We all know recycling has huge benefits for our planet – but have you ever considered the human cost of a process that involves sorting trash by hand?
Every year, an estimated 10million tonnes of plastic waste is imported into China to be re-used in the country’s manufacturing industry. But before it can be repurposed, the plastic must first be painstakingly sorted. This burden falls on workers like 11-year-old Yi-Jie, who lives with her family at one of China’s 5,000-plus plastic recycling workshops.
Plastic China, a documentary by Jiu-Liang Wang, shows us the clandestine world of plastic recycling through Yi-Jie’s eyes. As the film tracks the progress of plastic moving through the recycling chain, it also documents its adverse effect on workers. Illness, poverty and pollution are an everyday reality for Yi-Jie, her family and thousands of others like them. At the same time, trash from the West gives Yi-Jie, who has been denied an education, a window onto a world she can only dream of. Plastic China’s a powerful reminder there are multiple sides to every story, with China’s recycling workshops symbolising the country’s ongoing struggle for inclusive development, as well as casting plastic consumption and the recycling industry itself in a new light.
You can watch the movie as part of this year’s Human Rights Arts & Film Festival, which launched on 4 May in Melbourne. The Melbourne screening of Plastic China on Wednesday 17 May features a post-film Q&A with Plastic China’s director and producer via Skype. Live music, art exhibitions and performances also feature on Melbourne’s program ahead of a national film tour, which takes in Sydney (May 23-27), Canberra (May 29-31), Perth (June 1), Brisbane (June 1-3) and Hobart (June 2).
WORDS: EMILY LUSH