The plastics recycling industry had a high-profile spotlight in late January when the Chinese documentary film “Plastic China” earned a place at the Sundance Film Festival, the annual showcase for independent films in Park City, Utah.
Director Wang Jiuliang, whose previous documentary film “Beijing Besieged by Waste” deals with trash pickers in the Chinese capital, tackles the plastics recycling industry in China, giving a look into the lives of those who do the hard and dirty work of sorting imported plastics by hand.
The film zeroes in on the life of one little girl who is growing up in a plastics recycling plant in Shandong province. Eleven-year-old Yi-Jie learns about the world by helping her parents sort imported plastics, plays among the scrap and contaminated runoff water and wants to go to school, but her father says he can't afford it.
A short version of the film was released on the internet in 2014 and attracted a lot of interest. While China has its fair share of high-tech plastics processing plants and the government's 2013 Green Fence initiative put much tighter regulation on the import of foreign scrap plastic, this film focuses on those whose lives are most intimately affected by the global flow of recycled scrap plastic.