The toxic town recycling Australia’s rubbish


plasticsWE PUT out the recycling bin without a thought but it ends up here. A remote town with waste as high as houses.

AT FIRST glance it’s a touching moment. A newborn nursed by its mum in the garden of her home.

But there are no trees in this backyard, no well-kept lawn. Instead, the mum squats surrounded by mountains of filthy plastic rubbish. Soiled food packages, plastic crates and even blood bags encroach on the mum and her new baby.

Soon she will head back to work sifting through the debris for hours on end. She will then stand close by as it is melted down into pellets, the fumes wrapping themselves around the young family like a toxic blanket.

Located close to the north eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, this is one of the legions of remote toxic towns that process the world’s plastic recycling.

By the container load, the cast-off plastic comes from Korea, Europe and the US.

Almost certainly, a proportion will have come from the homes, or more specifically the recycling bins, of Australia.

Among the plastic are familiar brands; empty packets of Hill’s Science Plan dog food and Flora margarine tubs.

“It’s dirty, tiring and I don’t make much money,” said Kun, who runs the small firm processing rubbish.

Kun’s business, is the subject of the documentary Plastic China, showing this Sunday in Sydney as part of the city’s annual Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

The only employees are him, his wife and mother and the family next door — including the new mum. The children of both families are also part of the workforce.

Almost every inch of the two homes and shared backyard has been invaded by plastic, just a small space made for a dinner table and bed.

“[I do it] because I have no choice. It’s for my kids, my parents,” says Kun. “I’m just a farmer. I don’t have any other skills just dirty work like this.”

David Rokach, festival director of Antenna, said Plastic China was an “incredibly important” work.

“The film looks at the direct impact that the waste industry has on families and reminds us that while we may not see it, our own actions can have an effect on people living thousands of kilometres away,” he said.