the life of that recycled cardboard box that your child’s new toy came in?  Many of these boxes will have come from Asia, where there are armies of elderly people who collect them and then recycle them as a way to make extra money to make ends meet. This practice is another side to neoliberal approaches to economic freedom. 


Recycled boxes in Hong Kong are collected by the elderly

From my observations both men and women do the collection, and indeed I have even seen couples working together, but far and away the greatest number of elderly recyclers are women. You see them all over Hong Kong gathering up the boxes, pushing them through busy streets and quiet back alleyways to a central area, usually under an overpass or in passage between buildings, where they process them before taking the boxes to be recycled.

Recycle 2

The pre-recycle processing involves flattening, then wetting, then stacking and tying the boxes together.  The wetting down stage is quite important because this makes the cardboard heavier. The recyclers are paid by the weight of cardboard.  The current rate, according to the SCMP, is less than it was a year ago, which has placed a real burden on these people’s ability to support themselves.  This collapse in price is narrated as a result of the global economic crisis, as is attributed to the decline in demand for children’s toys.  I wonder if it isn’t also a consequence of our efforts in the west to reduce packaging as a way to alleviate our land fill crisis and reduce waste?

Day's workThis post was submitted to the WordPress weekly photo challenge on 2/2/14. The theme of the challenge was object. You can find it here.

A list of further reading:

From the SCMP: 700,000 slip through Hong Kong’s welfare net | South China Morning Post and Falling price of waste paper hits scavengers | South China Morning Post.

A journal article by VWQ Lu in the Asian Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics (2007) that reports on the number and demographics of elderly recyclers.

If you are interested in knowing more about the lives of other things you use in your everyday life why not check out

This post was entered into the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge on 2 June 2014.  The theme is Split-Second Story.  You can find the challenge here.