In China, disposable eating utensils, plastic wrap, bags, and even synthetic fibres used in clothing can be produced from recycled materials—but those materials don’t come from the best of sources.
Without proper regulation, syringes, infusion tubes, and the like, often tainted with blood and drug residue, are retrieved in bulk and recycled for plastic products, Henan Television reported recently.
A woman who specializes in recycling medical refuse revealed details about the practice when she discovered how her clients were repurposing the materials.
“Those who do this business have no conscience, I can take no part in it anymore,” the woman, surnamed Ma, told Henan Television.
Threads made from the plastic can go into the production of winter clothing. The medical waste is considered hazardous by Chinese authorities as it may contain traces of infectious diseases, viruses, and chemical or radiological pollutants. However, the business is profitable—30,000 to 50,000 yuan (between $4,000 and $7,000) a month for a recycling station owner.
Video taken undercover shows one unnamed boss praising the medical waste as “really good stuff.”
“Especially because the rubber infusion tube is polythene, the basic material for the entire plastic industry,” the boss continued. “It can be called the root material. Plastic coke bottles, for instance, are made from polythene mixed with other things.”
Owners of recycling sites in Henan Province boast good relations with hospital administrators and staff, smoothing business. The practice is rife from state-run hospitals to private clinics.
“I am familiar with them, now the hospital directors are in my back pocket,” the boss in the secretly-recorded video says. “I can handle all the nearby hospitals.”
A small workshop in the woods of Henan’s Pingyu County crush the medical waste and packs it into bags to be thrown into a high-temperature oven without any sanitation. The mixture comes out in thin noodly strings, with chemical residues, body fluids, or radiological pollutants infused into the plastic, the report says.
An unnamed worker in a factory that produces disposable eating utensils said that the practice is widespread. “It’s definitely forbidden, but everyone does it.”
Henan Television discovered a manufacturer in the county of Xiping that produces plastic bags, wrap, and cups using the recycled material from hospital refuse. It is one of many such factories in Henan Province that supply nationwide. “We’ve been producing day and night nonstop,” the owner said.
Netizens commenting on the news were livid. “I have no idea how I’ve managed to live this long,” said one, while another condemned officials for neglecting the matter.
“Before the evil U.S. imperialists come to exterminate us, we will have already perished by our own hands,” reads a satirical comment.
One user saw the problem as rooted in the dearth of spirituality: “Most Chinese don’t believe in anything, so there are a lot of things that they are not afraid to do. Without faith there can be no conscience.”