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Hard times hit the junk man

ZHANG Fu sits in a canvas deck chair in front of his 7-square-meter room, marked by a hand-painted board advertising his business: junk collector and recycler.

The 72-year-old fellow is waiting for business ?? and waiting.

He's a waste dealer who buys up newspaper, cardboard, metals and electric appliances, and sells them to waste recycling companies.

He's been at it for eight years, since he moved to Shanghai from Anhui Province. Business used to be good, but not anymore.

There used to be five such junk collectors in the Wen'er Community in Liangcheng area of Hongkou District including Zhang, but now only three remain.

He still gets a lot of newspaper and paper products, but far fewer discarded appliances containing valuable metals. Prices paid to him by recycling companies have sharply dropped.

Zhang used to pay 0.5 yuan per kilogram of newspaper, but now only 0.25 yuan. He used to pay 0.1 yuan each for tin cans, but now he pays the same for three tins.

"Many residents complain that I pay much less money for the same waste, but I have no choice," says Zhang. "Prices dropped at the recycling company and I have to reduce my price accordingly."

Many factories reduce production in the economic slowdown, which in turn decreases their demand for recycled materials, says Chen Xuexin, secretary general of Shanghai Waste Material Recycle Association.

As a result, prices for almost all recyclable waste has fallen by more than 50 percent, says Chen. The price of newspaper dropped from 2,200 yuan (US$322) per ton to 1,000 yuan; steel from 4,000 yuan per ton to 1,600; red copper from 67,000 yuan per ton to 20,000 yuan; and brass from 25,000 yuan to 13,000 yuan.

Many waste collectors, migrants from other areas, have gone back to farming or are hunting for other jobs in the city.

Zhang survives not because he can get higher price than others, but because he gets stable pension from the state-owned factory where he once worked. Room and board are free at his community guest home, as long as he cleans and tidies up the garden.

He's luckier than other junk collectors.

"They need money not only to survive in the city but also to support their families back home," says Zhang.

His own living expenses are trifling. "All my money is saved for my son, though he has a stable job at home. If I earn more, I can leave him more; if I earn less, he has to rely on himself more."


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