A few days ago while waiting to meet some friends at the Futian checkpoint to Hong Kong I observed what appeared to be three generations of a Chinese family. There seemed to be a grandfather, his son, and two small children.

The old man was going through a trash can, picking out a handful of plastic bottles. His son stood by watching him while the children ran around playing.

I’ve noticed that most people who drink water or other drinks from plastic bottles routinely toss the empties into trash bins, or onto the sidewalk. I assume they have very little value or they wouldn’t be so routinely tossed away. Most are picked up almost immediately, usually by old people.

What do these scavengers do with the empties? How much are they worth? I did a quick internet search and found some values for recycled bottles, but they were quoted by the ton. I couldn’t find any information about how many bottles it takes to make a ton. I imagine it’s a very substantial number.

Maybe the old scavengers are poor and need any money they can get. But it seems to me that sacrificing one’s dignity for a few pennies isn’t a good trade off. Maybe poverty robs people of their dignity.

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