How green entrepreneurs are using WeChat to tackle China’s trash trouble

By Masha Borak

Aobag founder and CEO Wang Jianchao with his daughter. Image credit: Aobag

In “A Beijing Recycler’s Life”, a short documentary by Chen Liwen, Ma Dianjin and his wife which have been recyclers for 14 years explain how they live on Beijing’s trash. They work every single day from 7 AM to 11 PM. The only break they have is during Chinese New Year when they take 10 days off.

“If the junk dealing is suspended for just 10 or 20 days, let me tell you, Beijing would explode,” says Ms. Ma.

In China, there are thousands of people like Mr. and Ms. Ma working in the informal recycling sector. Some of them collect and buy recyclables at a fixed place, while others pick out waste from dust bins and sell it to recycling markets outside of the city. The trash is then sent to other recycling companies. Along with government-funded waste incinerators, this is how China has been trying to solve the mounting piles of garbage following the country’s rapid GDP growth. But street recyclers might have an unlikely competitor—China’s most popular social platform WeChat.

China is today the world’s biggest trash generator—it produces 500,000 tons of garbage each day. Much of it still ends up in oceans or dystopian-looking junkyards like the ones besieging Beijing. Despite government efforts to set up incinerators throughout the country and its plans boost the recycling industry to $434.8 billion by 2020, the amount of trash produced daily in China is expected to reach almost 1.4 million tons daily in the next 8 years, according to World Bank estimates.

Chengdu-based Aobag is one company that wants to help solve this problem. All you have to do is register on their WeChat account and make a small donation.

“An authorized user will get a new Aobag from a recycling site nearby and take it home,” Aobag’s founder and CEO Jianchao Wang told TechNode. “The recycling site can be any place with 2-3 square meter spare space, like a coffee shop or clothing shop in the community. If you recycle at home, fill the bag, then drop your Aobag at the site. You will get an empty bag in return and we will take the trash back to our sorting center. Finally, the user will get a cash reward sent to their WeChat account.”

Aobag founder and CEO Wang Jianchao with his daughter (Image credit: Aobag)

A similar solution for businesses is being offered by a company called Stupid Brother (笨哥哥) which connects recyclers with supermarkets, offices and other enterprises through their official WeChat account. The company enables them to cut the long and opaque chain linking the two sides.

Of course, these aren’t the first Chinese companies trying to tackle the country’s waste problem with mobile tech. The last several years have seen a number of recycling apps popping up, such as O2O platform Recycling Brother (回收哥) and B2C app Taoqibao (淘弃宝). But aside from well-established used electronics platforms such as Aihuishou (爱回收) that have taken over the most lucrative recycling sector, recycling apps in China have …read more

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