TIME China

See China’s Migrant Scrap Peddlers Eke Out a Living on Booming Beijing’s Edge

“These people make the city work,” says Getty photographer Kevin Frayer. “Beijing needs them”

Mrs. Zhou avoids the city. In the seven years she’s lived and worked in Beijing’s vast northern suburbs, she’s ventured only once to the capital’s peak-roofed core. Raised in a village in Henan province, she never learned to read or write much. Subway maps and street signs are impenetrable. She frets about getting lost.

But Zhou, 36, knows the capital. It appears to her each day in the fragments of plastic she sorts. Garbage collectors from across the city lumber in with waste stacked high on their motorbikes. Zhou spends her days picking through twisted tubing, abandoned appliances, and take-away containers still splattered with sauce.

From the hearth of her brick and concrete shelter, she’s also learned a little about the world beyond Beijing. The ever growing city sheds plastic like snakes shed skin, yielding no shortage of waste. But her livelihood depends on the worth of the material, which is linked to the global price of oil. The past two months have been brutal: what once earned her two yuan, or 32¢, now earns 80 jiao, or about 13¢. “More plastic, less money,” she says.

Big cities produce a lot of trash. In Beijing, home to more than 21 million people, the task of collecting, sorting and recycling it falls primarily on migrant workers. In a place that is constantly rebuilding, they clear away the old to make way for the new. Some, in turn, will save enough to make the leap to more comfortable urban life. Others will stay on the margins, making just enough to send a little back home.

It is these links between city and country, core and periphery, that drew Getty photographer Kevin Frayer to Dongxiakou, where Mrs. Zhou lives. The district was once home to tens of thousands of recyclers, but as Beijing bulges northward, the land is being developed. Though half-built apartment blocks now loom in the distance, a few hundred have stayed to keep toiling until the last trucks roll through. “These people make the city work,” says Frayer. “Beijing needs them.”

Yet the city offers little by way of welcome. Though they work about 10 minutes by motorbike from the closest subway station, they live a world apart. Their kids are not eligible for Beijing’s public schools and they often can’t afford private tuition. On a Monday afternoon in January, several children traipsed about the trash heaps in padded jackets and fuzzy slippers, digging for treasure with chapped, blackened hands.

Beijing’s dry, cold weather makes living and working in Dongxiakou tough. Some families give about half of their net income to the local laoban, or boss, for a place to stay and a shot at incoming scrap. (The boss also advised them not to talk to visitors, which is why we’ve withheld their names.) Others simply squat in temporary shelters built from the discarded lumber, scrap metal, and plastic sheets they sort.

Mr. Zhao, a 60-year-old from Sichuan province, more that 1,000 miles away, built his own hut of particleboard, reclaimed bricks and old cement bags. When the camp closes, it will be sold off piece by piece. Then he, and Beijing’s leftovers, must move somewhere, anywhere, else.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. After 13 years at war chasing shifting priorities and the wildly different visions of civilian leadership, America’s military is a force adrift.

By Andrew Tilghman, Hope Hodge Seck, Michelle Tan, Patricia Kime, David Larter, Steve Losey and Leo Shane III in the Military Times

2. Sending kids to jail only ups the chances they’ll commit crimes again. States should raise the age of criminal responsibility.

By Sarah Childress at Frontline

3. 95 percent of the world’s population doesn’t own a computer. Repurposing old or unused tech can help close the gap.

By Revivn

4. We must build systems for overcoming subconscious racial bias.

By Sendhil Mullainathan in the Upshot

5. A new tool harnesses data to give teachers personalized roadmaps for professional development.

By Christina Quattrocchi in EdSurge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME europe

The E.U. Plans to Spike Key Clean-Air and Recycling Laws

Prime Minister David Cameron Tries To Take A Harder Line with Europe
Carl Court—Getty Images E.U. flags are pictured outside the European Commission building in Brussels on Oct. 24, 2014

The proposed laws are aimed at preventing tens of thousands of premature deaths and set a 70% recycling target by 2030

The E.U. is planning to scrap environmental laws aimed at averting tens of thousands of possible deaths, according to classified documents published on Thursday.

The leaked files propose the withdrawal of a plan for a clean-air law as well as a directive setting a target of 70% waste recycling by 2030, the Guardian reported.

The plan is reportedly being withdrawn because the commission in charge of it sees “no foreseeable agreement” with states that have a poor track record on recycling, and would not be able to meet the target without additional financial help.

Read more at the Guardian

MONEY Saving

Cheapskate of the Downton Abbey Scene: British Baroness’s Frugal Living Guide

140613_EM_Baroness_1
©Carnival Film and Television Limited —©Carnival Film and Television Limited for MASTERPIECE Downtown Abbey

Yes, even wealthy aristocrats can be total cheapskates. And proud of it!

The July 2014 issue of the British society magazine Tatler has several interesting reads aimed at the upper crust. The articles carry such provocative titles as “Would You Take Your Son to a Prostitute? The Ins-and-Outs of Upper-Class Sex Education” and “How the Middle Classes Ruined Everything.”

Another story also seems to have the aristocratic set in mind, yet it’s getting quite a lot of attention from us schlubs who ruined everything. “How to Run a Stately Home on a Budget” is essentially a frugal living guide from Baroness Rawlings, the 75-year-old owner of a 13-bedroom, 38-acre country estate in Norfolk, currently on the market for around $10.5 million. The baroness’s money-saving tips, which include reusing everything from napkins to bread crust to newspaper and never throwing anything away, have been featured in a host of British publications, including The Telegraph, Express, and Daily Mail.

Lady Rawlings is a strong proponent of growing one’s own fruit, bargain hunting at auctions and on eBay, and leaving warm water in the tub after bathing (it will warm the room at no extra charge). She also takes issue with the common practice of throwing away “horrid little bars” of soap after they’ve been used by guests. “I give my guests a fresh bar,” she said. “But I reuse it afterwards. And it ends up in drawers and cupboards to keep moths away.”

While it may make news that someone so wealthy is simultaneously so frugal, Lady Rawlings is hardly the only person of means to be an unabashed tightwad. Fellow countrywoman the Queen Mother was supposedly too cheap to buy a TV for her Scottish castle, and she refused to replace raincoats that were nearly 30 years old. The frugal tendencies of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles have also occasionally been on display, especially during the tough recession years, when buffets replaced banquets (the horror!).

Some of America’s super rich are also renowned for their penny-pinching habits—most famously, Warren Buffett, who lives a unfancy life in Omaha, Neb., in the home he bought in 1958 for $31,500. This is the man who is CEO of the fourth-ranking company on the Fortune 500. Dick Yuengling, Jr., the owner of Yuengling, the oldest American-owned brewer, is another very wealthy character who refuses to give up his cheapskate ways; he’s been known to drive a 2002 Taurus (bought used) and reuse Styrofoam cups.

The author Thomas J. Stanley has long chronicled the habits of the wealthy, and while the huddled masses may assume rich folks live wildly extravagant, spend-spend-spend lives, the truth is often just the opposite. In one of his surveys from a few years ago, Stanley found out that 75% of millionaires pay less than $20 for a bottle of wine, and 4 in 10 prefer wine that’s $10 or under.

Other studies have found that affluent people tend to use coupons more than those in poverty, and that rich people don’t buy on impulse and prefer quality over prestige in products, among other somewhat surprising habits.

But should these frugal, value-oriented habits really come as a surprise? A prudent, disciplined, savvy approach likely helped these well-off individuals gain their wealth. And without a prudent, disciplined, savvy approach to spending, even the richest folks out there could cease being rich. At some point.

TIME Smart Spending

Most People Say They Could Get Rid of Tons of Stuff and Still Be Happy

Deep in your heart of hearts, you probably know you could unload the majority of your possessions without getting too upset.

Could you get rid of most of your stuff and still be happy? The majority of consumers polled in a new study say they absolutely could. The study, titled “The New Consumer and the Sharing Economy” and conducted by Havas Worldwide, surveyed more than 10,000 people around the globe. The results offer some interesting takeaways about consumption—and overconsumption. Among them:

*Half of all consumers say they could live happily without most of the items they own.

*Two-thirds say they get rid of unneeded possessions once a year, if not more often.

*70% believe that overconsumption is putting the planet and society at risk.

The factoids mesh with plenty of previous research that indicates, for example, the average American home is cluttered with possessions (and our incessant yearning for stuff is stressful and unhealthy), and that the average American child receives some 70 new toys per year. Other research points out that happiness comes largely as a result of fun experiences and relationships with other people rather than the gathering or more and more “stuff.” Money has been correlated with happiness, though how we spend it has a lot to do with whether wealth helps make one content or miserable.

It probably isn’t necessary for researchers to delve into reams of data in order to deliver many of these official “revelations.” Down deep, most of us generally know that we don’t really need much of what we own, and that getting rid of some, if not most, of our clutter certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. (“Hoarders” anyone?) On the one hand, the new study data demonstrates that most people are fully conscious of the idea that overconsumption is bad, and that one’s happiness isn’t dependent on “stuff.” On the other hand, while it would seem to be good that the majority of people sell, recycle, or otherwise get rid of unneeded possessions at least once annually, the fact that people are swimming in unneeded possessions in the first place is a pretty clear indication that the average person regularly acquires more than he needs.

The title of the new study features the term “Sharing Economy,” which applies to businesses such as Airbnb, Lyft, and SideCar, among many others. What they all have in common is that they’re based on the idea that, for many consumers, it makes more sense to “share” (usually for a fee, of course) rather than buy a car, ride, vacation rental, dress, gadget, or almost anything else under the sun. Another of the study’s factoids shows that most people are in favor of sharing:

*65% agreed with the line “Our society would be better off if people shared more and owned less.”

Because sharing economy operations are new and often viewed as disruptors—if not likely destroyers—of traditional businesses like taxi companies and hotels, they routinely find themselves in the government’s crosshairs and may very well be subjected to increased restrictions and regulations in the future. Nonetheless, it seems like the sharing economy’s future is bright, if for no other reason than consumers largely embrace the concept.

“For a number of years, we’ve tracked the shift away from wasteful spending and toward a more mindful approach to consumption, but what we’re seeing now is much more proactive and hands-on,” Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, which conducted the new study, said in a press release. “They’re getting involved in the consumption cycle by contributing to the funding or even the creation of products they want and by reselling or renting out their unneeded possessions. They’re creating new formats for the exchange of goods. And every step of the way, they are practicing ‘less is more,’ and savoring their ‘less.’”

Consumers who own stuff like the sharing economy because it gives them a way to get some use—and ideally, some money—out of the possessions that otherwise might be rarely unused, gathering dust and taking up space. And consumers who choose to own less like the sharing economy model because it gives them a way to get their hands on more stuff without having to actually take the plunge and buy. They also don’t have to worry about finding space to store this stuff because, remember, it’s not their stuff. They get to give it back.

TIME Apple

Apple Will Now Recycle Any Product You Give Back—and Give You Credit for It

The Apple Inc logo sits on display at the company's store in the Gran Plaza 2 shopping mall in Majadahonda, near Madrid, Spain, on Friday, Sept. 28, 2012.
Angel Navarrete—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Apple Stores will now accept any of the company's products for recycling at no charge, and may even give you a store credit to be used against a new model if the items you are trading in look in resealable condition

Starting today, Apple Stores will begin accepting any of the company’s products for recycling at no charge.

Even better, if the items look resalable, you might even get a store credit, a.k.a. an Apple gift card. CEO Tim Cook last month told shareholders the company wants to “leave the world better than we found it,” and this initiative is part of that.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives (and a former EPA administrator) told the AP Apple aims to “use all our innovation and all of our expertise to make the planet more secure and make the environment better.”

The move caps off an evolution from a few years ago when the company was criticized by some groups as contributing to electronic waste. Since then, Apple has unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at cutting its environmental impact.

TIME recycling

It’s Outrageously Expensive, but This Element Could Be Used to Recycle Radioactive Fuel One Day

Jochen Luebke—AFP/Getty Images A tank containing radioactive water is seen at the Asse nuclear-waste-storage facility in Remlingen, Germany, on March 4, 2014

A few milligrams costs a fortune, but californium shows fascinating potential nonetheless

Research on a little-known element called californium may open up completely new opportunities to store radioactive waste and recycle radioactive fuel.

The team behind the study, published in the current edition of Nature Chemistry, found that californium had an extraordinary capability to bond with and separate other materials. It also has an extreme resistance to radiation damage.

“It sounds almost too good to be true,” says professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt, who led the Florida State University–based experiments, and refers to the element as “wicked stuff.”

This groundbreaking work does not only shed light on a fringe element of the periodic table, it may also help scientists develop new storage containers for radioactive waste and to separate radioactive fuel, which means it could be recycled.

“It’s not purely an academic practice,” said Albrecht-Schmitt. “This has real-world application.”

The snag? It requires a ton of cash. The 5 mg of californium used in Albrecht-Schmitt’s research cost a whopping $1.4 million to obtain, and required years of work with the U.S. Department of Energy.

[Phys.org]

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