Chinese Elders Picking through Rubbish Bins for Cans and Bottles around Sydney. What Is Going on?

As night falls, I see a lot of older Chinese elders picking through various rubbish bins for recyclable stuffs all around Sydney, even around where I live. I saw these instances frequently enough but never really thought too much about it, until now.

Today in front of Wynyard station there was a grandpa working though the bins, and a grandma not far from him. He has a big shopping trolley full of cans. That nagging curiosity came back to me and I did a search online, but no one really talked about this, at least not outside of mainland China.

I know that they can get money for collecting them, but why are they doing it? Are they bored? Don't they have families here? Is this what they do in China? Do they need the money? Are they stuck here in Australia? Covid-19 could make this practice more ubiquitous, but this dated back to even before the pandemic. I think they are mainland Chinese because I can recognise the language, when they talk and work in groups.

Can someone chime in on what you think is the reason for this practice?

Comments

  • +13 votes

    10c refund for every can recycled.

    They're getting some exercise and making money at the same time.

    •  

      What are the councils doing with the bottles? They are charging rate payers for the recycling bin. Are they recycling the bottles without claiming the refund? Would be a lot of money involved in a city each month. And what happens to the other 8c in the deposit?

      •  

        Maybe the garbage “trucker” collects and get the 10c/canbottle themselves.

        Something to do after they finish garbage run.

        I did see small truck the other day with large bags of can and bottles, saw a guy with yellow vest moving it about, may or may not related to garbage truck people, a weak relationship I’m making.

  • +1 vote

    They're getting some exercise and making money at the same time. EXACTLY..

  • +1 vote

    Same thing happens out in the bush/regional areas, which I actually find mutually beneficial.
    They get paid a pittance for cleaning up other people's litter, but both the environment is better off and the collector is getting paid to do it (and getting fit too).

    I don't support it so much though when I find someone going through people's recycling bins (I'm not even sure if this is legal).

  • +4 votes

    In China there is a strong history of recycling, with papers, cans, bottles etc. collected and recycled. While this is good for the environment, it was largely about the value of the materials.
    In Australia, we had higher wages and low costs for materials, and you can see from your post the surprise at the idea sorting possible “waste” is worth it, is a bit of a hang over from earlier times.
    If you can get 3 or 4 cans/bottles a minute from sorting a train station bin you are earning well over minimum wage, with no tax to pay and making your own hours.

    Why wouldn’t you supplement your pension with a bit of pocket money for a few hours of not difficult work?
    The answer, of course, is if you grew up in Australia you would find the idea distasteful.

    To me, it would be more surprising if older people who grew up in Mao’s China didn’t work a bit when they saw such easily collected resources lying around!

    Is this culturally very different from modern Australian and Chinese-Australian culture? Sure.
    Is it “wrong”? Count yourself lucky you can think it might be.

    • +1 vote

      If you can get 3 or 4 cans/bottles a minute from sorting a train station bin you are earning well over minimum wage

      No need to spin it like this, lol.

      •  

        Not spinning it, just pointing out with 10c deposit it isn’t trivial money, but more than 15% of the population is earning!
        When I was a kid I collected cans and they were about 1c each. If people still have that value in their heads it seems silly to sort through a bin unless you are desperate.
        At ten times that, I think it looks much less desperate.

        • +2 votes

          Maybe they are earning more for a minute or two, but they aren't consistently getting 180-240 bottles/hour.

          At ten times that, I think it looks much less desperate.

          The price of everything has gone up since then.

          If they're happy to do it, good for them.

        • +1 vote

          18c deposit 10c refund

    • +1 vote

      I am surprised because their relatives, especially their children didn't object to this activity. It's not a bad thing, collecting and recycling things, however, from an Asian perspective, they are doing a massive disservice to their elderly.

      Adult children in Asian cultures must always take care of their parents and grandparents, or other family members. That's just a cultural thing. Parents give everything to their kids, and hope that they will one day take care of them until they die. Allowing parents to work after they retired, especially this kind of work, where they have to stay up late, picking through hazardous trash and risking their lives to the weather, traffic and crime, is abuse on the elderly, for the lack of a better word.

      "Other people will think I'm a bad child because I make my parents go out and pick trash", or "I must be a stingy and evil child, because after all they had done for me, they have to go out and fend for themselves, even in their twilight years". These are the things that will inevitably go through their minds. Saving face is a big thing in Asia. You are your parents' ATM. You are their provider.

      Safety is also a concern. I can imagine how worry I would be had my own parents wanted to do this. They should be dancing, singing, fishing and enjoying life, not this. I would tag along to make sure they are safe. But then the question becomes: "Are the children in it, too?" Some kind of organised gang, perhaps? If it is, then why don't they just go to the pubs or sporting venues to collect in bulk? The Chinese community is extremely wealthy, surely they could easily nip it at the bud, not bothering with the stalk?

      Also, this stuff is supposed to be recycled by the council anyway, since they are binned by the people who do the right thing. They are extracting correctly binned stuffs and sell them for money, isn't it incentivising a commercial activity that achieves the same end goal, but with extra costs?

      I'm sorry, call me stupid or something, but either they live alone, they don't have children, or they have some sort of a backup organisation behind them, I can't fathom how they would bother doing such a thing.

      • +1 vote

        "from an Asian perspective, they are doing a massive disservice to their elderly."

        What about dumping kids with the grandparents for the free daycare?

        I see alot of grandparents pushing strollers during the day whilst the parents of the golden child are presumably working…

        Chinese folks are all about the dollar..10c/ item collected is easy money, however little it is to the rest of us.

      •  

        Maybe the parents want to be independent and don’t want to be a burden? Maybe they don’t see their kids as an ATM and would do anything in order to contribute? Maybe they aren’t allowed to work and would like to earn some more money?

      •  

        Cuz in Chinese Culture Parents are everthing, child never has a chance to challenge their elderly.

        And remember all Chinese elder ppl have been through culture revolution( during that period CCP asked ppl killing each other), they all ve been washed brain.

    • +4 votes

      If you can get 3 or 4 cans/bottles a minute from sorting a train station bin you are earning well over minimum wage

      Where do I sign up? Any other bottle collectors out there willing to give me a good reference? My last bottle collecting gig ended badly.

  •  

    Leave them alone

  •  

    It’s free money… 10c 100cans/bottles is $10.

    Can’t say if they are poor or not in Australia, I’ve seen this over in Hong Kong where the poor collects cardboard and sells them at recyclers.

  • +3 votes

    I see a lot of older Chinese elders picking through various rubbish bins for recyclable stuffs all around Sydney,

    I see all types of skin tones collecting bottles on yellow bin nights. Drop by a bottle depot and see the same thing.

    •  

      Nah, it's only old Asians doing it.

      I've seen white people at the actual machines unloading recyclables but they're just getting rid of whatever they actually consumed. Not other people's trash.

      • +4 votes

        Of all the bin scabs in my area, none of them are Asian, all of them are meth addicted white people out for the night, upending people’s recycling bins on the sidewalk to pick the bin’s fruits to get that next hit.

        There was even a “white” guy going around with his family in a relatively new Hilux ute doing the bin scab thing. He would get angry at people who didn’t leave bottles in their bins and would kick people’s recycling bins over if they didn’t leave what he thought was enough.

        He and his family would tie up the return machine for hours at a time, park like an arsehole in front of it and threaten people who asked when he would be done.

        I find that white people are actually the worst offenders. They are rude, aggressive and often nearly militant when it comes to collecting and hogging the return machine. Asians tend to be much neater, more respectful and much more polite.

        • +1 vote

          "Asians tend to be much neater, more respectful and much"

          Until they start spitting the contents of their nasal passage on the sidewalk…

          •  

            @twww: Oh, and I’ve never seen white people do that…

            •  

              @pegaxs: Sure. Though, unlike here it's an acceptable form of behaviour in China…

    • +1 vote

      I've seen a few elderly white people doing that around my area, main street and railway station, but around the city it seems to be more of a Chinese thing, but it's probably more of a reflection of the local aged demographic that anything else.

      I don't view it as a cultural thing — Decades ago my (white) parents were very particular about safety and sanitation, but now in their late 70s, (they don't collect bottle out of street bins AFAIK) they both have a bizarrely careless attitude toward hygiene and sanitation, even cleaning or holding animals and next minute eating without washing first — it makes me at once angry and nauseous just thinking about it !

      •  

        Decades ago my (white) parents were very particular about safety and sanitation, but now in their late 70s, (they don't collect bottle out of street bins AFAIK) they both have a bizarrely careless attitude toward hygiene and sanitation, even cleaning or holding animals and next minute eating without washing first — it makes me at once angry and nauseous just thinking about it !

        Interesting that you say that, I saw some statistics about people at young and older age being less stressful. This is an example I was able to google.

        Daily stress rates were highest in the core working ages (35 to 54), peaking at about 30% in the 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 age groups. People in these age groups are most likely to be managing multiple career and family responsibilities.

        Reported stress decreased at older ages, with seniors the least likely to find their days stressful (11.7%).

        See Chart 2 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2012001/article...

        I think I know what you mean with their blase attitude.

  • +1 vote

    Haven't really put that much thought into it personally?

    Have an elderly Asian couple that does my area. They live on my street…so I initially thought they would just do our street, but recently saw them streets away, so they must they actually do the whole neighbourhood almost!

    I do liken the activity like "bin chicken" behaviour almost (although the humans are at least neat about it), but like others have said, exercise and free money I suppose.

    I have thought about trying to coordinate with the other apartments in my block to make one bin just for bottles and cans for two reasons;

    1) so they don't see any potentially sensitive documents have to study through our bins*
    2) Just to make it a bit easier for them I suppose

    but just seems like too much effort/I don't they would go for it…

    *Perhaps I should just invest in a shredder maybe?

    I've also witnessed an islander guy doing it from his car window…just driving up to bins in his Ute, having a look and driving away…seemed like a pretty poor effort…plus driving on the wrong side of the road 🤦‍♂️

    • +2 votes

      It’s 2020, you’re joking about still putting potentially sensitive documents in a recycle bin, right?

  •  

    What did they say when you asked them?

    • +5 votes

      They said "stop bothering me, I am working. Go ask ozbargain"

  • +3 votes

    It’s just for the 10c for each can or bottle recycled. I’ve previously lived in singapore and has seen it as well specially at their hawker centres (food courts). As long as they don’t leave other trash everywhere don’t bother too much. If you’re being considerate leave the cans or bottles on top of your yellow bin ;)

  • +2 votes

    The gap between the haves and have-nots in Sydney is growing ever wider and this is the sort of thing you’ll see more of.

  • +1 vote

    We have a different system up here, the grubby bogans toss their crap out of the window and I pick it up from the roadside when I'm out for a walk. Wonder if I can charge the council for back wages?

    •  

      Good on you, but I doubt it I have trouble getting Council to prune a naturestrip tree; apparently I can’t organise it myself due to OH&S.

      Maybe send an invoice with the OzBargain logo make it look official.

  • +1 vote

    This topic reminds me of how one morning I was walking down the beach & came across a communal bbq with half eaten snags, dozens of half empty beer bottles & rubbish all thrown onto the stove & the surroundings not much better. I cleaned it up because I thought it would suck if some family came down to have a nice Saturday bbq. In hindsight I probably looked like a guilty reprobate back to clean up the scene of the crime.

    Point is I am a fan of anything that encourages people to do the right thing, even if there just thinking with their hip pocket. It’d be good if this initiative was Australia wide.

  • +3 votes

    It is not only Chinese people doing it!
    You need to get out more.
    It is a common practice all around the country.
    Scratching through filthy garbage bins so you can get a can to recycle? 100% nutz!

  • +2 votes

    Probably just looking for a way to be useful. Doubt they're using it to fund their own lives

  •  

    Yes, definitely just taking a walk n be bothered to pickup containers on the way to earn extra income, for the family, not for themselves… elderly Asians would usually be staying with their children n grandchildren…
    Even with the incentive of 10c, not everyone is bothered to do the right thing, still plenty of littering…
    My parents stayed w my brother's family in NSW for a yr n did the same. They walked daily to get exercise n bcos the area is fairly new, lots of construction sites, plenty of containers n other treasures to be picked up all the time they r there. Earned at least a couple of hundreds while they were there just collecting the containers. I doubt they fumble thru bins though, no need to. My mum was quite full on but my dad reminded her to save some face for my brother…lol.
    Now that the CDS is here in WA, our family is super active collecting containers as well, for the environment n for the extra income too, bcos i hv been out of a proper job for 19mths. The difference is, since the lockdown due to Covid, my parents hv stayed home mostly while only i would go out to run errands. So only me n spouse go out to take walks n pickup rubbish, bring them home n my parents would help to remove the aluminium rings, wash n sort them appropriately.
    I would go thru bins (general waste, not yellow) as well, initially a bit shameful n would wait till no one is looking but i hv overcome that mindset as i tell myself i m helping the environment. Whenever possible, we would pickup small pieces of other plastics as well to dispose of properly.
    I hv also offered my neighbours if they r not keen in the program if they would like to make arrangements for me to pickup weekly to save space in their bin.
    I think in Australia it's quite impossible to starve if willing to work!

  •  

    I've seen a lot of Asian (in appearance) , senior adults, both male and female, partake in this behaviour. I'm not sure if they're Chinese but it's different people all the time. I wonder if this gives them an incentive to leave the home, do some exercise, go on a scavenger hunt and get paid for it.

    I saw an older asian man, on his push bike, loaded with bottles in gigantic plastic bags, hung in front, left, right and rear. No helmet, no lights, on a 3 lane rode (60kmph) speed limit, at nightfall. It was almost like he was back home and going about his thing. The type of thing I'd see on TV and marvel as to how the kept their balance, the lack of H&S and the lawnesses (is that a word?).

  •  

    Bit of exercise and income while they're at it.
    At least they're not looking for food in garbage bins to actually consume : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11c4LRomkSo

  •  

    "from an Asian perspective, they are doing a massive disservice to their elderly."

    "What about dumping kids with the grandparents for the free daycare?
    I see alot of grandparents pushing strollers during the day whilst the parents of the golden child are presumably working…"

    Different cultures.
    I am from central Europe and it is pretty normal to have the grandparents care for the grandkids. I was too with my grandparents during the day.
    I don’t have kinds so my mom is pretty bumped the she won’t have grandparents duties.

    Also, be happy that here in Australia the standard of living has been so high for generations. One reason in Europe and Asia (and the rest of the world) grandparents are caring for kids because they have no money to do anything other than watch TV at home so they are happy to do something + parents don’t have money for daycare at all.

    Traveling when you retired? 80% of the world would laugh and say you are just kidding. And I am from a middle class family.

    And yes, that’s why I moved here. Standard of living and lifestyle is incredible.